The Acanthus Group is frequently asked to restore wood floors. Over the course of its career, The Acanthus Group has worked on a variety of flooring projects including refinishing existing flooring, using salvaged antique flooring rescued from buildings slated for demolition, or even milling new flooring out of old beams. We have encountered and worked with a variety of wood in our projects including white pine, yellow pine, chestnut, maple, red oak, white oak, and poplar.
While most people admire the beauty and character of old wood flooring, it is often taken for granted. It is commonly thought that wood flooring is easily renewed by simply sanding it and applying several coats of finish. This is an incorrect assumption that often leads to irreversible damage.
In terms of refinishing, the worst thing that could be done is to aggressively remove the finish using the common drum sander. Along with the finish, drum sanders easily remove a 1/16 – 1/8” inch of wood from the surface of the floorboards. One only needs to do some easy math to realize that most wood flooring can only withstand one to two treatments such as this before it is ruined. A common problem we see is flooring sanded to such an extent that the surface has been ground down, exposing the interlocking tongues and grooves. We have also seen thin narrow strip flooring, common in late 19th and early 20th century homes, sanded so much that there is hardly any material left and leaving complete replacement as the only option.
The Acanthus Group has become adept at assessing the condition of historic wood flooring and choosing the appropriate course of restoration. We routinely err on the side of being less aggressive in our restoration approach. The Acanthus Group has developed several refinishing strategies for wood floors.
In some cases, especially when the existing floor finish can be determined, is it is possible to gently abrade the floor surface then follow with a thorough cleaning. The last step is to then apply several coats of the same floor finish. This is generally the least time-intensive and most cost-effective option.
Often, it is necessary to completely remove the existing finish. In these cases, we prefer to use a four disc floor sander that is far less aggressive than the commercial drum sanders. The disc sander allows us to minimize the amount of wood removed from the surface and thus extends the life of the floor.
In cases where we encounter a floor that can not withstand any more sanding we are left with one alternative: chemical stripping. This route is without question the most labor-intensive and expensive. However, it does afford the opportunity to preserve the original flooring and is in most cases cheaper than replacing the floor.
In terms of floor replacement, there are varying degrees to which this is necessary. The best case scenario is patching one or several boards that have been damaged. Aside from excessive sanding, common problems that necessitate patching include termite or water damage, and holes from abandoned plumbing and electrical lines. In cases such as these, the damaged wood is carefully removed. Replacement boards are then milled from antique lumber that match the species of wood used for the floor. After the replacement boards are inserted into the floor, they are then stained and varnished to exactly match the surrounding surfaces. It is certainly possible to replace damaged sections of flooring without having to refinish the entire floor.
The worst case scenario is replacing the entire floor. When it is required to replace an entire floor we try to use either flooring salvaged from old buildings or flooring milled from antique timbers. The use of these flooring options allows us to more accurately match the existing flooring in the structure. Following installation, the flooring is typically sanded and finishes are applied according to the client’s specifications.
Why do you prefer to use antique wood for your flooring rather than new wood?
Antique wood most often has a richer color and tighter grain that allows for a better match to the existing flooring in the structure. Also, using recycled wood has less impact on the environment than wood that is newly harvested.
When it comes to restoration, I am a purist. What can be done to match the handcrafted look of pre Industrial Age flooring?
When working on 18th and early 19th Century homes, The Acanthus Group has actually gone to the lengths of using wide, random-width boards, hand-planing the surfaces, and face nailing them with cut or even wrought iron nails.
I have a damaged section of flooring, how do you relace it so it will match?
Sometimes we can take flooring from an area that is not seen, like a closet, and use it to replace the damaged section. If not, we like to use reclaimed wood so that the color and grain matches better. Finally, we color match the replaced section so that it blends in seamlessly with the original floor.