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Historic Homes and Antique Floors: caring for hardwood assets

Perhaps one of the most endearing features of old houses are the old hardwood flooring – rustic and classic, it has history and has been seasoned to imperfection.

This is where most historic homeowners make the mistake of covering up or worse, ripping off and throwing out the original flooring all too hastily to make the house look new again. One thing to keep in mind about antique hardwood flooring is that they can withstand multiple refinishing (when done properly).

Most antique hardwood flooring are durable enough to last for a century or 2 and generally, historic flooring like these are rarely beyond repair. There are only two reasons flooring professionals would be too quick to tell you that the antique flooring in your home is beyond repair: one is that they are either lazy or unsure of how to go about the work; and 2, they are trying to sell you a new product.

In most cases, after restoration the routine will simply be a refinish once in a year or 2 and regular cleaning to keep them in great condition.

Hardwood Floor Cleaning

So how do we care for old hardwood floors? Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Sweep. Regular sweeping with a soft-bristled broom to avoid scratching or vacuum cleaning is one way to preserve historic wood floors. Not only does this remove dirt but also get off debris and other abrasive materials that might cause scratching off the floor.
  2. Wipe. Wiping completes the process by removing deep-seated dirt. When you’re not quite sure what cleaners would sit well with your floors, you can always be safe with mixing 10 parts of water with a part of vinegar and a terry-cloth mop.
  3. Wipe again. However, since water and wood don’t go well together, don’t forget to wipe the floor again. Wipe it dry this time to make sure water doesn’t seep in and moisture is immediately removed on the floor’s surface.
  4. Protect. There is no absolute way to damage-proof historic wood floors but this can help keep them in top shape despite daily wear: first, by having protective area rugs and doormats in critical areas like entryways and near the kitchen sink. Another is by applying floor wax not only for protection but to eliminate dullness.
  5. Repair. At the first sign of damage, quickly act on it. If it’s something you’re sure you can DIY, go ahead by all means. If its not, then get help and don’t risk further damage.

Choosing a Wood Floor Professional – 2

Legacy Select Antique Pine Wooden FloorPart 2 – Hints for finding a finisher for heart pine wooden floors
Many of the suggestions for finding an installer in the first section also apply to looking for a floor finisher for heart pine so you might want to look at Part 1.
A directory of professionally certified finishers such as NWFACP’s list at http://www.nwfacp.org is one place to look for a person or company to sand your wood floor. Websites will often list certifications for the individual or company and classes they have taken. Membership in a wood flooring association can also be a positive sign. A certain minimum amount of work experience is highly desirable, but this is not a guarantee of quality work. Another indication of a commitment to quality work is attending wood floor industry schools. Also the sanding equipment should be professional grade. This does not mean that it has to be new but well maintained high quality equipment is important for a top quality job.
A discussion of the look you want to achieve helps choose between the many types of floor finish available for wood floors. Natural oils, hard wax oils, oil modified polyurethane, water borne acrylic or poly, and Tung oil (fortified or not) are some examples of what is available. Talk to your finisher about the properties of the different products such as –
—overall look,
—ambering,
—gloss levels,
—drying times (walk on floor),
—durability,
—odor,
—time for full cure (replace area rugs),
—VOCs,
—film build,
—maintenance requirements, and
—environmental concerns.
Additional information is available on the internet at http://www.woodfloors.org/WoodFloorFinishes.aspx and other sites. The brand of finish should be designed for use on wood floors for durability and so that film forming products flow to yield a smooth surface. Saving money by using low quality finish can significantly reduce the life of the floor. Professional products cost more but usually only add a small percentage to the overall price. Discuss the finisher’s experience with sanding antique wood floors. River Recovered® heart pine sands slightly differently than most other woods. Some finishes darken antique heart pine floors as they are applied and continue to enhance the natural color change in the wood as it ages. Other products maintain a much lighter shade. Certain species have different reactions with different finishes so it is best to use a combination of flooring and finish products that your floor finisher has experience with.
Dust control and possible paint touch ups on the baseboard are other topics to discuss in advance. The temperature in the room, relative humidity, and direct sun light in the areas where the finish is applied will be of concern to the workers. Commissioning a new flooring project can be stressful, but finding a good team to install and finish your floor makes the process easier and gives better results.

Solid Wood Floors Over Concrete

There are many questions about gluing down solid wood flooring to concrete.  The traditional industry standards for wood floor installation limited the direct glue down of solid wood flooring over concrete to short pieces or parquet patterns.  A well made engineered wood floor looks like a solid floor but avoids some of the installation difficulties.  The backer of the engineered flooring helps reduce the movement with moisture changes.  For many applications this is the best solution.

