Sunday, November 3, 2013

Testing Floor Finishes


I don't know if it happened staining the deck or slinging the new windows
around but somehow I end up with a dislocated sacroiliac joint--medical
term for "pain in the ass"--last weekend.  My chiropractor helped a little bit
but it took a few days of icing before it finally popped back in when I sat
up in bed on Friday.  Not a fun thing.

Aside from hobbling back and forth to work and sitting on the couch 
watching the World Series with ice packs, I wasn't able to get a lot done
except contemplate kitchen cabinets and do a few more floor samples.


Ever since I painted my bedroom floors Benjamin Moore Gray Owl,
I've wanted to paint more floors in the house.  Painted floors seem to
be very transitional and work well in both traditional and modern settings.
And a light painted floor makes it always feel like summer.

But, if you've ever had a painted floor, you'll know it's not very forgiving
in terms of showing dust, pet hair and miscellaneous pookies.

Sherry Hart's bedroom floors, photo Sherry Hart
Inspired by Loi Thai's post on Swedish floors and Sherry Hart's
bedroom floors, I set out to find some techniques for pickling,
bleaching, staining and liming that I might use to create a light-colored
floor that still has some texture and variation to hide crumbs.


photo:  Eleish Van Breems
I found a youtube video video featuring Rhonda Eleish and Edie Van Breems
of Eleish Van Breems design firm--recently seen on the "This Old House"
Cambridge modern Swedish project--that demonstrates pickling and liming floors
using Minwax and Briwax liming wax.  In my later research, neither Minwax
nor Briwax recommend using these products on floors and one of the designers
concedes the [tortuous] process must be repeated every year or two.  No thanks! 



In the Briwax on-line help forum I found a reference to using white grain filler
to get the limed look on floors.  But I can't seem to find it for sale anywhere.

I did a few google searches for white wood filler and found two for sale.
Timbermate and Goodfilla.  The consistency of Timbermate was putty-like
and it smelled a little like magic markers; Goodfilla was a little more paste-like
and a lot easier to work with.  Here are a few of my test pieces:


Please note that all of these samples are on white oak.

Here's a sample of Benjamin Moore's oil-based pickling stain on top versus
white wood filler on the bottom.  I used a putty knife to apply the white wood filler
and when it was dry, I lightly sanded the surface which leaves the wood filler
in the grain.  I immediately loved the effect of the white grain.  It almost looks
like wood that was painted and has worn back down to the natural wood.



But when I added a Varathane top coat, a lot of the effect seemed to dissolve away.

I wasn't sure if it was the water-based finish that dissolved the water-based wood filler so
tried using Benjamin Moore's oil-based pickling stain (no longer available) on the bottom
half to see if it preserved the wood filler in the grain.  It didn't work very well.


I tried bleaching the natural color of the oak using Savogran wood bleach.
It took a few coats of bleach to lighten the wood and it really raised the grain
of the wood.   I'm not convinced I want to go this route.



I tried using the stain I used on the back porch.  It also dissolved the grain filler
and after the debacle on the back porch, I'm not sure I want to give this a try in the house.



I thought I would try a few Minwax stains right out of the can.

This is Classic Gray.  Don't like it at all.  It seems very fake.



Minwax Limed Oak sitting on some of samples with
white grain filler.  Another awful stain.  It was thick and white
but none of the white penetrated into the wood.  There's nothing about
this that looks limed and I wonder if it was bad.



Minwax Weathered Oak.  It actually darkens the grain.   A friend of mine
said it reminded him of church.  Not a bad color  but it's too similar
to my other floors that are stained English Chestnut.  I don't think
it would be a good juxtaposition.

On the lower sample, I tried the Weathered Oak stain on white wood filler.

On the lower right, I tried tung oil on the white grain filler.  Again, it goes away.




Then I thought I would try Sherry Hart's method of applying a solution
of 50% paint (BM Aura, Icicle) and 50% water.  It looks a little
blue in the photo because it was cloudy outside but it looks good in person.
Quite white but with some wood grain and texture showing through.

On the upper piece, I wiped off the paint with a wet rag.

You can compare these with the white wood filler samples in the background.



