Q: We have a 3000 sq. foot hard wood dance floor (we think it’s oak, but not sure). We are looking at a minwax polyurethane water based clear finish. We are doing this job ourselves, sanding, sealing and finishing. We want to know which of their four options is the best for us to use; matt, satin, semi gloss or clear high glass. Please keep in mind we want to end up with the most durable, the best looking, the least slippery and the longest lasting finish. Please also keep in mind, this is a high traffic, commercial use dance floor used 7 days a week.

A: If you are doing this job yourself, professional work, and using minwax water borne, then you do not really want the best job, most durable finish. These products are for home owners and DIY people, not professionals. If you want a professional job, call a pro.

Installing on top of old floor(s)?

Q: I presently have a floating laminate floor installed on top of a engineered floor that is glued to a 3/4″ subfloor. I want to remove the laminate flooring and replace it with a 3/4″ hardwood floor. My question is- do I have to remove the glued down engineered floor or could I install the new hardwood floor on top of the engineered floor? If it is recommended to remove the glued down floor, what recommendations could you make in tips and techniques used to remove it?

A: I am not a big fan of multiple layers and would always prefer, if practical, to go down to the sub floor, which in this case is plywood. However, removing the engineered is likely more than it is worth to try to remove. It is all wood, at any rate, with a core like plywood. If it is solidly affixed with the adhesive, I would find the joists and screw through the engineered, just as an added precaution. Then nail the new floor over top.

Crooked boards

Q: While installing prefinished hardwood flooring (bellawood 3 1/4 x 3/4) we ended up with some crooked boards and seams too close together (and a subsequent ladder effect in trying to “straighten” things out). Should we try to remove and reinstall or use wood putty to fill gaps/disguise seams if possible? This misalignment is just on one end of the room and looks like it started about 1/2 way thru the installation.

A: That is a question only you can answer. It depends how close to perfect you want the floor to be.

Another honest rant

Q: We recently refinished our floor and when I put the second coat on there were a lot of lap marks all over the room. Is there anyway to fix these? I have not put the cleat coat on yet- just the stain.

A: I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you mean by a “cleat” coat. Answering your question is so involved and detailed, it is much easier to say “hire a professional”. This is not DIY work. If this work is so easy that anyone can do it, why have I invested over $30 grand on equipment and still find the work sometimes ominous after 33 years? So, how do you think you can do it, even if I try to walk you through anything? I really don’t mean to be rude, but since I have invested so much of myself to make this my living, how can I spend lengthy periods trying to walk someone through the job who is trying to save money? What you don’t understand is that you are now using me and my time to save money on a job you have started and now realize is not quite as easy as you thought it might be.

My best advice is to hire a professional.

Honest answer about DIY floor refinishing

Q: My husband and I are planning on refinishing our oak hardwood floors this weekend. Have you heard of saving the dust from sanding and mixing with the varathane for the first finish coat? We were told that this would fill in any gaps or holes in the wood. Is this a good idea or would it create more problems for us?

A: There are a number of wood fillers on the market. some mix very fine dust collected from numerous sanding jobs and mix it with sanding sealer to fill cracks. Regardless of which filler is used, it is applied and then sanded off prior to finishing. You are doing a job that really is not for the DIY home owner, but you think you are saving tons of money. That you would have to ask a question like this clearly indicates you don’t really know what you are doing. It takes an apprenticeship, basically, to become skilled at working the equipment plus a good amount of understanding on procedure and finishing. You have no idea what you are in for and I won’t lengthen this response by getting into all that. What is your time worth and what do you consider a good job?

Refinish before or after painting?

Q: Is it better to have hardwood floors refinished before you re-paint or after you paint?

A: In my case, since I use a dust collection system with my sanders, painting would be done first. Otherwise, a good compromise might be to do the floors with a couple of coats of finish, then have the flooring person back off and let the painters do their thing. Then have the floor finisher come back for a final buff and coat.

How to refinish oak parquet

Q: I am refinishing an oak parquet floor which I have already sanded. I would like to achieve a dark-espresso finish and I am unsure as to whether I should use oil or water based stain. Which coats should I sand in between? Can I leave windows open for ventilation or do I run the risk of dust causing an issue?

A: I hope you will indulge me for a moment. Your questions regarding the basics of the job are exactly why this work should be left to a professional. Each question you ask could easily involve a lengthy, detailed comment, but I will be brief.