Flooring insert

Small Flooring Insert Including Antique Heart Pine

With the advent of elastomeric adhesives gluing solid flooring directly to concrete has become more common.  NOFMA produced a technical publication outlining recommended procedures for installing solid wood floors to concrete about five years ago.  Despite the inherently higher risks of gluing solid to concrete it has become an accepted practice for many people in the industry.  This installation method takes more effort to manage the risks.  Moisture issues are the primary concern.  Test to see if the concrete is dry enough.  The ASTM F2170-2 test is a widely accepted procedure which measures the relative humidity inside the concrete.  It is often prudent to apply a sealer to the concrete just in case moisture is introduced into the concrete at a later time. Then if the concrete gets wet in the future a trowel on moisture cured urethane vapor barrier or penetrating sealer such as Bone Dry which was applied prior to installing the floor can keep the water away from the wood. An alternative to a glue installation is to install a plywood subfloor over the concrete then nail down the flooring.

Restoring Antique Wood Floors

Cushion edge end grain

Reclaimed Heart Pine

We recently had an inquiry asking if more finish can be added to an old site finished floor to improve its appearance. This is what we used to call a buff and coat.  Recoating will not remove deep scratches or discoloration in the antique wood, but is a good choice in many cases where the finish is sound and not overly worn. The surface of the existing finish is abraded lightly to get it ready for additional finish.  If there are contaminates on the wood floor such as wax, dusting products, polish, etc. the new coat may not adhere in some spots and total resanding may be a better choice. The major water based finish manufacturers make pretreatment products which aid adhesion. The water based finishes are easy to use if you know what you are doing and are used by many professionals.  If you are doing the work yourself many first time attempts do not come out as well with these products. You might consider using a more traditional urethane floor finish with a slower drying time. Once you get everything cleaned up and ready two coats often looks better than one on an old floor. A finish with a low gloss level tends to help surface imperfections blend in. If you are not going to use water borne finish the old way to abrade it was to rub the surface with fine steel wool.  Go with the grain of the wood floor. It is a good idea to test the compatibility of the finish you are using with the existing finish in a small out of the way area before doing the whole floor.  Also the National Wood Flooring Association http://www.woodfloors.org/ has information on finishes and maintenance. Especially with antique wood, you can find small ways to improve any damage or discoloration that has happened over time, because much antique wood already carries natural imperfections!

Antique Wood Floors Over Radiant Heat

Antique wood floor

Decorative feature in antique wood floor

We are occasionally asked if antique pine flooring is a good choice over radiant heat.  Over the years our customers have had many successful installations over this heating system.  There are general guidelines such as turning on the heating system in advance for several days to make sure that there is no excess moisture in the subfloor.  Also the temperature of the subfloor should not go above 85 degrees F. Wider boards are prone to show larger gaps in the heating season.  Vertical grain flooring moves less than select grain flooring.  As with any installation starting with properly milled flooring and exercising care to get the moisture content of the flooring (and the job site) correct go a long way towards getting an antique heart pine floor which looks good for years and years.  The NWFA has also developed guidelines for installing wood floors over radiant heat see Installation Guidelines, Appendix H.

Choosing a wood floor professional -2

Part 2 – Hints for finding a finisher for heart pine wooden floors

Many of the suggestions for finding an installer in the first section also apply to looking for a floor finisher for heart pine so you might want to look at Part 1.
A directory of professionally certified finishers such as NWFACP’s list at http://www.nwfacp.org is one place to look for a person or company to sand your wood floor. Websites will often list certifications for the individual or company and classes they have taken. Membership in a wood flooring association can also be a positive sign. A certain minimum amount of work experience is highly desirable, but this is not a guarantee of quality work. Another indication of a commitment to quality work is attending wood floor industry schools. Also the sanding equipment should be professional grade. This does not mean that it has to be new but well maintained high quality equipment is important for a top quality job.
A discussion of the look you want to achieve helps choose between the many types of floor finish available for wood floors. Natural oils, hard wax oils, oil modified polyurethane, water borne acrylic or poly, and Tung oil (fortified or not) are some examples of what is available. Talk to your finisher about the properties of the different products such as –
—overall look,
—ambering,
—gloss levels,
—drying times (walk on floor),
—durability,
—odor,
—time for full cure (replace area rugs),
—VOCs,
—film build,
—maintenance requirements, and
—environmental concerns.
Additional information is available on the internet at http://www.woodfloors.org/WoodFloorFinishes.aspx and other sites. The brand of finish should be designed for use on wood floors for durability and so that film forming products flow to yield a smooth surface. Saving money by using low quality finish can significantly reduce the life of the floor. Professional products cost more but usually only add a small percentage to the overall price. Discuss the finisher’s experience with sanding antique wood floors. River Recovered® heart pine sands slightly differently than most other woods. Some finishes darken antique heart pine floors as they are applied and continue to enhance the natural color change in the wood as it ages. Other products maintain a much lighter shade. Certain species have different reactions with different finishes so it is best to use a combination of flooring and finish products that your floor finisher has experience with.
Dust control and possible paint touch ups on the baseboard are other topics to discuss in advance. The temperature in the room, relative humidity, and direct sun light in the areas where the finish is applied will be of concern to the workers. Commissioning a new flooring project can be stressful, but finding a good team to install and finish your floor makes the process easier and gives better results.