Finally, I tried lightly sanding the painted sample from the
above photo which left the paint in the grain and 
then I adding a top coat of tung oil.  This most closely
imitates the sample of white grain filler with no top coat. 

I think I'll try doing a larger sample to see how it looks.

61 comments:

  1. Phew...I'm tired just from reading about all the different experiments you've done to find the right finish...It'll look great though! I guess the secret is going to be durability...and camouflage :) How's the rest of the kitchen progress going?

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    1. There's been very little progress lately while we wait for a various inspectors to arrive.

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  2. OMG! It appears that staining the floor is the real pain in the ass.
    Good Luck!

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  3. This some pretty persistent experimenting. I would have stopped at white wood filler, which I actually like a lot. I am just jealous of wood flooring in general...someday.

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    1. I know. I was really excited about that one...and disappointed when it dissolved under the varathane.

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  4. This may be the most valuable and informational post in the blogosphere - BOOKMARKED.

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  5. This is an amazing overview. I'm liking what you've got going w/Sherry's method. I'm interested to see what you decide and how it all turns out. Have a feeling your patience and experimenting will pay off!!

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  6. Whew! I'm so glad you did this so I won't have to one day:) Good luck... I can't wait to see what you decide. I just did a similar finish to my dining room table.

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    1. Would love to know more about your table, Fletcher, and what you used.

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  7. You might want to look at Rubio finishes from Monocoat. Carlisle Wood floors recommends them- haven't used this on a job yet, but samples I got from Carlisle look great. http://www.monocoat.us/Creative-Effects/

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    1. Thank you so much for the information. REALLY helpful!

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  8. Jesus. I thought I was at work when I read this - reads like a classic engineering problem when the plant calls me and tells me they have a problem and tried this and this and this and this and this and this. A testament to your diligence. Give us a summary of what worked. :)
    Did you talk to Loi about what he used?? xo T.

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    1. Not that I'm neurotic or anything, right.

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  9. I can recommend the Rubio Monocoat finish. It gives a very matte, scrubbed, Scandinavian look to the flooring, and is easy to maintain. The product comes in a number of stains in the off-white to gray range. I chose the color called "Mist" for the red oak flooring in my kitchen and so far I've been very pleased with both the appearance and durability of the finish.

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    1. Thank you for the testimonial; that's great information! I'll check them out.

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  10. Steve - check out this link www.settedesign.com and it should pop up doors I did that might be what you want for your floors. I did 50% polyurethane and 50% acrylic paint in satin finish both water based, mixed them well and brushed them on, whipped them off with a rag. The color was was white gray with a hint of lavender that came out white with the warm toned wood.
    Also could you just reverse the process of the white wood filler and do Varathane first and then the white wood filler on top? Or must it be sealed in?
    Carry on slowly health before floors no??
    Natalie

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    1. Interesting, Nat. Thanks for the suggestions. I think the Varathane first is good idea but I'd be worried about not sealing the wood filler. It easily stains. But maybe worth a try.

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  11. That's timing. I just went to Rubiomonocoat to grab the link:http://www.monocoat.us/Color-Samples/ and came back to see Anon's comment.

    I won't tell you how much I have obsessed over my floors and wanting a low VOC finish...and one that didn't look as glossy as a bowling alley. I used RubioMonocoat in black over quarter sawn oak. The color is almost a walnut. For me that was the sweet spot between dark enough to high stuff not too dark to show it up. What I like about it: matte color, can be retouched without sanding, no VOC, leaves the beauty to the wood. You can mix the colors for custom and you can research about "special effects".

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    1. That sounds really beautiful...the almost walnut thing. If I could do it all over again, I would go either much darker or much lighter on the floor than the English chestnut I chose.

      I should have mentioned the white wood filler is has no VOCs so that in conjunction with Aura paint to do a pickling job would be a good way to go. I found a place that sells the Rubio stuff about 20 miles away so I'll go check it out. Thank you!

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  12. You've been a busy, busy boy!!! Just got back from Scandinavia - the land of light floors! I was just telling my Swedish friend how great her floors look. She used Timberex (made by Watco) wood finishing oil in white. Good luck, Steve! And feel better soon. Thanks for the mention :)

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    1. Your Instagram images were really beautiful, Loi. Thanks for the Timberex info. It doesn't look like they have any stockists in the U.S. though. Could you bring me some back next time?

