Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Renovation Blues

I took this photo of the finished floor while it was still wet, thus the gloss. It actually dried to a beautiful satin finish.

IT WAS a really bad moment. I lay my head down on the floor from my kneeling position and cried. I had been working on the hardwood floor in my foyer for about six weeks, and this was the make or break moment. I was crushed.
From the first time I viewed the house, three years ago, I made a mental note to myself that the old seventies parquet wood tiles covering the foyer floor would have to go. They were worn out, and loose, and to my eyes, ugly. I knew there was real wood underneath, because I sneaked a peek underneath one of the loose ones, one day, not too long after moving in. There were other priorities on my to do list, however, so the foyer floor had to wait.
Now I had finally gotten around to getting all those tiles off. I literally sat on my hands and knees for about a week, pushing a screwdriver under each one, until it popped off. Underneath, I found about a quarter of an inch of hardened wood glue, covering about fifty square feet in total. Underneath that was a beautiful oak floor, just waiting for someone to bring it back to life. I was pretty optimistic about this project. I could get the glue off with some stripper, and then sand, stain, and poly. It would be easy. It would look great. No sweat.
Getting the glue off was messy and smelly, but finally I looked at the floor with satisfaction. It was pretty scratched up, but I thought it would be a piece of cake to clean it up.
I went to the store and bought a large roll of plastic, and sealed off the foyer from the rest of the house to eliminate dust. My husband and son have asthma, so keeping the dust down was a big priority. I began sanding with a little mouse sander, and quickly realized this wasn't going to work. Even though the space was small, it was taking too long. I decided to just go big and rent a sander from one of those do it yourself places. That said, I came home with the sander and set it all up. I started having problems right away, however, because the big buffer pad under the sand pad just wouldn't stay on. It kept coming off, and I kept getting irritated. Also it seemed to be putting out a lot of dust. I should have taken it back right away, but the store was an hour away, so I decided to make it work the best I could.
I finished the job and took it back, and then came home and got out the stain. The very first brush mark, I knew something was wrong. I hadn't been able to see the very large machine scratches on the floor when the wood was raw. With each brush of the stain, new scratches appeared. I just kept staining, in hopes that it wouldn't look too bad when it was done. When it was all done, I stood back and looked at it and realized that the scratches were about five feet long. And about two feet wide. I knew then that the rental sander had scratched up my floor. I called the store and got my money back, but I still had to do something about it. I considered calling in a professional, but my natural optimism talked me into having another go. I got out my trusty belt sander, and started over. Now I have had previous experience with the belt sander. I knew all about the little grooves left behind by a careless sander. That had happened upstairs, when my husband let my twelve year old have a try at sanding one of the floors. I was determined to be careful. And I was. It took about a week of sanding and not much of my sanity was left at the end. Every day I got up and put up that plastic curtain, and got to work. Every day that plastic stayed up just a little bit less until the final day, when it just fell down. Even thumb tacking it wouldn't make it stay. But the floor was done and it looked great.
Again I applied the first brushstroke and sat back and looked. Again my heart sank. As careful as I had been, little groove marks began to appear. I again kept staining, in hopes that it would get better. It didn't look as bad as last time, but it wasn't good either. Maybe a second coat of stain would help. I started the second coat, but something was wrong with the stain. It was coming out muddy looking and spotty and thick. I had made the classic mistake of using the can to paint from, rather than using the roller tray, and the pigment had all settled to the bottom. I tried to sand some of the spotty parts down a little, and then that optimism that kept getting me into trouble took over again. I decided it wasn't too bad, and to go ahead and polyurethane over it. I told myself it would be okay. I applied the poly and waited for it to dry...only it didn't. Eight hours later it was still sticky...and so shiny. Why was it so shiny? I looked at the can and sure enough I had grabbed the wrong can! The rest of the floors are done in a satin, and I had grabbed the super glossy. I just shook my head. How could one project go so wrong? I let it dry and then lightly sanded over the first coat so that I could apply another coat. But the more I sanded, the lighter the wood became, and those little ridges, almost invisible, before, began to appear. That was the moment that I broke. I just had nothing left.

I didn't know what to do, so for a week or so did nothing. Then that optimism slowly made it's way back, and I decided to try one more time. I got out my trusty palm sander and set to work. This time, everything went as planned, and today the eighty year old floor lives again. I wrote a Haiku about the whole situation. It goes like this:

I bought and old spent house
Made it new and wonderful
Now I'm old and spent.

That about says it all.

My favorite part of this project was the patch I put in the floor. There had been a hole near the shoe moulding where an electrical cable once ran through, about an inch in diameter. I was watching This Old House sometime last year and it just so happened that Tom Silva was demonstrating how to fill a hole in a wood floor using a dowel. I remembered that episode and did exactly what he did. I cut a piece of dowel, placed it down in the hole, with wood glue. The dowel was just a little smaller than the hole, so I filled in around it with wood putty. Then when it was dry I got out my colored pencils and colored the putty to match the grain of the wood around it. The result was a patch that was an exact match to the rest of the oak floor. I then poly'ed over it. Today it is difficult to find the spot.

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