Q: I just had my floors refinished due to water damage. I have 3/4″ red oak. We went with a natural finish with a semi-gloss finish. The floors look great, but I have one concern: one area on my floors, when the SUN hits this spot, I can see swirl marks.
Is this finishing problem?
A: The issue of swirl marks is probably as old as varnish/polyurethane coatings which must be “scratched” to achieve inter-coat adhesion. As skilled as a floor finisher may be, sooner or later he will have this happen. It is such a fine line to walk when recoating. Buffing between coats is not optional with these finishes. Don’t buff and the finish will probably peel off. Buff, but don’t buff enough and the same thing can happen in spots. Hi-shine finishes and overhead lighting are most likely to expose these scratches to view.
I would suggest another buffing with a maroon pad and 180 sandpaper strips or 220 grit screen or finer and another coat of finish. If it was me, I don’t think I could absolutely guarantee that there won’t be any swirls still. It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you can only see these in a certain area with direct sunlight, it may be wise to live with it. This work really is “that tricky”.
Fixing swirl marks
Q imported from our old site, Face Lift Floors: We just had our maple floors refinished on the first floor of our house. All the old finish was sanded off and three coats of oil based satin poly were applied. There were problems with pieces of stuff and hair in the poly, spots that were missed so the buffed finish showed. And some drips and puddling. The refinisher decided to buff again and apply a fourth coat. It was better, but still had some of the same problems.
The refinisher decided to buff again and apply a fifth coat himself instead of having one of his employees do it. Now we still find missed spots. The last coat was thin enough that the swirls from buffing can be seen through the varnish. One area where there was puddling was not buffed smooth and still shows. We’ve been off the floor for two weeks and it includes our kitchen. Our patience is running out but we’re not sure whether to keep trying or whether to try a “spot” repair with the risk of lap marks showing up in the poly. Do you have any recommendations?
A: Once in a while, swirl marks happen. I would suggest he buff it again, perhaps with a fine 220 grit screen. Make sure the pad between the screen and polisher plate is not worn out so that there is little or no cushion between the abrasive and hard plate (if that is what he is using). Perhaps after screening the floor, he should vacuum up the dust and buff again with a maroon pad to help remove any swirl scratches.
The floor should be thoroughly vacuumed, including baseboards and any other place where there may be dust that can infiltrate the finish. Then the floor should be tacked. I have recently started using a micro weave pad on an extendable pole. That does a pretty good job of picking up any very fine dust that remains. He should make sure his applicator is clean and free of debris he has likely picked up from previous coats. He should strain his finish or use a new batch for the next coat.
Also, prevent any air from moving over the finish while it tacks up. I don’t know what else to suggest. Sometimes a tiny fiber can fall off the applicator, or you might get the odd tiny fleck here and there. But a contaminated finish, as this seems to be is the result of not cleaning the work area adequately or using a dirty finish or both. Swirls have been a long-standing problem but don’t usually show with a satin finish. The maroon buffing pad was created in the last few years for water-based finishes, and to eliminate swirls on fresh oil-modified finishes.
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