Reclaimed Wood Floors, Concrete, and Water

In the antique wood floor industry we often hear the comment that reclaimed wood flooring never needs acclimation. Unfortunately this is not the case. The high resin content of antique Longleaf pine diminishes the width changes driven by moisture fluctuations but does not eliminate them. Moisture concerns need to be addressed when using heart pine wooden flooring just as with other wooden floors especially if the subfloor is concrete.
Let’s start by listing a few observations
-Wood floors are often installed over concrete subfloors.
-The majority of wood floor complaints are moisture related.
-Untreated concrete readily absorbs, conducts, and emits water.
The combination of concrete and wood flooring calls for planning before the installation begins to avoid problems during the lifetime of the floor.
One of the first questions might be ’is the concrete dry enough now?’ Moisture meters or testing water vapor emission from the surface of the concrete can indicate if the concrete is wet. In some cases these tests are not reliable indicators of conditions that will lead to a successful wood flooring installation. Devices that measure the interior relative humidity within the concrete have been used in Europe for some time and are now often used here. If the moisture level is too high consider installing a vapor barrier or a penetrating sealer designed for use under wood flooring.
Concrete that is dry now may be exposed to water later. On-grade concrete can absorb water if exterior surface water accumulates or if the soil moisture levels increase. Once the water is introduced into concrete it travels to affect adjacent areas. If a vapor barrier was not installed the moisture can cause problems with an existing wood floor installation.
Non absorbing cushion such as closed cell foam is usually used under floating floors. Using porous padding material under floating floors introduces the possibility of retaining moisture if excess water is temporarily present.
Leaks from plumbing, appliances, roofs, or other building sources can result in wet wood floors. The National Wood Flooring Association suggests removing the water and drying a flooded floor promptly. For more details refer to the NWFA publication C200, ‘Problems Causes and Cures’. Some floors can not be saved. If the concrete under the floor has been wet it is important to verify that it has dried out before replacing a floor.

Be Aware of Water in Concrete

Wood Floors are Beautiful in the Bedroom TooWhen a client’s water heater flooded their Goodwin Heart Pine engineered wood floor the insurance company called in a restoration contractor. The contractor pulled up half the floor to the point where they said the water had gone in the concrete. After three days of dehumidification they declared the concrete dry.

Following the National Wood Floor Association’s procedure we used a concrete meter that requires drilling a small hole 40% of the depth of the slab. The meter readings were much higher than recommended to install a wood floor over concrete.

We pulled up the remainder of the floor so that the entire slab could be dried. And we provided the restoration contractor with the meter readings and a study on water movement through concrete. Fortunately, they agreed to bring back the dehumidification system and get the slab to the proper moisture content.

Wood floors are not rocket science; however, they do demand a scientific approach to water and subfloors of all types. Call if you would like us to send you the research paper on how to properly test concrete for moisture content.

Best wishes for great wood floors all the time for the longterm.

Love Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed Heart Cypress Log Wood Slabs

Norm and George Looking at 1,700 Year Old Heart Cypress Log

I was looking across the breakfast table at George Goodwin this morning in his faded pink New Yankee Workshop sweat shirt that must be 25 years old by now and couldn’t help but smile. It’s great to have so many wonderful memories; sawing up that big ‘ol river recovered heart cypress log with Norm watching, cleaning reclaimed wood floors for the filming and then visiting the same client’s years later and hearing them say ‘I love, love, love my antique flooring from Goodwin. We are so very lucky.