Use an oil stain. Lightly buff each coat of polyurethane if using oil or solvent borne. It can be helpful to ventilate the area a during the coating process, but wait at least a couple of hours for the finish to flow and level.
I hope that helps.

Old farmhouse

Q: I live in an OLD… 75 yrs. old farmhouse. I am tired of carpet in a 16×27 living room. We ripped it up and found wood floors with finish only around the perimeter of the room. I think previous owners must have varished around a large rug or carpet. The floor in the center looks unfinished, but water beads up on it.

A: I assume this is pine plank? Whatever the floor is, I would have it professionally sanded and finished. If you like, you could also have it stained in a light colour. It is funny that we consider 75 to be old. I recently sanded and stained floors in the “Robert Cotton” house, which is 150 years old. A friend of mine, in Bristol England, lives in a house 300 years old.

Maple floors and dogs

Q: We’re currently building a house and am having 3in wide maple hardwood put in. Our concern is we have a large German Shepard and Jack Russel. We’d like to plan ahead and try to avoid the fate of some other folks asking questions about maple floors and dogs. What is the best coating we could put on our hardwood prior to moving in to protect from the unsightly doggie scratches?

A: I have to warn you, maple is not your best choice under these circumstances. Though harder than oak, because of it’s very fine, tight grain, maple actually high lights scratches and nail impressions rather severely! Within a year, the main thing you will notice on a floor like this is hundreds of veins (nail impressions) all over the floor. You finish of choice may not be compromised, but the impressions will be there, fully visible. At least with a wood such as red or white oak or even ash, the abundance of grain tends to hide such marks. Water borne finishes, at least of the high end variety offer a very tough, clear film, but tend to start looking shabby after a few years. I still prefer the oil borne finishes and they are easy to re coat.

Hard time finding contractor for condominium job

Q: I need a sand/stain in my condo for an existing parquet floor. It is the lower level of a loft and is about 300 square feet. I am in need of this work and am having trouble finding a contractor.

A: I can understand why it would be difficult to find someone reliable to do this work. It is not your fault. Basically, condominiums can be a real pain. Speaking for myself, it is a big part of the job just moving all the equipment to the work area. Condominiums can have parking restrictions, elevator restrictions, work time restrictions etc., so that a person feels defeated almost before they begin. I don’t have a problem stopping work at 5 p.m. by then, I need a break. Parking and transport of tools, for me, is a bigger issue.

Can’t afford carpet

Q: We have rental property with stained hard wood floor found under a stained dirty carpet. What would be the most cost efficient solution for us to consider? I thought of staining the floor dark to try to hide the stains and adding a large area rug to room with a one and half foot allowance of wood floor showing. Not sure what to do. We don’t want the expense of wall to wall carpet.

A: I am at a loss here. You don’t want the expense of wall to wall carpet, which is actually cheaper than having a floor professionally stained and finished. Make no mistake: Flooring work is not for the do it yourselfer. You may as well paint the floor if all you are trying to do is save money.

Kitchen flooring and cabinets

Q: Should cabinets be installed on top of the hardwood flooring? I have heard different opinions and don’t know which is correct.

A: I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer. If you think that one day you may want to change the layout of your kitchen somewhat, then, for the long term, it may be better to install the hardwood wall to wall. Some would rather save the expense of putting flooring under cabinets that they will never see.

Finishes containing aluminum oxide

Q: How do you feel about the durability of water-based finishes containing aluminum oxide? my installer wants to use it, he says he will use 3 coats, or I stick with an oil based poly. The less fumes and recoat time is appealing to me.

A: You can use a water borne finish, but I would definitely suggest staying away from Aluminum oxide coatings. Most pre finished floors are such or ceramic. While very abrasion resistant, eventually they will need a buff and coat to refresh the finish. This is near to impossible to achieve successfully. If the smell and slower dry times of oil based finishes bothers you, there are excellent, but expensive, high end water borne finishes that can be used. To name a few, products by Bona Kemi, Basic Coating or Dura Seal are used widely in the flooring industry.

I asked the opinion of a man who has been involved in finish creation and production with more than one large company, and his opinion that these are to be avoided. One product he mentioned had too much particle and looked terrible when it dried. One offered by another company only really has a very small quantity in it, and he does not believe it would offer any significant wear advantage. You can get good wear from good finishes without adding this kind of stuff, and at least down the road you will be able to freshen it up without having to do the full sanding all over again.

