Pine Boards Restored
Alright everyone, I want to warn you that this post may not sound as cheery as most. That's right. We are about to dive into what has become one of the most loathed projects of this renovation. It may not quite beat out the disasters we faced with our sewer line aka "poo project" (a story for another blog) but boy did it take a toll on our energy levels and patience. So let's just get to it.
This week's post is all about refinishing the original pine floors in the now-converted attic space!
Before we even bought the house, we were excited to see that the original floor boards were in tact in the attic. Given that we were going to convert the space to include our bedroom, a guest room, and our master bath, we were pretty excited about this fact. Not only do we love the look of old, original wide plank floors, but this was also going to be a great way to save some money in the budget.
Oh, how naive we were.
Fast forward a month or so into the renovation, and we we hit snag #1 (or enemy #1, if I could be so bold). I may have mentioned this before, but we ended up having to rewire the entire house with new electrical. Aside from the sticker shock, the next shock came when the electricians decided to do a real number on the aforementioned floors we were so excited about.
To say that they destroyed the floors may be a bit of an understatement.
Okay, now I'm starting to sound a bit dramatic. Let's just say things were salvageable but said-salvaging comes at a price. And in our case, that price was time, time and more time.
In a nutshell, the electricians didn't really consider the fact that these floors were going to be our finished floors. When wiring up the ceiling fixtures for level 2, they needed to access that ceiling cavity from above. Rather than carefully pulling up whole lengths of boards in our future master bedroom, they hacked away, sawing out large 2'x3' rectangles here and there. And when it came time to closing back up the floors, you could assume they took about as much care putting the boards back as they did taking them out.
Now, let me be clear, not all of the time Owen and I spent refinishing these floors was at the direct fault of the electricians. I can safely say, however, that probably a good 60% of it could be directly attributed to the fateful weekend they spent destroying our floors.
So, let’s breakdown the timeline.
We really kicked off this project the first week of February. That means it took us nearly 5 weeks to finally complete the job. Obviously we weren’t steadily working through that whole time, but needless to say it was a bit of a drag.
First things first, we needed to address the butchered boards and gaping holes in the floors. Given the shear volume of fixes required, we ended up devising a ranking system to help us prioritize which areas to focus on first. All boards marked with a #1 were considered absolute musts. As for the #2 marked boards, those would be just a nice-to-have. You’ll see in the finished photos that we were hit and miss on making it through all of the #2 fixes.
Who really needs perfection?
At a certain point we adopted the mindset that we were not striving for perfection, but rather purely tolerable. We had three main criteria: 1. Limit the amount we see down into the floor cavity below, 2. Create a floor that won’t give you splinters, and 3. Fix any conditions where you’re likely to get your heel stuck in a hole. If we could achieve these, we felt like we were doing alright. And if not, that’s what large area rugs are for..
Luckily, we had saved several old sheathing boards from the attic side walls before the renovation started that could be used as stock to replace a some of the damaged boards. Even though it was probably a good 200’ or so of linear board worth, it didn’t go nearly far enough. We ended up having to buy 50’ more of new pine boards plus another 30’ of reclaimed boards from our local architectural salvage shop, Urban Miners.
We tried our best to focus use of the older boards in the more visible, open zones and reserved the new, young wood for areas that would likely be covered with rugs and furniture. This didn’t quite pan out in the master bedroom but we had a plan to help the boards blend in. Before we could address the color variation, we needed to focus on the overall appearance and finish of the floor boards. Rather than renting a drum or buff sander, we opted to use palm sanders to hand buff the entire floor.
Obviously, this sounds like a ton of time and work and you are completely right.
The main reason we came to this conclusion was the fact that these pine floors were super soft and irregular and the only way to really address this was to treat all of the floors by hand. It added a lot of time but really was the only option when it came to refinishing these floors. To top it off, the guest room floors were painted at some point in their life which added even more time to the already lengthy sanding phase.
Getting that 100 year-old look
After some internet research, a mock-up, and chatting with Owen’s dad, we decided to utilize a two-step process in aging the newly added boards. Step one was to stain them with a highly concentrated brew of black tea. With a standard paint brush, we put down plus or minus 7 coats of tea. That got us within range for the background color.
Next up, we put down the first 2 coats of Waterlox, a penetrating tung oil sealer that provides a waterproof finish. We did this for the entire floor, letting each coat dry for 24 hours before applying the next. We then circled back to the tea-stained boards and applied a watered down acrylic wash to help the new boards blend in with the brown tones found in the original floor boards.
We were actually pleasantly surprised with how close the color we mixed up came to matching the old boards.
Also, as the new boards continue to age and oxidize over time, they should blend in even more. The goal here was to make them close enough now that they don’t immediately catch someone’s eye as being different. What do you all think? Did we succeed?
Lastly, we went back and applied one final coat of finish and we were completely done! It’s somewhat kind of surreal and disorienting to have finally gotten to this place. Only a few more days now to let the final coat really dry out and set and we will be moving in our furniture!
Be sure to check out some of the detail shots below. It’s hard to believe how far these floors have come. We’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!