Quick action can minimize the damage due to a water leak

We occasionally receive calls about water leaks on wood floors. Many times the floor can be saved if the water is removed quickly, and the floor is dried right away.  If the floor buckles or if some of the boards split you will face a more extensive repair.  Heat, air circulation, and dehumidification can all help the drying process. Commercial drying services can also be an option.  Do not sand a cupped floor flat if it is still wet.  Without aggressive measures some floors can take months to dry out.  Use a moisture meter to check the final drying.

Once the floor is dry, check to see if the fastening is still tight by looking for board movement. If the floor was very wet often permanent cracks between the boards will persist once the floor is dry.  Using fill or small slivers of wood glued into the gaps and refinishing may be an option.  Cupping may also be permanent, and can be sanded at this point if it is not too severe.

If you install a new floor it is very important that the subfloor and building components below the floor are well dried out before you start.  Installing new wood flooring over a source of moisture can damage the new flooring.

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Old Growth’s Meaning

By Kathy Fleming

Hardwood Floors Magazine

Ask most people how old a piece of furniture must be to be considered a true antique and most will know the answer. At least 100 years old.

Ask most car buffs how old an automobile must be to be considered a classic and they too will know the answer. At least 25 years old.

If only it were that simple with antique wood floors.

It was…once upon a time. Whenever the terms old-growth, original-growth and antique were bandied about, the vast majority of us unconsciously agreed that meant o-l-d. Very old. We knew we were discussing trees from America’s first forests and wood that provided denser, superior lumber.

None of us really needed an exact definition. It was mainly the foresters and scientists who investigated the topic. The customers of specialty antique flooring manufacturers knew what they wanted and would never have thought to ask for the definition of the “old-growth” wood they were buying. And vast majority of the time, they got wood floors that truly were very o-l-d.

But today, as antique floors become trendy, the marketplace is buzzing with more choices, sizzling copywriting and fuzzy terms…making it harder for consumers and flooring pros to understand the distinctions. While “original-growth” and “antique” seem to be retaining their true meaning, the term “old-growth” in particular is becoming ambiguous.

What difference does it make, you may ask. First of all, anyone ordering this kind of floor is expecting a certain look and quality, and that’s what they should get. They are expecting to live with that floor for generations. And you just can’t fake an antique floor. The wood is denser, tighter-grained, stronger and unusual. It’s a bit like the new Thunderbirds. They are cool cars, but any enthusiast with a 1963 in the garage is going to speak at length on the differences. He will never be totally satisfied with the new model.

It also matters from an historical standpoint. Consumers who specify this wood also tend to value nature, history and Americana. If they have gone to the trouble to understand, research and select an old-growth wood, that’s the floor they deserve.

The need to keep the terms—and the standards—straight have sent several manufacturers into the deep recesses of scientific literature. One of them, Carol Goodwin of Goodwin Heart Pine, one of the leading manufacturers of antique heart pine and heart cypress flooring, has a thick file of research to support clear cut terminology.

She and her colleagues share a wealth of information with each other, including this from a 1993 science conference: “Old-growth forests are those at least 200 years old and older. Most remaining old-growth forests are on federal lands. Nearly 90 percent of the region’s old-growth forests already have been logged. An estimated 8 to 9 million acres of old-growth forests remain today.”

Another study is from the 1989 National Old-Growth Task Group, which determined that “old-growth forests are ecosystems distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes. Old-growth encompasses the later stages of stand development that typically differ from earlier stages in a variety of characteristics which may include tree size, accumulations of large dead woody material, number of canopy layers, species composition and ecosystem function.”

Perhaps the most straight-forward definition comes from the USDA Forest Service, which said the approximate age at which old-growth features begin to appear is about one-half the maximum age of the predominant tree species.

No doubt, it’s a complicated subject that varies by species. In the case of longleaf pine, which can live 500 years of longer, foresters agree it takes at least 200 years for the tree to become mostly heartwood and be considered old-growth. They call any longleaf pine less than 200 years old “new heart pine.” Yet, there are heart pine flooring products on the market today that are about 75-90 years old and are called “old-growth.”

Another Forest Service report recommends that most stands with Virginia pine, loblolly, pitch pines and shortleaf pines that exceed 100 to 125 years with little human disturbance can be considered in the early stages of old-growth.

So, as always in a free market system, the buyer must be aware. Ask how old the trees were when harvested and ask about the color, the heart content, and the tightness of growth rings. And if someone tells you they are cutting down old-growth trees for flooring, that’s a problem. If these stately old gems aren’t protected, they should be.