Cracks in boards

Q: I had prefinished oak flooring laid in my new home three months ago. There are several boards with cracks forming in them. One was so bad they had to replace it. Can you tell me why this is happening? Do I have a poor quality floor or was the installation not done properly? They had tested the humidity and said it was okay.

A: I do not know who the manufacturer of your floor is, but it is not unheard of for a couple of boards with splits in them to slip in. It does happen. It is likely that a couple or a few bad boards just slipped in unnoticed into the installation. At this point, I don’t think any blame has to be assigned. It does happen innocently enough.

Loop marks

Q: I have a new-found deep appreciation for people who work with wood. Here’s our problem: My husband and I have a very tight budget and scraped together the money to install wide plank pine floors. After sanding with a drum sander (which there seems to be various opinions about whether that should have been used), applying ****** wood conditioner and ****** “Puritan Pine” stain, we have terrible looking floors with visible sanding marks (you can feel the raised areas plus some boards are wavy) both on the open area and the edges are horrible – there are loop marks. What now? We’ve been told many things – the most positive is to re-sand and then leave the wood natural. Is that possible? What would you recommend putting on the floors, if we are able to get them back to natural? While I would love to hire a professional, we can’t. What are our best options? We’re trying to achieve the old pine floor look with all the dings and such – we love the character of those floors.

A: Well, I’m glad you are coming to appreciate those who do this work for a living. If you had asked me before you started, I would have said that this is difficult, stressful and skilled work that should only be done by a professional. A person basically has to apprentice to work with this type of equipment and it also takes time to really learn and understand proper procedures. Often enough, we are faced with situations that also call for a good imagination and improvisation.

If I understand you, you paid someone to install the floors and you have rented equipment to sand, stain and finish them yourself. I would have recommended you try the install on your own and leave the rest to hired guns.

Pine is not easy to work with, and even more difficult to stain because it is so soft. You can leave marks quite easily from the abrasives and have to go very fine with the last sanding…say at least 120 grit. The edger takes particular skill to manipulate, even as the drum sander does. It is beyond the reach of the beginner. Even the wheels can leave marks. I would have gone over, at least the perimeter with a 4″X8″ orbital sander with anything 80 grit or finer to remove such marks, and if you have to go over the entire floor this way, then I would do so. However, it has to be a good orbital sander such as a Porter Cable or a Metabo. Not one of these jack hammers that cost $100 and does nothing but hurt your arms.

Perhaps your best bet, now that you are up to your elbows in this:There are large pad sanders you can rent. Never used one but I understand you can get pretty close to the walls and into the corners, which generally have to be done by hand. Hopefully, you could use this machine with a fine abrasive and remove as much of the stain and marks as you are able. I have never used these pre conditioners. The thing with pine is that you have to move fast with the stain. If you are doing to large of an area at once, and you stop to wet your applicator or cloth, it can leave a mark. I would stain it one plank, one row at a time. If you see an overlap, work the stain well to try and minimize it. Then remove the excess with a clean cloth. There is more fun ahead, provided this initial stage can be successful.

Old painted hardwood floors

Q: I am purchasing a home that has painted hardwood floors. The home is nearly 100 years old, and I have no idea what type of wood it has or how many layers of awful paint have been added to the natural wood. Is there hope for restoring this floor to its natural wood? If not, what type of paint do you recommend so we can at least change the drab colors? [picture included]

A: My guess is that this floor is probably tongue and groove pine. Of course, floors like this can be sanded and finished, but the question is: Is it worth it? This is an extremely nasty and expensive job to do. The main concern is that this may be lead based paint. While my dust containment system will grab the dust, I am not so sure about the vapours that may be generated from this paint heating, smearing and hardening into chunks. If it were my house, I would have plywood sheeting screwed over top and install a hardwood floor.

If you wish to paint over top of this, I would recommend you consult a small paint store in your area.

Measure twice, cut once

Q: I installed a floating laminate floor, but my calculations were a little off. I now have a 1 1/2 inch to 1 3/4 inch gap after putting in my last row. Is there trim that can go around that? Currently, the room has a 2 inch baseboard around the house.

A: If this is a click together joint, just remove the last board and cut one that is wider! Remember the old adage: measure twice, cut once.

