Sand back your floor boards and keep their charm
Sanding floor boards may sound like a rather easy job, simply sand them back, stick some gloss on them and hey presto your floor is done. In reality, I am saddened to report that it’s a much more careful and gentle affair to really get the floor boards of your dreams.
If you want to do those boards justice and really have a floor that gets people talking, it’s really important you follow the steps below, rather than diving in at the deep end and potentially creating a bigger problem than you started with. It’ll take a tiny bit more time, but the results will be worth it in the end.
The most important thing before you start is to check for protruding nails. If you are sanding floor boards, this no doubt means your house is old, and if the house is old, this will come with nails which are not always flush! All it takes is for one nail to have its head above….(wood) and this will rip through your sanding belt in seconds. Simply check over the floor systematically, hammer down any nails on show and you’re set to go.
If your boards are painted, I would advise against burning this off. Many people reach for the blow torch in an attempt to melt away the paint and although this is quick, it does have terrible drawbacks such as burn marks all over the floor boards you are trying to restore. Burn marks are a nightmare to remove, and usually the only way is to sand the life out of your boards to reach some good healthy wood below, which in turn will obliterate any charm you are trying to retain.
Before burning away paint, I would always use a paint stripper and a sander as this will keep your upper surface (where the character of the board is) intact.
Depending on the finish you want, the sander is the next thing you need to consider. If you want a rustic looking floor, with the knots, and darker shades of grain to remain, then I would suggest using a hand held belt sander for the bulk of the area you are looking to do. This does involve bending down for the duration of the job, but this type of sander means you can carefully sand away layers, increase the pressure as you see fit, and take off the surface a bit at a time, until you reach the finish of your choice.
If you’re not that precious on keeping the rustic character of the board, then a large industrial sander is the way to go, however please be warned that this can lead to a more uniform finish across the boards. It’s all down to the type of look you are going for.
Finally, for the corners and edges, you will need an edging sander as many of the larger ones can’t reach those tucked away places that are difficult to access. Ideally 2 people working on the job is good, as one can sand the bulk of the floor area while the other person merges in the edges.
Step 3 – Clean the boards
Many people don’t realise the importance of cleaning back your boards once your surface is sanded. On my floors, I used kitchen roll (lots) and methylated spirit which can be purchased from any hardware store.
When undertaking this section, please ensure you wear a mask, and make sure your room is well ventilated.
To clean your boards, dab methylated spirit on your kitchen roll, wipe this over a section of the board rubbing away any excess dirt, then wipe away the same section using a clean piece of kitchen roll. You will no doubt notice the kitchen roll comes away black, and the board is left looking clean and nicely blended with the old and new areas. Continue this for the whole of the floor and leave to settle and dry for a couple of hours.
Step 4 – Decide on your finish
Often, the biggest mistake people can make is trying to make wood a colour it’s not through the process of slapping on a dark dye and hoping for the best. This can lead to major disappointment and a nasty finish.
Different woods take differently to different products and all of this depends on the wood you are working with. My house for example has a pitch pine type of floor board. This wood (despite looking very light when sanded), had a very reddish tinge when any product is applied. Therefore, I had to carefully choose a light oak stain, which I then finished with an antique oak floor polish. The result was a wonderful yellow/honey colour, the perfect country cottage flooring I was aiming for.
It is a trial and error process and I can’t advise you across the board (excuse the pun), however my biggest tip to anyone is test and test again! Chose a corner of the room you have sanded and cleaned, and use this area to test out stains, gloss and whatever else you have in mind. You can always sand this back, but never just cover a floor and hope for the best, otherwise you will see yourself heading straight back up to Step 3 and repeating everything you have just done!
My personal preferences for finishes are as follows:
For a lightish looking floor with a yellowy antique warmth to it, I would recommend Rustins Light oak, coupled with Fiddes and Sons, antique oak polish. Depending on the sheen you require on your floor, you can build this up with layer upon layer of polish. I wanted ours to have life in the boards, but not to the extent where you could see your reflection in them, so I opted for 2 layers of the polish.
If you love the colours of your boards as they are, and want them to stay as light as possible, then some people opt for a clean gloss solution, many of my clients have used sandalwood clear gloss finish and have been left happy with the results.
If you require a darker finish, then the darker the stain you chose, however I would always be wary of going for something much darker than the boards in your home. This needs to be built up layer upon layer, and sometimes a very dark stain being applied at the offset can lead to a streaky finish.
Good luck with restoring those boards and if I conclude with any pearls of wisdom, those would be, take your time, research your boards, speak to the professionals, and never cover a floor surface with ANYTHING before testing in an area first!!