Historic Floors Wear Thin Under Sanding
Half the fun of owning an historic home is dealing with the
quirks and idiosyncrasies that come with restoring it. Old
parquet and strip floors present a unique challenge. Because
parquet floors are fragile and very thin, you need to be cautious
in your approach to the refinishing process. Don't worry about
choosing a finish until you deal with preparation.
The paramount consideration is avoiding damage to the floor
during preparation. Avoid sanding if your parquet floor isn't
thick enough to withstand it. You may have only three-eighths of
an inch in thickness before you hit the tongue. For that reason,
consider taking the harder but safer route of hand scraping or
stripping with chemicals. Strip-style floors are generally
thicker than parquet and suitable for sanding.
If you do sand, remember that repeated sandings will grind down
the surface. Each sanding removes about one-sixteenth to three-
sixteenths of an inch from your floor. To determine how thin-
skinned your floor is, try looking under the molding and
baseboard, or take out a floor heating register. Floor joints in
these older homes are usually about one-inch thick--fairly wide
but not a problem. Reduce the thickness of the board down to much
less than seven-eights of an inch, however, and it might yield to
weight. You could be inadvertently adding an extra spring in
On the other hand, if your floor has been well-maintained, you may
skip major preparation and go directly to finishing. Despite it's
durability, polyurethane looks tacky to some folks in an historic
home. It's up to you to decide whether stripping and replacing
it with an historic finish is worth the trouble. However, many
vintage floors have the period-style varnish or shellac coating.
You can apply another coat of the same finish to retain that
authentic look. Just remember that shellac doesn't withstand
alcohol or water spills.
First determine what was used originally. Test a small area by
sanding and applying your chosen finish. If it adheres and looks
right, you've probably got the same finish. If not, don't
attempt to mix a varnish coating on top of shellac, or vice
versa--they don't work well together. Waxing will preserve the
finish and create just a hint of shine. You'll need to rewax the
floor periodically and dust mop to keep it free of dust and dirt.
Sources used in creation of this article include Popular Mechanics magazine.