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  13. I'm so sorry about your back.

    What a torturous test process! (something that must be done, however, to ensure that the result is what you see in your imagination.) I was going to suggest that you do a 50/50 wash of a lime white color, wipe it right off, and sand it lightly once the remaining paint is dry ... but it looks as if you got to that point on your own.

    Now you make me want to go pickle something ... I wonder what sort of candidate I have in the storage building? :)

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    1. Not as tortuous as the process that designer used in the video with the liming wax. I can't imagine scrubbing an entire floor with a wire toothbrush.

      Show us what you pickle!

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  14. Hi Steve,

    Have you tried very diluted white milk paint? I have never used it on floors but it seems to absorb really well into the grain of raw wood and after several coats, not look opaque and show so much grain. Have no idea how you would securely seal it on the floor but probably like any other painted floor? Love these lessons you give! Thanks for the testing info.

    Lane

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    1. Hmmm. I didn't think of it. I might have to get some.

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  15. I am impressed with how thorough and careful you are, and I know it will pay off. I love bleached and painted floors, and look forward to seeing your final decision.

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    1. I guess I see it as an investment. This is so much easier than having it turn out wrong.

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  16. what patience you have! good luck steve, all very exciting to watch this unfold and see your detailed thought process. looking forward to your continued progress
    hope you are feeling much better
    debra

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    1. Thanks, Debra. I'm fine now everything is realigned.

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  17. It's an iterative process - huh! franki

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  18. My God Steve, no wonder you have a pain in the ass...however I can understand your thorough trial and error, no settling allowed. I've never painted a floor although I find them quite beautiful when I see them in magazines. We did sand and stain the floor in our last house and I remember we used Gym Seal which lasted forever and could take a beating. It came in different shades but it was a job and a half. What I really want to know is, what are miscellaneous pookies?

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    1. Miscellaneous pookies are on the great mysteries of the universe!

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  19. Hey buddy, you better take it easy on yourself.

    Repeat after me: my body is (almost) as important as my floors.

    Now try to believe it!

    xo jane

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  20. Wow, I salute you for all the research you've done!! All your samples remind me of those huge restaurant menus that slow down my decision-making, but I'm going to vote for the Sherry Hart formula. (But I know whatever you choose will be impeccable!

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    1. That's my No. 1 right now, Mark, but I have to get some of this Rubio stuff that some people have commented about.

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  21. I haven't even read the whole post but before I do....DO NOT USE that BRIWAX liming wax. I should preface by saying I love Briwax...unfortunately that liming wax is a dog in my opinion...It is too white and worthless! I keep trying to find a good use for it and I finally threw it in the trash.

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  22. P.S That Sherry knows what she is doing....I have been using a similar solution for years!!!

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  23. Wow I can't believe how hard this is to achieve! So sorry about your back and hope it is better ASAP! Bending over a floor won't be good. Love all the chatter about achieving this look. Best of luck finding what you love most!
    Xo nancy

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  24. wow so complicated...but then once you choose you don't have all the comparisons

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  25. We’ve just started trying different stain samples for our floors too. Admittedly, I’ve bailed and let my better half take over. It’s difficult enough finding the right shade but having two trying to find the right color just makes for a crazy house.

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  26. Wow. You've saved others a ton of time for sure. Sorry about your injury - glad it all popped back into place. Ouch.

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  27. Great post. I am really loving cerused oak these days. It seems to go with everything, and even looks beautiful in tropical places with mahogany furniture. I didn't notice whether you opened up the pores of the wood first with a wire brush. It appears that is somewhat important to get the rich look that I think you're after. Here is a link I had in my bookmarks: http://cabinesse.com/1/post/2012/08/how-to-make-cerused-oak-limed-oak-finish.html

    I thought it was interesting that he seals the floor, then uses a wood filler, then applies the stain across the grain. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Then I'll try it. :) xoxo, NG

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  28. Oh dear god the commitment and patience you have. But it ALWAYS pays off. You are often times my hero :-) Without a doubt it's going to be gorgeous when done.