Installers error or not

Q: I bought an older house and decided to have wood flooring installed in the sunken living room (on concrete slab). Before installing the flooring my contractor said there was a spot that was not level, he charged me $400.00 to level the spot before he would install the wood flooring (not laminate). I paid him to level the spot and he installed all but the last two feet wide and twenty feet long section. Within the first week the floor buckled up over that spot. He came back and removed the flooring over the supposed leveled spot and said I must have a water leak. He now wants $500.00 more to replace the flooring over that spot, nothing about even finishing the job (the 2’x20′ section). From everything I’ve read in researching probable causes for this problem, it seems that he didn’t install properly. The spot was NOT leveled and there are uneven levels of concrete where he “leveled” the spot. When he removed the few planks of buckled flooring, the pieces left are cracking if you step on them, where the concrete is unleveled and there is nothing under to support it. I can find no signs of a water leak. What can I do to make the contractor fix and complete the job right? How do I prove it was installers error and not the supposed water leak?

A: You don’t tell me what type of flooring this is exactly. Is it 3/4 thick? I assume he is gluing this to the concrete. I am not a big fan of that approach myself, though it is likely possible with today’s adhesives. Did he check the concrete for moisture before he started? What kind of patch did he use to level the concrete? Does it require so many days to cure? What I am asking is: Did the floor fail in that area because moisture is still dissipating from the patch material itself? Is the floor failing anywhere else?

Examine the boards that were removed. How much adhesive is actually on the boards? It is possible that he did not use the proper notched trowel, hence did not get good transfer with the adhesive between the concrete and the wood floor.

It seems too much of a coincidence that the floor failed so quickly where he patched to blame it on a water leak. Is there any blackness, wetness on the underside of the boards? There has to be some sign that this is caused by water.

I think I do pretty well with my approach. It will never get me rich financially. I apply the “golden rule” to my business and give my best because that is the way I would like to be treated. Not perfect, but I always to my best. If something goes wrong, I would want to know the reason.

Perhaps what you need to do is find someone in your area who will do an independent inspection and provide an informed opinion as to what the problem is. Perhaps your home insurance company can provide you with a name of someone who does this.

Streaks from mopping or vacuuming on sanded floor

Q: My husband and I took off the carpet, nails, etc. This past weekend my husband and dad sanded the floors, vacuumed the dust up with a shop vac and then used a damp mop to wipe up remaining dust. The vacuuming and mopping in some parts or the room were done against the grain because at the time we didn’t think it mattered. All of the sanding was done with the grain of the wood.

Before we stained the floors, we noticed two areas in the downstairs that appeared to have streaks across them. The streaks/lines were the same size as the mop. We lightly sanded those areas again and then stained.

The next day, those areas had very noticeable lines/streaks that didn’t blend in with the rest of the floors. Did the mopping or vacuuming cause this? What can be done to fix this problem?

A: I keep trying to tell people this work isn’t easy.

Ok, the problem Was caused by the wet string mop. We have a technique in this trade which not everyone uses, to achieve a fuller, more even colour. After thoroughly vacuuming the floor, you should wet (not soak) the surface of the entire floor and then let it dry. You must not miss any spots, and the best way to do this is in, say, 4-5 ft. wide rows, wetting the surface from one end of the room to the other. Simply dunk a cloth in a bucket of water, ring it out so it is not dripping wet and wipe an area at a time. This is called popping the grain. If it is not done evenly, or if spots get missed, your result happens.

Provided you have not applied any finish to this floor yet, you may be able to save the job. You will need at least one or both of these pieces of equipment: A 4X8 orbital sander and a polisher. You could go out and buy a roll of 80 grit sandpaper from your local flooring company to cut your own 4X8 inch sheets, but you won’t likely use the entire roll. You will also need, depending on job size, close to a package of 80 grit screens to fit the size of the polisher you may have, whether 15″, 16″ or whatever. The orbital sander will be used to remove as much of the stain possible from the perimeter of the room(s), while the polisher will be used to do the same for the main area.

After you have removed all the stain possible, at least from the surface (you won’t get it out of the grain, so don’t worry about that), vacuum the floor and wet it as described. When it is dry, apply the stain with a cloth, row by row, wiping off the excess with a clean cloth until each row is completed. Allow stain to completely dry before trying to apply finish. If you think this is hard so far, wait until you start applying the floor finish.:)

Also see our recommendation to hire a pro.

Redo a hard wood floor

Q: I would like to know what steps to take to redo a 12 x 10 hard wood floor.

A: Honestly? You should hire a professional. This sort of work takes months and years of practice and learning to become skilled at it. I have seen a lot of floors destroyed by people who thought they would save money, because after all, there is really nothing to such easy work.

If you want to see a step by step, go to my friend, Dave Nappa’s web site. and click on the how to link.