Old House Restoration

A real family makes an old house their home...for the 2nd time
The Splendido's renovate, restore and rejuvenate their home with their own hands - all while living in the house
and balancing their family needs...you know...like most families have to do it!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Are there wood floors under there?...Breakfast Nook Floor - Before & After

removing linoleum floors - restoring wood floors
Original linoleum and some wallpaper remnants
After finishing the patio, I have taken a well deserved break from projects this past week. Therefore, I'll go back to a past project- the Breakfast Nook/Butler's Pantry posts. The first entry showed the Moravian Light I brought back from the dead and converted into a pendent light. The next item I tackled was the butler's pantry itself, but since you can see the wood floors in the after pictures - I will write about how I restored the wood floors instead. This means I have to go out of chronological order (which if you share my Type A personality - you know it is driving me crazy...but I have to do it).

The kitchen and breakfast nook share the exact same floor...which is not good for either of them! The kitchen floor is over 2 times larger than the nook, so I figured I would use the nook as my practice floor. Actually the whole nook restoration is a practice run for the kitchen, because almost the exact same changes need to happen in both - just in a larger scale.

removing linoleum floors - restoring wood floorsWhen we first walked through the house the obligatory home buyer question was asked "Do you think there are wood floors under there?" Extremely dirty looking and permanently stained - it is safe to say the floors were in rough shape - even before Karen started chipping away at various areas to get the answer to our question. Her archaeological digs (those first few days in our new house!) determined there were wide plank pine floors under the layers of linoleum, felt, plywood and tar paper. In the picture to the left you can see her handy work at the corner of the swinging door. She also did a larger area hidden underneath the runner (to protect us from splinters) at the top of the picture. We lived with these areas for 6+ months until I started this project in January.

Her work was not for naught. The rest of our house has very nice oak wood floors, but Paul Schaefer was known for his use of wide plank floors...so we were excited to see the wide planks, knowing we could bring back some authenticity. Even so I was honestly not looking forward to the job at all. I did a similar process at the old house and it was no fun at all. When it comes to getting that tar paper off the floor there are two schools of thought:
  1. Sand it off - using a new sanding disk every square foot or so (the tar fills in the grit making the sandpaper useless real fast)
  2. Use hot water and a hand scraper and get ready to get mucky!...this is the way I go....if anyone else has used the sanding method with success please let me know!!!
Restoring Your Wood Floors

Step 1 - Remove the Linoleum

No pictures, but the linoleum removed pretty easily with a heavy duty floor clean up scraper. I just repeatedly slammed that in between the linoleum and the plywood and peeled up the linoleum.

Step 2 - Remove the Plywood

removing linoleum floors - How to restore wood floors
removing the plywood revealed the tar paper
Gloves and a face mask a must. My knee pads would have been nice, too. A mixture of hammers, screwdrivers, crowbars, floors scrapers and good ole brute force were able to remove the plywood, felt and any remaining nails. So many nails!

removing linoleum floors - How to restore wood floors
Use any means possible to get the old stuff up

Step 3 - Removing the Tar Paper

Tar Paper/Tar stuck to the beautiful wood - how sad
After 75+ years the tar figured it had squatter's rights to the pine boards. For some silly reason I thought I would try various "products" you can get at the hardware store to make this process easier. I'll save you some time and a lot of effort...don't try any of them. None of them help. I returned them all for a refund. By the end of day one - I was shot. My back was killing. I decided to stop and that Sunday would be another day. I would go back to my tried and true hot water method.

Hot Water Method of Removing Tar Paper
  • Boil water in the tea kettle
  • Pour scolding hot water in a 5 gallon pail
  • Dip 4 old beach towels into pail
  • Pick up a towel (with thick rubber gloves - they are hot!)
  • Let excess water drip back into pail
  • Lay towels over the floors in a single layer
  • Wait 15 minutes
  • Pick up the towels
  • Scape the floor boards with a 2 inch paint scraper
  • Repeat above steps 2 more times until most of the tar is gone.
Using this method is tedious, you are on your hands and knees for hours, back breaking, wet, dirty, sloppy, gooey work. Sounds fun right?! (Seeing the mess I was making, I did here the kids say, "how come you get all the fun."...really!?) When it is all said and done, I probably touched every inch of wood on that floor 8-12 times...2 inches at a time! I really may need to revisit the sanding option for the bigger kitchen floor.

Funny thing is after all that hard work you are left with a floor that is tar free but does not look very nice (see above). But don't fret. They will still look great when you are done. Keep reading on!