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  29. Let's see.....the reality is when I made my decision it took all of........5 minutes:). My floor guy was there stomping his foot saying.....Lady I need a stain color. Think how good they would look if I had really researched this whole thing......hahahaha. I have faith that you of all people will figure it out for all mankind.

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  30. i so admire your patience when picking out finishes steve. that is why your home is so gorgeous. like sherry's comment above...larry and his helper gave me approx 5 minutes to make a decision that i'd have to live with for the rest of my life. some days i hate my decision and others i think i'm brilliant. i know yours are gonna be gorgeous!

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  31. You are just the man to get it right...a perfectionist. Good luck. This is actually riveting.

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  32. I have felt your frustration! My project was on sheets of luon (mahogany underlayment) to cover a nasty ceiling. The best recipe for my project was diluted white primer brushed on and then wiped off with a dry cloth. I think my formula was more like 75% primer and 25% water. The primer gave me better penetration yet was a bit more transparent. The grain looks great.

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  33. After 3 years of drying the lumber my late husband and I milled from pines we felled, my floors are in, and have been for 18 months. I have been unable to come up with the right formula of low voc's and durability. Finally, I purchased Varathan, and will just let the pine color develop naturally over time. Now that they still look beautiful with no finish, I feel like I can't go wrong with this choice. Who knew it would take so long to decide? After reading your article and the following comments; I see my indecisiveness is common. I feel better now.

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  34. I've been following your blog for sometime, love your ideas and eye for detail. Sad to say my wood flooring guy needs to read your blog.

    As for the installation, there were many gaps between the wood which he tried covering up with wood filler. I can easily slide a credit card between some of them. Then there's the color and varnish... uggh. I told him satin finish and he put down two coats of semi and said it doesn't matter, the last coat satin matters. It's still way too shiny. Then he took all the left over wood. The entire experience was a challenge.

    What was your finish of polyurethane? Sorry for venting

    Thanks!

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    1. Wow, I'm sorry. He sounds like a nightmare.

      I did two coats of semigloss and a final coat of satin. I was told the semigloss finish is harder so that's the best one to use as the base coats. So you could still do another coat of satin to get the finish you want.

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    2. Is there a rule about wood filler? if the wood installation is new, then filler would not be necessary. I may put down another coat of satin with a new guy.

      Thanks!

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    3. Not sure if there's a hard a fast rule but, I agree, if it's a new floor, a very minimum of wood filled would be needed, if at all. Maybe just for imperfections in the wood surface.

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  35. If you haven't done your floors yet, I'd explore the European approach of wax/oil finishes over polyurethane. I've had both and I have to say, the wax is so much easier to deal with over the long term. When mishaps occur, you can easily do touch ups and repairs without having to strip or recoat the entire foor, which is what happens with polyurethane. Your project reminded me of a friend who has wood floors by DuChateau, which specializes in European looking finishes. They use a hard wax oil on all their floors. My friend loves hers. She's got pets and a big dog with long nails and she keeps her floors looking great. She even had a mishap with bleach that was left standing for some time. She called the floor guy in a panic. I was there when he came out and showed her how to repair it in a couple of minutes with a little hard wax oil and you'd never know it happened. They also have white-washed/limed flooring so perhaps this would be your answer to preventing the liming wax from disappearing?. I think the product is available to customers who want to change the look of their floors...so you might look into it. A bonus is it's super environmentally friendly. You can read about their process here: http://duchateaufloors.com/about/about-hard-wax-oil-finish/ I'm glad I was reminded of this because I need to refinish the floors in my old house as well. And never again will I have polyurethane. :)

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  36. As a follow up...I've been looking for resources that might sell the DuChateau hard wax oil. Amazon has the maintenance oil and there are other brands out there as well. One thing I've learned so far is that DuChateaux uses a "white oil" for their white washed floors, so that could be a great option. I also read that in Europe, all the old wood floors in public spaces are finished with hard wax oil and it's so durable that they easily last 60 or 70 years with just simple maintenance. I think this is probably the closest thing to what they used on floors in the 1800s and earlier. Plus it's so safe it can be used on kids toys and food prep surfaces. Okay, I'll shut up now. :)

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