Hardwood floor finish chipping off

Q: I was reading the archives about oil vs. water polys and saw an old article by someone who had pine floors and dogs.

I installed a random-width wide plank heart pine floor one year ago almost exactly. After acclimating it for 14 days (during which we had record humidity for the area, but I have f/a electric heat on) properly with stickers, etc., I put two coats of stain (one per day) and then 4 coats of 100% Tung Oil on it (1 coat per day).

They came out beautifully, until my Labrador started walking on it. I went with the pine because scratches are unavoidable (I also have 3 kids, 7 to 11) and the theory that the more they get beat up the better they look. I expected it to be a little like copper, that it would need time to even out the patina.

However, the problem is, the finish is chipping off. There are scratches, yes, but they just look like regular scratches, and then there are spots where the finish has chipped off, and the wood is the same pale color it was the day I put it in, instead of the dark orange I stained it. These are actually shaped like chips you would see in fingernail polish, etc. Unfortunately, hardwood floor finish chipping all over the whole floor.

I contacted my flooring co. and they could not explain the reason, other than that for some reason, the stain did not absorb into the pine. They advised me to have the floor refinished with a polyurethane this time. They even sent me a check to cover it.

My question is, in the article I was reading, you said something about if the floors were sealed with a quick dry lacquer and then coated with poly, they would never be as durable as they could’ve been.

I would like to know what your opinion is… the tung oil I found to be very easy to put on, not too bad of a smell, and I love the look of it. But again, I have been advised not to use it again. By the way, I trim and file his nails every 5 weeks or so, and he is very very mellow, hard to believe, I know, but true.

I would like to have these refinished this spring, so any info would be highly appreciated.

A: I don’t like applying more than one coat of stain to a floor because of the potential for adhesion issues. If you did not remove the excess when you applied the stain, it would be a very likely that this is what caused the problem. Also, if you didn’t sand the pine floors first but simply applied the stain, that would explain the lack of penetration.

This is what I would suggest for you to do. In the past 6 months I have been introduced to a tung oil based product called Waterlox. I used it, in a similar situation to yourself, on nearly 4000 sq. ft. of new red pine that also had to be stained MinWax Provincial. After all sanding was complete, I was able to mix the stain in the Waterlox at a maximum ratio of 4:1 and apply with a lambs wool applicator. Do not wipe off. Just let it soak in and dry normally. If the stain is not dark enough, apply the second coat of Waterlox/stain mix for the second coat. Then apply 2 more coats of the sheen of choice. Being able to add the stain to the WL and not have to apply then wipe off saved me hours of grief and exhaustion and the colour came out so even throughout. It is also very easy to care for over the long run. Get any scratches through the finish and stain? Simple wipe or brush the tinted WL on the spot. Buffing between coats is not needed for adhesion, as this product co-adheres to itself.

Follow-up Q: Thanks for your reply. I used an additional coat of Waterlox this summer on it. I also used Waterlox on my maple butcher block eating bar. I do like it. I did in fact wipe the stain off, but you’re right, not sanding was probably the key. Do you truly think this would be better in the long run vs an oil based poly? It is truly upsetting to see my beautiful floors looking like this. I lived on the East Coast for about 3 years and am very familiar with old floors. But they did not have the stain issues like I have. I also had a flooring professional come out and he just said to sand, re-stain, and do 3 coats of poly. I wouldn’t mind re-staining and oiling, as even he said I did what appeared to be a great job (I am somewhat of a perfectionist), but I do not want to undertake the sanding, as I understand pine can be tricky to sand correctly.

Will a good professional mind only sanding and not completing the job with stain and poly?

A: I have been applying coatings for over 33 years. Swedish finishes like S****** and G***** are the hardest finishes you could apply in a home. But they are extremely noxious, and I would not use them again. In fact, being very very hard can be a draw back in the long run. This is one of my complaints about pre finished floors. Aluminum oxide coatings are abrasion resistant, which means they are near to impossible to buff and recoat to freshen up the coating.

I did not know there was a product called Waterlox until I joined an online flooring community.

This product has been on the market from the early 1900’s. I have used it on a number of jobs and love it. It is a different from polyurethanes in some ways. Important ways. It does build like a poly. It is softer. but it penetrates the wood even better. That is a good thing. I did a water test between a board finished with polyurethane and WL and after 5 hours there was no penetration on either. Scratch up polyurethane and it becomes an issue to fix it. Scratch up WL and you just have to make sure the area is clean, and apply another thin coat. That is a winner in my books. It is a more grainy look, but it is far easier to care for. I would go so far as to say that anyone can apply it.

