Updated: Nov 4, 2020
A property’s flooring is one of the first elements to share its story— stone, wood, linoleum, parquet. The highly popular option of hardwood flooring began in the 1600s and often featured hand-cut pieces for intricate designs. Today, the art of hardwoods has been simplified (or has it?). The wood options: cherry, oak, walnut; the stain options - dark, light, warm, cool; the direction and width of the planks. Flooring reveals the history, design and emotion of a space.
Hardwood flooring options are endless and imparts the personality of a room.
The floors of the O'Rourke were no exception to its story; salvaging the maple hardwoods was an important piece in preserving the building’s history. However, this was no simple task. When the building sat vacant for decades, the floors warped and fell to decay. But the beauty in historic restoration lies in the challenges it presents: bring the past to the present.
The maple hardwoods at the O'Rourke were in rough shape.
The process begins with repairs. After assessing each plank, an unsalvageable piece is carefully cut out. A replacement piece – which in this case was flooring from an old high school basketball court – is cut to size. The tongue and groove added an extra step to the process: removing the bottom lip on the groove side to allow it to slide smoothly into its new place. Carpenter glue is used for adhesive while a few face nails are added for extra security. (The fewer the better as face nails can cause bigger issues down the line with refinishing.)
The before and after of a flooring repair.
Maple is a great wood for flooring because of its durability and strength. It has a tight grain and is, literally, a hard wood; however, these very qualities are what makes them incredibly difficult to refinish. After making repairs to the planks, the floors needed to be hand-planed. A planer is a bladed tool that removes a thin layer of wood when pushed across the surface. This helps remove any marks, stains or imperfections in the wood that a sander would miss or be unable to remove. After this step, a thin coat of wood filler is applied to the entire area.
The team trough fills the floors with wood filler.
Next up is sanding. Using the drum sander and a 36-grit paper, (the lower the number the coarser; the higher, the finer) the floor is sanded at an angle, then sanded with the grain, one plank at a time. Another coat of wood filler is added afterwards; a sanding edger is then used on the room’s outer perimeter in the spaces the drum sander does not reach. Corners are attended to with a hand sander, ensuring that no spot is missed.
The sanding continues, again with the drum sander, edger and corner hand-sander. Using a 60-grit paper this time, the floor is sanded with the grain of the wood, plank by plank, repeated until the floor has no visible marks or scratches.
After the 60-grit, the team moves to a 100-grit, very slowly sanding the floor plank by plank. Lastly, to buff and really give the floors that smooth finish, 120-grit paper is used with the belt sander, a smaller sander that is hand operated.
Left: Drum sander; Right: Belt sander
The team cleans up the area carefully, vacuuming as much as possible and then using tack cloth to ensure no particles are left on the floor (think of tack cloth as an industrial grade tape you use to get fuzz or pet hair off of clothing). After the cleaning is complete, the floors are ready for polyurethane. The team applies three coats by hand with paint brushes, giving the floors a protective, glossy shine.
And voilà, the maple hardwoods are once again a sight to be admired. But, don't just take our word for it, give our video a watch tomorrow and see the action for yourself.
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