A lengthy post about (what else) floors

Flooring has been an ongoing topic – like a broken record… The Pink Lady has a ton of original detailing, like woodwork, mantels, intricate plaster detailing on the ceilings. Sadly, the floors are also original, but not in a good way. They are pine. Why? Well, because there was a time when the Victorians felt that wood floors were not fashionable and should be covered with rugs. As such, they used cheap pine as flooring material knowing they would be covering it with rugs and painted floor cloths and whatnots. (The Victorians sometimes painted canvas to look like wood and put that on top of their cheap wood floors. Perhaps they are to blame for the invention of imitation wood vinyl tiles?) A quick Google search revealed that floor cloths (or oil cloths) cost anywhere from 11 to 35 cents a yard, depending on width and intricacy of pattern.

I’m not sure about the top floor, but on the parlor floor, there would have been parquet over the pine. Yeah… we don’t have it anymore. Instead, we have cheap stick on parquet. Yey! Anyway, floor cloth of fancy parquet aside, we have to deal with pine. Splintering pine.

Anyway… back to our pine floors in present day, our progress documented here, herehere and here. The bulk of the work took place on the third floor, which was covered in many layers of sticky vinyl tile over a foundation of splinters. Some rooms looked OK, while others seemed beyond salvaging.

Peeling layers of vinyl tile with the help of my trusty Rival iron. I really hate vinyl tile. A lot.

After removing the layers of vinyl tile, Task #1 was to strip the paint. The amount of residual gunk and glue left behind from the vinyl tiles, plus the thickness of the many layers of paint made it impossible to skip this step. No sander would cut through that mess. Cue the Peel Away 6! Many weeks elapsed, many buckets of paint stripper were applied (and dutifully scrubbed off) and eventually the floor was mostly free of paint. Stripping paint is incredibly messy and unglamorous work, not to mention mind-numbingly tedious. Luckily we didn’t have to worry about lead paint. By some amazing stroke of luck, tests came back negative for lead.  On the subject of toxicity,  while Peel Away 6 is non-toxic and I used low odor/low VOC mineral spirits, I found out the hard way that mineral spirits and my face were not meant to co-exist. Life got a whole lot better once I got a face shield to protect me from spraying chemicals. Moral of the story, wear protective gear even if it makes you look like a demented nerd from a 1980s movie.

The paint stripping process in progress. Working in small areas seemed to work best. 

Most of the paint gone. Woo hoo!

Once the paint was (mostly) removed, Task #2 was to fix the broken boards. Several were lifting and needed to be secured back in place. On a side note, I did peek under the flooring only to find, to my dismay, construction detritus dating back to the original construction of the house. I always imagined the masons and carpenters of centuries past to be very neat and tidy. Apparently not so much.

Hubs fixing the floor. All weekend carpenters wear flannel shirts, yes?

Check out the purdy floors, ready for sanding. 

Once all the boards were secured, Task #3 was to sand. Since pine is a soft wood, and since there was heavy splintering in some areas, we were concerned that a belt sander might be too powerful and do the floor in. In speaking with a friend who recently did his floors, he recommended a random orbital sander. We tried it. The floors mocked it. It didn’t make a dent. Back to the drawing board we went. Still afraid of the belt sander, we went totally low tech with a hand-held belt sander. Yes. Hand held. As in on your hands and knees. After putting a lot of mileage on his knee pads, the hubs finished the three main rooms of the top floor.

Next came what was possibly the hardest decision to make about this whole floor thing: what to put on it? After spending so much quality time with our floors, we really didn’t want to do it agin in the near (or far) future. The no brainer choice would be some type of polyurethane based product. It lies on top of the floor (it’s not absorbed by it) and would provide a layer of protection between our feet and the inevitable splinters. The problem with poly is that it tends to have that gym floor look. Also, it will yellow as it ages and it will require refinishing at some point down the road. In researching options, Tung Oil kept coming up. It’s a natural product made from a nut that is indigenous to China. It is absorbed by the wood and repels water beautifully. The Chinese have been using it as a sealant on the hulls of their boats since more or less forever. Since the oil is absorbed by the wood, it unfortunately doesn’t provide  splinter protection. On the plus side, should the wood ever start looking dull, all you need to do is lightly sand it with some steel wool and re-apply some more Tung Oil.

In my mind, the most serious drawback is that floors treated with Tung Oil will not take Poly later one. Whether this is totally true I’m not sure, but we decided to go with the Tung Oil anyway. The fact that it is non-toxic was a huge plus for me, given that it was the middle of winter and proper ventilation would be a challenge. Thus far it has worked well, with an unexpected side effect: when we clean the floors with a damp cloth, the room smells like almonds!

The floors are now on hiatus. We’re not sure what we’re going to do next: cover with a new layer of wood, since some of the rooms still have some areas of questionable appearance? Take a cue from the Victorians and buy some more rugs? Search salvage place for replacement boards and fix the ugly/uneven ones? We don’t really know, and since the third floor is going to be undergoing some major renovations in the years to come the floor, in its current state, is livable. For now.

2 thoughts on “A lengthy post about (what else) floors

  1. Pingback: An ode to our pine floors | A Pink Brownstone in Brooklyn

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year | A Pink Brownstone in Brooklyn

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