Follow-up Q: Hi, I just wanted to add, as long as I’m asking, I would like to stain the floor a little darker and redder. The stain I put on previously came out nicely, no blotches, but I have heard that pine is difficult to stain. I will not be doing it this time– I am having a professional do them.

As it seems that the stain did not penetrate well the first time, do you think it will go better this time? The floors were not sanded the first go around. The flooring co. said it was not necessary, and they were extremely smooth and nice to work with. Also, as a little tidbit, about 2 months after we finished the floors, my newly installed refrigerator leaked about 10 gallons of water on the floor, and although we did mop it up quickly, it got under the counters where of course we couldn’t get to it. The tung oil finish held up perfectly. There was absolutely no cupping or expansion whatsoever. At least I know it is definitely waterproof!

A: Bingo. Just as I said. If the wood was not sanded, that would explain why the stain did not penetrate. With all the handling the wood gets, there is all sorts of grime, oils, etc., on the surface of the boards. Yes, if it is sanded to bare wood, it will go much better this time. I would not anticipate any issues. I think the people who advised you that no sanding was necessary made a boo boo. If the company doing the work decides to go with the Waterlox tung oil based finish, I would recommend they go with the mix of stain and WL and make a small test spot on the wood to make sure the colour is what you want. They may have to apply 2 coats of the mix on consecutive days to achieve it. Testing is the key. If you don’t get the colour you want from the mix, then it will have to be stained as a separate procedure first. Then, 4 coats of Waterlox to follow.

I have confidence that if the company doing the work are decent, experienced, conscientious sanders you should have no real problems this time around. As to water resistance….they don’t call it Waterlox for nothing.

Follow-up Q: I have been reading threads on xxxxxxxxxx.com all day. You guys really know your stuff. I wish I felt as confident in the finishers in this area. No one even knows what tung oil or Waterlox is.

OK, my final question is this: my floor is country grade old growth heart pine from Carlisle Lumber in New Hampshire. It is not antique recovered heart pine. The reason I wanted to stain it is I don’t like look of fresh pine. However, I love the look of old heart pine. Will my pine be that beautiful dark orange/red and how long will it take (obviously I would rather not wait 25 years for it… 3-5, maybe)? It seems to me that if I chose not to stain it, that would eliminate the chipping problem I have with the stain on it now. I am a little worried about the blotchy thing as my floors didn’t blotch at all, probably because the grain was so smooth and flat that the stain did not penetrate. I love the old look, and someone had pictures on the xxxxxxxxxx.com site that I really liked of newly stained pine floors. It is not important and not even desirable that all the boards are the same color, if I wanted that I would’ve done clear maple. (I really prefer old genuine Douglas fir, that is my true favorite). Anyhow, I am wondering if my new pine, since this is not 300 yr. old wood, will still turn that color and after how long?

We don’t see tons of direct sun, especially at this time of year. I hope I haven’t caused you to start banging your head against the wall, it is just so nice to talk to someone who actually knows a lot more than I do, as the finishers I’ve talked to all look at me like I’m crazy for suggesting anything other than 2 ¼ inch red oak finished in 3 coats of builder-grade poly. I will try to send a couple of pictures of the floor as it looks today, and you will see what I mean with the chipping of the stain.

One of the pictures:
Heart Pine

A: I looked at your pictures. Your finish looks like someone in Toronto applied 3 coats of lacquer sealer and then a couple of coats of polyurethane. That chipping and scraping off, even delaminating, is the result.

The only way you can fix this is to have the floors sanded to bare, fresh and exposed wood…with nothing else on top to interfere with adhesion of what you apply on top. I think the Waterlox would be a great choice for this floor. It makes staining this soft wood so much easier too. But you would have to experiment with the colour. I did nearly 4000 sq. ft. of red pine with Min Wax provincial stain mixed in, and it turned out very nice. I used the same mix on some new pine doors I installed in my house. It was effortless and they turned out well. Even stain and they look dated.

Don’t be intimidated by xxxxxxxxxx.com. That site is there because we have problems. That really is how complicated this job can be. A person can have years of experience and still have an issue come from nowhere and bite him in the butt.

Regardless of the stain and finish you decide to use, your floors must be sanded completely clean. After that, you should be able to make a better result. I should add: Jeff’s wife said she tried to stain a board with just the stain and it wouldn’t penetrate. I asked her if she sanded the board? NO. Charlie and Paul at xxxxxxxxxx.com have a lot of experience with Waterlox. Perhaps you should talk to them.