Completely Floored

It’s a good thing my kitchen is capacious. In addition to the usual kitchen accoutrements and furniture, at the moment, it also contains a church pew (it usually resides in the front hall), a large cedar chest (which serves as my coffee table), a television and related electronics, a very heavy antique sideboard, a couch (off to the right side of the picture), the top of an old corner cupboard, two small bookshelves and the top of my dining room table (which, no doubt in violation of fire codes, blocks the back door). I’ve been eating out a lot.

The reason for this nightmare of a mess? When I bought my 1895 house seven years ago, I swore the first change I’d make was to remove the execrable kelly-green carpet in the living room and cheap, thoroughly worn parquet in the hall and dining room. I finally got around to it.

As I mentioned in my last entry on this little project, I had a fair amount of patching to do before the floors could be sanded and finished.

As you can see in the picture at right, a former owner had cut a hole in the floor, dropped in some scrap wood, and left the ends of the floorboards unsupported (you can see the joists through the large gaps). There were several areas where similar “fixes” had been done, so I had to pull out the scrap wood and cut back to the joists to “tooth in” matching floorboards of alternating lengths. I borrowed Editor Chris Schwarz’s Fein MultiMaster and went through several “E-Cut” blades as I made plunge cuts in the damaged boards at the middle of alternating joists. Then, using a cat’s paw, I carefully removed the cut pieces. (The removal process was a great deal easier in the small hallway between the living room and kitchen. That entire area was severely water damaged, so everything had to come up , no need to be gentle.)

The living room floors are a mix of 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ boards. I was able to scavenge 3-1/4″ boards from a large closet on my third floor, but I didn’t have any 4-1/4″ boards. I cut all the necessary 3-1/4″ pieces to the correct lengths, and stacked them against the wall as I searched for 4-1/4″ boards.

I also had a number of knotholes to fill in, so Senior Editor Glen Huey taught me how to pattern rout, and kindly lent me his router inlay kit. It seemed fairly simple – you cut a pattern out of 1/4″ ply just a bit larger than the area to patch. You secure the pattern around the hole, and with the collar and bushing attached to the router, use a 1/8″ spiral upcut bit to cut what’s basically a lip around the outside of the hole. Then, secure the pattern to your patch material, and with the bushing removed, rout out a matching plug, and use your table saw to slice off the plug. Smear glue around the lip of the hole and the back of the patch, and tap it in place.

Turns out, it’s far easier on the workbench than on a dusty, splintery uneven floor. In situ, I had to secure the pattern with my feet (no tape would hold; my 120 pounds was, however, quite sufficient) and use the router while bending at the waist directly over it. Then, I had to do a little handwork with a chisel, as many of the holes were near the wall, and the router wouldn’t reach. And who knew , 100-year-old pine smells vaguely like cat urine when you push it too slowly through the table saw blade.

I was done with all the inlay work and removal of damaged boards on Feb. 5. My “new” floorboards were scheduled to be delivered on Feb. 6. So I put plywood over massive holes, and waited. And fretted. And waited. You see, I’d found what I was told was 100-year-old salvaged white pine floorboards at an outfit in South Carolina. They shipped it to me via DHL (the shipping cost as much as the 60bf of floorboards), and DHL misplaced the shipment in Atlanta. Luckily, they found it again, but it didn’t arrive until Feb. 8, and I was on a tight deadline. Al Lovell Hardwood Floors was coming early on Feb. 12 to sand, stain and finish. (Yeah, yeah , what can I say? I hate sanding.)

I got about eight hours of sleep the entire weekend, but I got the replacement boards in place. As the entire floor is rather gappy, it wasn’t particularly delicate or tight work. There were only a few boards from which I had to cut off the bottom of the groove side in order to lever the pieces in place. I used an 18-gauge nail gun to secure the “new” boards to the joist through the tongues and grooves, though I did have to face nail in a few places to keep them from creaking.

The cats and I moved to a neighbor’s house for a week while Al and his crew took over. I had a bit of a scare when Al told me they were having trouble getting some old glue off the hallway floor, and I might want to think about installing tile there. But, they came back the next day well-stocked with #20-grit, and , thankfully , were able to sand through the gunk. Then, they sealed, stained (Minwax cherry) and put down several coats of polyurethane.

J.J., Cleo and I are back home now, and while the oil finish is still a bit redolent, I’m very happy with how the floors look , even with the gaps and a few pieces of yellow pine mixed in. And the cats are pleased to be reunited with their toys. Now, I just have to run 100 feet of baseboard….

, Megan Fitzpatrick

5 thoughts on “Completely Floored

  1. megan fitzpatrick

    Chris,
    The reason I didn’t use filler is because (despite what the packaging says) filler won’t stain the same as wood, and I didn’t want stripes of a different hue in between every floorboard. And, because the house is 100+ years old and a "workingman’s Victorian," it’s appropriate that the floor look a bit rustic, so the gaps don’t bother me (and they’re not so big that one can see through to the basement!).

    Yes, 18-gauge finish nails probably are a little light…but that’s the largest nail gun I had available, and in most places, the adjacent boards to all patches are held in place with cut nails. I’m relying on the original tongue-and-grooved boards to help hold the "new" ones in place.

    As far as the plywood question — sorry I wasn’t clear. The plywood was used only to make the pattern; I used solid 3/4" salvaged pine for the actual patches.

    I’m almost certain the floor is Eastern white pine (except for the yellow pine patches). It was intended as a sub floor, and likely had carpet or tiles of some kind over it. Hardwood (or fir) floors would have been a heck of an extravagance for the likely income level of the house’s original owners.

  2. Chris

    Great that it came out as hoped. Three points bother me a little, however. Was there a reason not to use filler between the boards so it wouldn’t be "gappy"? 18-ga. finish nails seem awfully light for the job. And using 1/4" plywood instead of solid means that next time the floor is sanded, the grain may well be sideways! (Down to the next ply.)

    I also wonder, was the original actually pine, or possibly Douglass fir? Because I have not seen pine floor boards; usually considered too soft; but I have seen Doug fir, which does smell a little funky when cut, especially if a little ‘burned.’

    I also applaud your decision not to try sanding it yourself. Most rental machines are not massive enough to ensure they won’t bounce and scallop-cut the wood — I have seen this, it ain’t pretty! — and those with sufficient mass require big strong shoulders to handle them smoothly. Sometimes, no matter how good you are generally, it’s still time to call in a pro with the right machine & shoulders.

  3. Rick Klein

    Megan,

    Just finished reading your floor finishing article. Glad your project is progressing well. I told you those South Carolina boys were good folks. Remember, however, I never said they were cheap!

    If you want to compare freight costs, I’ll match the freight on a shipment of mesquite from Texas to what you paid for your shipment!!

    That experience taught me a valuable lesson for certain. That is why I just returned from a visit (i.e., ROAD TRIP!!) to the Upstate to a VERY large cabinet door manufacturing facility which agreed to sell me hickory stock so I could finish my flooring (room) project. If you really want to get depressed, visit such a facility for yourself and imagine what you could do with 5,000+ sq.ft. of shop space and every tool imaginable. Now I really need a bigger garage!!

    Continued luck,
    Rick

    PS
    The floors do look fantastic!!!

  4. Doug Lasater

    Great story Megan. I have had to replace several old oak and fir flooring boards in historical homes in this area and can feel you pain. The gulf coast of Florida has many homes with old growth oak floors. My historical home is over 100 years old and when I salvaged some of the oak timbers was plesently surprised when cutting them for the first time in over 100 years the smell was just like fresh cut pine.

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