Refinishing 1850 wood floors

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

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Refinishing 1850 wood floors

Post by Phillyrowhome »

Hello! I am fairly new to this website but I’ve gathered quickly flooring is a hot topic, so please don’t mind another floor post!

I live in a home built between 1820-1850 (haven’t figured out when exactly!). The floors are pine and we have no subfloor, On the first floor you can see cracks going into the basement, and on the top floors there are cracks and god only knows where the everyday dirt ends up! I would love to refinish them because they’re are very worn. My first issue is that we have the old old nails that are holding the board to the joists, they’re all flush w that boards right now but I’m assuming we’d need to tap them in if we plan to sand? Also, there are gaps between most floor boards, and this drives me crazy. Is there any food method in filling these gaps? Or is it best to replace the boards that have too much of a space? I’d love to tackle this on my own so any insights would be helpful!!

Thank you.

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Re: Refinishing 1850 wood floors

Post by vladz »

I hope you already found a solution for your flooring. In case you have not, or if someone else has a similar problem, here is my take on this.
The flooring you have has already been sanded down probably more than once, that is why you can now see the nailing. Because this pine flooring is the only thing on the floor joists, you now have less than 3/4 of an inch (and probably only about 1/2 inch, because every floor re-finishing takes about an 1/8 of an inch away) of wood floor keeping things from succumbing to gravity.
Furthermore, this soft wood has probably been waxed over the years and it may be almost impossible to sand down.
Unfortunately, you will need to replace this flooring as beautiful as pine is, and it most likely is heart pine.
Your options as I see them are either to remove the entire flooring and place 3/4" plywood and then new flooring on top of that or re-nail this existing flooring , place 1/2" plywood and then a new flooring.
There are myriads of styles and materials for floors these days and I have installed most of them as a contractor in the past and now as a do-it-yourselfer in my home.
I've installed new wood flooring that needed to be nailed down then sanded, stained and varnished; pre-finished wood flooring; engineered wood flooring etc. I have found the latest luxury vinyl plank (LVP) to be the easiest to install and with the least headaches in the future. It does not match natural wood however. Good luck.

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Re: Refinishing 1850 wood floors

Post by jazzman »

I own a circa-1860 farmhouse in upstate NY, and have done the refinishing dance.

A skilled professional will drive all nails on all floors so that they are beneath the surface. This is done so that the nail doesn't make a mark in the abrasive that's used to do the sanding, which would then be transferred to the rest of your flooring (tracks, marks, etc.)

In our case, the floor are so thick, that we could sand many more times and not notice much change in depth. I'd say our floor boards are 1-3/4" thick, even after sanding tcwice.

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Re: Refinishing 1850 wood floors

Post by HB »

The real reason that you see the nails in the floor is NOT Because they’ve been sanded too much.

Floors of your vintage were face nailed. The nails have been visible since the day they were installed.

There are two ways to refinish the floor of that vintage.

First you can countersink the nails a bit and then run a sander over the floor, but you should use a four disc floor sander instead of the drum style sander. This is because the floors are most likely somewhat uneven. The drum sander, by its nature will seek to level out the floor across the width of the drum which may result in removal of too much material from some boards, and not enough from others. The four disc rotary sander for floors can remove the top layer despite the unevenness of the floor and is more easily able to follow the natural undulations.

A Super gentle way to do it, Although time consuming is he go over the whole floor with a random orbital sander by hand. This method removes the least amount of material necessary in each area the floor but leaves a fine finish. You can see a post of how I’ve done this in our house at this URL. ... =2&t=24538

Standard flooring thickness for your home’s time period was usually at least one full inch.

As far as closing up some of the gaps and cracks, there’s a bunch of different ways to do this from completely pulling up the floor and relaying it closer together and filling in the gap at the end with a new piece of wood, to trying to fill the gaps with darkly died hemp rope, to tacking a dark wood to the underside of the floor just so you can’t see light through the gap.

The easiest option is just to leave them as is, call it character and mive in to an easier project😉

Good luck!

The lord hates a coward....

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