After all, buying an antique floor isn’t so different from buying antique furniture. Antique lovers know what to look for when shopping. An authentic 1710 antique sideboard will bring them many more years of blissful enjoyment than a good reproduction. To them, it’s just not the same thing.

Why Antique Wood?

Benefits

Environmental benefits:

  • Enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Improve air and water quality
  • Reduce solid waste
  • Conserve natural resources

Economic benefits:

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Enhance asset value and profits
  • Improve employee productivity and satisfaction
  • Optimize life-cycle economic performance

Health and community benefits:

  • Improve air, thermal and acoustic environments
  • Enhance occupant comfort and health
  • Minimize strain on local infrastructure
  • Contribute to overall quality of life

10 reasons to choose wood floors

  1. Wood is a natural product in a diverse selection of colors and grain patterns.Who hasn’t marveled at the beauty of a home with a fine wood floor? It’s in our nature to love trees, to harvest them and to replant them. Wood is a part of our lives and our homes. There are more choices now than ever before… a wood floor for every taste.
  2. Wood is the easiest floor to clean, requiring far less chemicals.Whenever someone says, “I think tile or carpet might be easier to clean,” I point to my wood floor cleaning tools. With only a swivel mop and sometimes a non-aerosol spray, I can clean my wood floor in less than half the time it takes to vacuum, scrub or shampoo other floor coverings. Wood doesn’t trap dust and fumes like carpet and doesn’t grow mold in the grout like tile. Best yet, fewer chemicals are needed.
  3. It’s the best choice for the environment. Production is cleaner than alternatives.Wood production is much cleaner than other building materials. Steel manufacturing results in 40 times more pollutants than manufacturing wood. Concrete requires 6 times more and brick four times. Steel releases 3 times more carbon dioxide into the enviroment and concrete even more. Wood sends less solid waste to the landfill than manufacturing steel or concrete. Finally, wood is more energy efficient. The cellular structure of wood traps air, giving it superior insulating properties. It takes 15 inches of concrete to equal the insulation qualities of just one inch of wood.
  4. You can redecorate by changing your wood floor with stains, faux finishes and inlays.You can easily and cost-efficiently change the entire look of a wood floor from time to time with stains, paints and inlays.
  5. Wood is a smart investment.There is no depreciation on a wood floor. In fact, it usually increases the resale value of a home. Real wood floors offer beauty for a lifetime — or longer! Every day people continue to walk on wood floors that are as old as our nation. For example, the floors in the White House, Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello are still beautiful and practical today. Carpet is replaced 3 to 6 times before most solid wood floors ever need repair. Thus, wood floors cost less long term and add value to your home.
  6. Finishes can be easily repaired or reapplied.As long as maintenance procedures have been followed, wood floors can be refinished instead of adding to the landfill (as happens with some other floor coverings). Our industry helps to preserve what is already there… the finest form of recycling.
  7. Wood floors give a little on your spine and legs and are better for your joints.Don’t be surprised if your doctor recommends a wood floor for your spine and joints. Wood gives a little and is easier on your legs and feet. Have you ever noticed that your feet get tired faster if you are standing on stone or tile than if you are standing on wood?
  8. Wood is an ideal choice for people with allergies.We spend 90 percent of our time indoors so your choice of flooring can be important. Wood is the floor of choice for anyone with allergies. It will not harbor dust mites or mold and does not trap dust or fumes. Some researchers believe the dust mite could be responsible for increasing asthma occurrence. According to the American Lung Association, wood floors in the bedroom and other main living areas can improve air quality.
  9. Wood floor sales return more money back to the wood industry to support good forest management.Wood floors are a high-end use of forest products and can provide more profit, thereby ensuring the perpetuation of the forest. Many developing countries today rely on timber for export earnings, yet the greatest threat to primary forests in these countries is conversion to other forms of land use. Using exotic species for wood floors is a good way to value the wood highly and encourage reforestation for continued income production.
  10. Wood is our greatest renewable resource.North America has more than 70 percent of the forest cover that was here in the 1600’s. Plus many exotic woods come from certified sustainable forests.In North America we produce more wood than any other place on the planet! According to the World Resources Institute report, our continent was unusual in that it increased tree cover in the 1990s. In other words, we grow more than we cut. North America is also becoming known as a ‘carbon sink’. Scientists have shown that young trees use more carbon dioxide than older trees , much like younger animals need more food.

