You’ll have to excuse this somewhat self-indulgent post, but I’ve the feeling that if I publish it here I’ll save my poor family from having to listen to me blethering to everyone who steps across the threshold for the next 12 months. It’s not as though there isn’t anything else happening at Hungerton either, with lambing already in full flow, the ongoing building works, and so forth, but it’s probably best I get this said here, for marital harmony’s sake…
This January I have been mostly renewing the oak floor in the dining room. And, frankly, it was one of those jobs that I really wish I hadn’t started. It’s not as though I wasn’t fully aware of the pain either, as I’d refurbished the sitting room floor shortly after we moved in.
That was a necessity then as the old carpet in the sitting room had acquired a nickname, “the skinned donkey“, and we obey the rule* that as soon as a carpet gets it’s own name it’s probably time for it to go.
[It also probably worth admitting that I used the excuse of the sitting room floor to escape the maelstrom that hit us when we first moved in – despite the dust, and the pain from the constant kneeling, it felt like a safe haven from the world on the other side of the door. I won’t, however, elaborate on whether the current project was sparked by similar escapist fantasies, other than to say that the stress levels have been through the roof of late…]
So this time the need was no less; although this carpet didn’t bulge as though something had been badly buried beneath it. Instead it had lived through a number of wayward puppies and incontinent elderly dogs, and its complexion could best be described as “mottled” (and worst, as… well… let’s not go there).
When I lifted the the dining room floor carpet, I found that it had been butchered whilst laying central heating and electricity, with broken boards, large gaps where they’d been jemmied apart, and in one corner, the damaged oak replaced with pine. Across the entire floor were splatters of paint, white and blue and red, many of which had soaked deep into the timber. No thought had been given that times might change, and that the original floorboards might be resurrected. And I gave little thought as to how long, and how much hard work, it would take to fix.
I dislike the idea of those walk-behind floor sanders, particularly when there’s proper history underfoot – they tend to take off too much, and they bite too hard, and the history goes away with them. So hand sanders and dust masks, floor lamps and kneepads, and lots, and lots, of patience.
Whilst I had conveniently forgotten the pain of sanding a floor, I did remember some of the lessons from the first time around – although not nearly enough. So if I write down what I know now, I might remember for next time… not that I’m likely to be allowed to do it again (see “kneepads”, below).
- Use decent quality sandpaper. I ended up using Klingspor belts, and Arbranet for the orbital. Avoid those that are sold at the big DIY chains like the plague.
- Buy a decent pair of kneepads.
Actually, to be completely truthful, I only remembered this too late. The elastic had gone on the old pair, so I tied a knot at the back, behind the knee, then knelt on the knot for a couple of hours. As I was already in pain, knees, back, shoulders, I didn’t take any notice of the additional pressure point… until I tried to stand up. Three weeks later, I still can’t feel my foot and the nerve damage is likely to take another four to five weeks to repair.
- So, really remember to buy a decent pair of kneepads
- If you’re doing it “by hand”, buy a decent belt sander. Mine wasn’t great; it was a constant battle to keep it flat, particularly with the more aggressive papers, and they really, really must stay flat. You’re likely to spend long hours with it, so given half a chance I’d get a Makita.
- Avoid using the “nose” of the belt sander to tackle those stubborn sections. Yes, it will shift them quickly, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to leave depressions scattered across the floor that you will notice.
- Depending on your flooring, ignore any advice on doing the first pass across the boards, rather than along with the grain. Apparently some suggest that by going perpendicular to the boards you smooth out any uneven surfaces, but it really wasn’t the right approach for ours.
- It doesn’t matter how many cloths you hang in front of doors, dust is going to get everywhere.
- Do not sand a floor in a room that is also the only route from the kitchen to the rest of the house and expect doors and dust-cloths to stay in place.
- Do not sand a floor in a room that is also the only route from the kitchen to the rest of the house when you have dogs, who will take full advantage of the open doors, and use the floor as they have in the past (see state of carpet above).
- Do not kill the puppy for weeing on the freshly sanded floor, nor the old German Shepherd for leaving a large mess on the finished-all-the-sanding-cleaned-all-the-dust-now-about-to-varnish floor, despite both episodes requiring sanding to start again.
So, with some of the repairs sorted, and three passes of sanding done (40/60 grit, 100 grit, 180 grit), and redone (thanks, dogs), all that was left was to work out the best wax/oil/varnish to protect it with. I’d used a yacht varnish in the sitting room, which has worked perfectly, but the request was for something that didn’t darken the timber as much. I’m really not into having to redo the floor every six months, so linseed oil was out, and Isabel didn’t want it all shiny (so no yacht varnish). Having read good things about Osmo Hardwax-Oil, a hybrid that is supposed to offer the best of both wax and oil, yet still be hardwearing, I put some down in the corner, but the verdict was “too red, too shiny”.
I’d spotted another Osmo product, their “Effect Raw“, which says that “Light coloured wood stays light coloured“, combining the hardwearing oil/wax with a “tint” to “neutralise the permanent ‘wet-look’ that develops after application of a clear finish“. First problem was that the advice was not to sand finer than 120 grit, so having finished on a 180, I had to do another pass at 120. Then on to the first coat.
Unfortunately it was 100% the wrong product to use. If I’d sanded more of the top layer off, and if I’d made the entire floor satin smooth, then perhaps it might have worked. However, in keeping the history that I so wanted, I’d kept a lots of the blemishes, and when Osmo talk about the “small amount of white pigments“, they really mean “paint”. Despite spending seven hours late one night – the best time to avoid massive traffic issues – and putting it on as thinly as possible, the white paint collected in the blemishes and it looked horrid.
It all had to be sanded back, then cleaned up, then started afresh.
We decided to stick with the Osmo Hardwax-Oil, but in a clear semi-matt. Two coats later, three weeks of my time, one dead foot, and the rather strained patience of Isabel, it was done… for now.
There’s still a number of boards to repair, but as we’re talking about having to rewire and replumb this place in the nearish future, the floor is all going to have to come up again soon, so we’ll fix those things then.
* A rule I’ve just made up, but one worth remembering