Refinishing our old growth hardwood floors
We have started one of the last projects we need to complete before we can move in... refinishing the floors! According to an early 1900's newspaper article, these are black ash floors. Ash trees used to be very prevalent before the ash borer started decimating the population here. In fact, we just had an ash tree removed last spring because of the emerald ash borer. We did save the wood and intend on having it milled onsite into boards that we can then use as needed for future repairs to the house. The raw sanded wood is nearly white, it has a very distinct grain pattern, and the most telling feature is the smell... When sanded it definitely has a unique smell that is not reminiscent of any wood shop I've ever been in before. Although, I believe we have two species of wood flooring. The main entertaining spaces and halls have what I believe is the ash floor. While the bedrooms and back rooms all have a much lighter tone, with a lot less grain pattern. I haven't identified this one yet.
To start, we rented a buffer sander purely out of not knowing how to use a drum sander. We used this at our last house and it worked well. But the finish on these floors just wasn't coming up quickly with that sander. So we went back and rented a drum sander. I was pretty afraid of this thing, but I did speak with Kadee at Pete's Hardwoods in Minnesota and watched all of their videos on how to use a drum sander. It seriously is like learning to drive a manual car, once I figured out the raising and the lowering of the drum while keeping the sander in motion it was actually really easy. I practiced in an area that will eventually be a closet so any marred spots will be hidden from plain view. The hardest thing I found out of the whole process was keeping my arms strong to keep the sander from pulling forwards too quickly.
On the square buff sander we started with 20 grit, and it just wasn't cutting it. On the drum sander we went with a 36 grit paper. It cut down the finish so quickly. We probably could have done 20 just to get the job done quicker, and may on another room, but for our first try I think 36 worked just fine. We cut diagonally across the whole room, and then went with the grain. I think I changed the sandpaper out 3-4 times just to make sure it was really cutting down the finish and not creating extra work for myself. After the 36 we bumped up to 60 and went through the same motions. To finish we will end at an 80 grit following the same patterns. We will edge the room in the same progression of papers as well. For those nervous about the grit of the paper, it was definitely necessary to get the old finish off - and these floor boards are still over an inch thick in the worst of spots! We actually ended up doing our last room with a base grit of 20 and I am still kicking myself for not starting off with that in every room. Hours would have been saved over the course of 2000+ square feet of sanding.
To finish the floors we are using Pallman's floor coating. We sampled a board to decide between their Pall-x Color and Pall Clear. Both were beautiful, but we ultimately decided to choose Pall-x Color for the ever so slight warmth it brought to the floors. The top coat is a two part finish that will remain clear and not yellow over time. Being a two part finish we are confined to using it all once mixed, but it should be a very, VERY durable finish. I believe this finish is actually rated for commercial use. Our thinking is that we really don't want to refinish the floors in our lifetime - and by that we mean a complete sanding back to raw wood. We fully intend to buff and recoat in 15-20 years, or sooner, and so on should the finish need it.
We are still working on some detail sanding work before we can be ready to put the finish down. The house was built well before shoe moulding became popular so where the wood floor meets the trim is it. I need to go around and scrape all those areas, and I am using a mouse sander in some really tough spots. I will have to go back through and rough those areas up a bit - I've read that using a palm sander can almost "buff" the floors and make them accept finish differently than the larger areas. We are also pending our framing inspection before we put up drywall - I only mention this because I refuse to put down this finish and have bits of rockwool dust fall into my freshly coated floors! But we are more than pleased with how these floors are shaping up. The old finish wasn't necessarily a dark finish, but compared to the raw wood it really was. The house is so much brighter now and that's still with the dark exposed joists. We can't wait to see what it looks like once we actually get everything wrapped up!