 

Refinishing Reclaimed and Antique Wooden Floors

There are many types of floor finishes and different finishes may have been used in different rooms, so the type of care you need may vary. Your builder, realtor, or flooring professional might be able to tell you about your floor finish. Try to get the brand names of the finishing products and the name of the manufacturer if you can. Keep information about your finish in your files to help you determine the proper floor care products. Here are some things you need to know about the restoring various types of finishes.

Surface Finishes

This includes the polyurethane family. These finishes require the least effort to maintain.

For general cleaning:

  • Use the manufacturer’s recommended product or just add ¼ cup of white vinegar to one quart of warm water.
  • Dip a clean cloth or sponge mop and wring nearly dry.
  • Clean the floor and wipe dry with a towel as you go.
  • Buff to restore luster. If luster does not return in traffic areas such as doorways, kitchen sink, stove area, or hallways, the floor may require recoating. Consult your wood floor contractor, or you may apply a compatible aerosol finish to areas that show wear.

NOTE: NEVER WAX a surface finish. In most cases, wax will be slippery. Once waxed, the floor cannot be merely recoated to rejuvenate the finish, but will have to be completely sanded down to raw wood before you can refinish.

Waxed Finishes

Normally these include: oil-modified urethane finishes, a sealer coat with wax over the finish, or possibly a stain with wax.

For general cleaning:

  • If the floor looks dull, buff first to see if that will restore the luster before re-waxing.
  • If areas of heavy use no longer respond to buffing, wax only those areas and buff the floor to an even luster.
  • NOTE: If the whole floor needs attention, clean and wax with a liquid wax and cleaner specifically for wood floors.
  • You can be sure if the can says ‘Contains Petroleum distillate’ or ‘Naphtha,’ which it is specifically for wood floors.
  • If your wood is stained, select the type that also contains stain.
  • Follow the instructions on the label, being certain to apply evenly and wipe up any excess as you go.
  • Let dry then buff to the desired luster.

Depending upon traffic, the floor should only need complete rewaxing once a year.

Historic Finishes

If your goals are to restore the floor to its original finish or to use the products of prior eras, here is some good information about the history of floor finishes.

The historic floor finishes were all surface finishes that are rarely used today and do not have the moisture-resistant characteristics of modern surface finishes. You should never damp mop a varnish, shellac, or lacquer finish. Floors finished with varnish, shellac or lacquer should be cleaned periodically with mineral spirits.

Shellac was used prior to the 1850s, but it is much too soft for a finish and it spots easily whenever a drop of water is spilled. Shellac was considered by many, however, to add to the beauty of a floor, primarily because of the warm orange color that its impurities gave to the finish.

Next came varnish, softer with longer drying times. Varnish can take weeks or even months to dry completely. It is still used today, however, on some historic floors. Spar varnish gives a high-gloss finish, tung oil a semi-gloss, and satin tung oil a low-gloss finish.

Polyurethanes came next after varnishes. You can’t really draw a line between varnishes and polyurethanes. They are all products developed from resins. Early varnish was made from natural oils, then came man-made alkyd varnish, and finally polyurethanes that are synthetic resin varnishes with drying agents added.

If you want a natural looking finish and you also need to provide protection for your historic floor, take heart! Water-borne polyurethane when used on heart pine over an oil-based sealer and applied in thin coats, can look similar to a natural oil or varnish finish.

Restoring without Refinishing

When all else fails, or you acquire a disaster floor, you can work with a type of product called ‘renovator.’ Renovator is a special class of products made by several of the finish manufacturers to help restore old floors. They do not contain any waxes and can clean off residue that may be left from oil soaps and waxy dusting compounds. These products will rejuvenate and “leave the wood with the natural glow of the original finish,” according to one manufacturer.

Renovator is for floors finished with penetrating floor products (not surface finishes). It is specially formulated to clean, restore and reseal hardwood floors, terrazzo, concrete or unglazed terra cotta tile without requiring that they be sanded first. Renovator works by softening a thin layer of the finish coating and simultaneously cleans the surface and replaces the softened layer with additional sealer.

Paint thinner (careful – it is flammable) and fine steel wool may work to partly restore old floors. Do not use the steel wool dry – work in a puddle of the thinner and wipe the floor clean as you go. Follow these simple steps to refinish your floor with paint thinner:

  • After the floor is dry, apply paste wax – clear or with a stain, either liquid or solid.
  • When using solid paste wax, wrap a ‘wad’ of wax in a cloth and apply a thin even coat. The warmth of your hand and the rubbing friction melts the wax.
  • Buff to a luster.