Restoring wood floors
Imagine scraping every inch with this 8-12 times!

Step 4 - Sand the Floor

Restoring wood floors
After sanding - they are starting to look like something
All that water will raise the grain of the wood, plus the wood will have many uneven spots and little remnants of tar. So sanding is still necessary. I used a 5 inch orbital sander we have owned for 10 years. About half way through the sanding it broke...wood floors is not really its intended purpose. I did go out and buy another 5 inch orbital to finish the job (they are used on so many projects!). In my last post I mentioned how one of the benefits of doing your own work is being able to buy new tools...however, that same excitement does not exist when you are buying a new tool to replace the one you just broke.

Step 5 - Stain the Floor & Polyethylene

Start light - you can always go darker. That was Karen's and my mantra when it came to the floors. We thought about having light pine boards, but had an inkling based on past experience with restoring woods floors that had been abused by nails, tar and the like that we would eventually end up dark. We were never going for pristine. We wanted the rustic wood floors. Our house has an Adirondack rustic feel from the outside, so having non-perfect wide planks floors would fit in just right.

Light stain did not do the job...too uneven.
With that said, I first applied a pre-stain conditioner that is supposed to help even out the stains absorption into soft woods. Then I applied a light stain and decided we would live with it for a few days to see what we thought....my initial thought was - we are going dark. This light stain was way too uneven.

So then I went to my local Benjamin Moore dealer and talked to them about some ideas I had in my head. As with most stains, you apply the stain, wait a few minutes and then wipe off the stain. I was noticing as I started going darker, everything looked fine when applied, but once I wiped the stain off all the unevenness reappeared. So I had used a PolyShade product on my last kitchen. It is a polyurethane and stain all in one. The big difference here is you apply it and leave it to dry. So it covers imperfections better (uneven color, nail holes, etc). Our last kitchen's floor looked fantastic for 5 years or so, before we started getting wear spots at the heavy use areas (in front of the sink, etc.). This is because the PolyShade does not penetrate the wood. So over time it has the potential to wear out.

These are what I used
My idea this time, was even though the directions say All in One - I would still cover the whole floor with 3 additional coats of real polyurethane as if I had stained it. I talked with the folks at Benjamin Moore about whether my plan should give me the coverage I was looking for without getting wear patterns over the years and they assured me I was on to something. They suggested I go with a good Polyurethane. They said this brand (pictured right) is stronger than most. The only down side is it is only allowed to be sold in Quarts.They can sell me 4 quarts, but they are not allowed to sell a gallon. Nonsensical.

So with that, I applied the Mission Oak PolyShade and three coats of Satin poly with a Lambs Wool applicator (very important).

Staining Process
  • Apply a pre-stain conditioner - especially if you are staining a soft wood.
  • Apply your stain according to directions. Stains get wiped off after waiting a few minutes. PolyStains do not get wiped off.
  • Wait for the stain to dry.
  • Apply a second coat if you want a deeper color  (I went with one coat)
  • Apply polyurethane according to directions - I used a lambs wool applicator
  • After it dries lightly sand with a very fine sandpaper
  • Wipe off sanding dust with tack cloth
  • Apply 2nd and 3rd coats of poly following the same steps. Do not sand after your final coat.
If everything was done right you should end up with something like this! Better than I ever imagined!

Restoring wood floors

The floors still look great 3 months later (as they should). After some real life use they do look more satin than semi-gloss as the above picture suggests. We LOVE the floor!

The nice part is when restoring on a budget this project cost practically nothing!...as long as you do the work yourself.
  • Sanding disks for orbital sander - $5
  • PolyShade - $13
  • Poly - 2 quarts - $16
  • Lambs wool applicator - $8 (refills are cheaper if doing future jobs)
The best $42 you will ever spend!...of course I had to buy a new orbital, but that will be used for years to come.

It should go to show you no matter what your wood floors look, like they can be saved! Especially if you are willing to go a little rustic. A rustic real wood floor beats a new vinyl, linoleum or (most) laminates any day! Go for it!


  1. Beautiful job !!!! That's EXACTLY what I am looking for !! I will be using new pine boards. My 26 yr old house has carpet over plywood. so ... yeah. I don't want the "perfectly pristine look of every board being the same. i want old nails and texture. Well done.... Question. If I buy new pine boards do I have to let them sit to acclimate for a while before laying? How long? will they shrink a lot and leave really wide gaps in between the boards?
    Thanks for any info.

  2. Thank you Thank you, fixing to tackle 150+year old pine floor that are nasty no tar just funk.... You really helped.