Finishing a Douglas Fir floor

Q: We have a 1930s colonial revival home. Upstairs, in the bedrooms, we have what I believe are Douglas Fir wood floors. Two rooms were Previously finished when we bought the home. We are now in the process of removing the carpet in the other two. The floor appears to be in good shape, but still has a thin layer of wax finish on it and is otherwise rather raw. I am really leaning on cleaning them up, lightly sanding and rewaxing them. I’m drawn to the easy repairs and the ease of application, but mostly to the natural softness wax floors offer.

The flooring store recommended water-based poly. I’m really not sure what to do. Any advice? And if I wax could you walk me through the steps? I’m considering a hard wax vs a liquid wax.

A: Well, there is no perfect finish. They all offer something good and also downsides. There was a time when the only options people had were some type of varnish, shellac, and wax. Shellac actually contains wax naturally as part of the secretion of the lac beetle. These finishes went out of popularity mostly because they require some upkeep compared to a topcoat finish like water born urethane or solvent-based urethane. However, topcoat finishes are not so easy to touch up and getting a perfect blend if you have to fix a spot is near impossible. Wax can get spots if you spill liquid as will shellac. Liquid wax is easier to apply but there are likely more non-toxic and natural waxes available. It’s a lot of on hands and knees elbow work initially. When I was little my grandmother had a small polisher with twin brushes. Something like that would help a lot to maintain a waxed floor and even in applying the initial coats. You could apply the wax to the bristle brushes or whatever pad attachments may come with it.

Another option would be a penetrating oil such as Waterlox. If these floors are already waxed or contain shellac this would have to be removed down to bare, clean wood before applying anything except wax. Dura Seal does have a product called Renovator which is a liquid cleaner which when applied leaves a thin layer of some type of resin on the floor, and then you can wax on top of it as needed. I don’t mind wax. It is more natural than a plastic coating look.

Douglas Fir is nice to work with also. It stains very well. For the ones I’ve worked, they were almost always finished with shellac which is very gummy when you try to sand it all off.

Follow-up Q: Thank you so much for your reply! If I’d like to add a little more protection than what wax alone offers, could I oil the wood once sanded and then apply the wax? Google and YouTube are flush with so many differing opinions, it’s hard to separate good advice from bad. I do LOVE the color and texture of the Douglas fir. It is softer than woods like oak, but it’s actually part of the reason I’d prefer to wax. I think it would really bring out that natural beauty.

A: I think applying a penetrating oil is a good idea and then apply wax over that. I mentioned Waterlox which requires no wiping off excess after coating. One of its main ingredients is Tung oil. You could use a polymerized tung oil. Both are a bit expensive though, but I think worth it. Just don’t leave any oil-soaked rags lying around in a pile. They can catch fire under the right conditions.

Follow-up Q: Thanks for the advice! This is a small room compared to the other much larger rooms. (It was originally the “maid’s quarters”.) So I think I’m going to try this method as a test in this room. If it works out, we will use it in other rooms. If it proves to not be enough protection for us, it will be easy enough to redo. Thanks again for your responses and advice.

A: I hope some of this back and forth helps. I have no problem at all using older, more natural coatings. After decades of sucking vapors, believe me, I welcome it. And what is wrong with removing shoes and wet boots before tromping through the house? If you are able to remove all of whatever is on the Douglas fir and finish it the way you want, it should look really amazing. It takes years to develop the depth of colour in older wood.

Is Douglas fir easy to refinish?

Related Q: I just bought my first home. There’s laminate flooring down, but under the laminate, there’s Douglas fir. Is Douglas fir suitable to refinish? Or is it too soft?

A: Douglas Fir is softer than most hardwoods but it is easy to work with and stains and finishes really well, if staining is your cup of tea.

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