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Floor of woes

Scott Gibson, Contributing Editor

My husband and I are restoring a home in Round Top, Texas that dates to 1886, possibly earlier. The original longleaf pine floors are in great shape, but the main room was covered in carpet. Although the carpet has been ripped out, staple holes were left behind. In the back room there is very old linoleum which we'd like to remove, and the front porch needs repainting. What's the best method to restore floors with these various problems?

Longleaf pine was once common along the coastal plains of the Southeast, but hardly any of the original forest remains. Business is brisk these days in salvaging old planks and beams cut from these giants and re-selling them. You're lucky to have so much of it, and it's certainly worth rehabilitating.

Let's start with the room that was once carpeted. I'm assuming the nail or staple holes you're trying to patch are where nail strips were installed around the perimeter of the room to secure the edge of the carpet.

The short answer is that the holes may never go away completely.

But Mickey Moore, the technical director at The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association ( www.nofma.org ), suggests filling the holes with a latex wood flooring filler.

Don't go to your local big box store and look for it. Contact a flooring distributor, and use the appropriate filler, depending on whether the floor is already finished or is about to be re-finished.

Colors can be mixed. So if you don't mind experimenting, you may be able to concoct a filler that closely matches the color of your pine.

If the holes are really big, and you can find a scrap of original flooring, bore out the hole with a drill and then patch it with a plug you make yourself with a plug cutter. Sorry, but if the nails or staples created black stains around the hole you'll have to live with them.

In the end, the floor is going to look patched. That's OK. Part of the charm of an old house is the obvious layers of wear and honest use created by many owners over many years. Enjoy it.

Be careful with old resilient flooring and paint

There are probably less appetizing jobs than pulling up old resilient flooring. It's just hard to think of one right now.

If you really have old linoleum, and not old vinyl that sort of looks like linoleum, it was probably installed with an emulsion adhesive. That can be scraped up after it's been softened with water.

Linoleum is a enjoying a resurgence now because it's a relatively benign product that contains cork or wood dust, linseed oil and other "natural" components.

That's not the case with old sheet vinyl flooring. Either it, or the adhesive that was used to install it, might have contained asbestos. Ripping out these materials can release asbestos fibers or crystalline silica into the air. That's not what you want.

Start by identifying the type of flooring you're dealing with. I'd tear off a corner and take it to a flooring dealer for help. If any original markings are left, the manufacturer should be able to help you. Until you're sure it doesn't contain asbestos, be careful with it.

For detailed recommendations, take advantage of a free, downloadable booklet on the web site of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (www.rfci.com ). Go to the technical section, then look for "Recommended work practices for the removal of resilient floor coverings." Read it carefully.

You've got something of the same problem with your porch. If the paint dates from 1978 or before, it probably contains lead. Buy a test kit and find out. There are procedures for removing lead paint safely, but it's a good deal of work.

The key is not to create lead-bearing dust that can spread this toxin through your house.

If you're not stuck with lead, rejoice. Just prep the porch as you would any other painted surface and use a paint designed for porches when you recoat.

About the Author
An accomplished woodworker and carpenter, Scott Gibson is the former editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, and a former editor at Today's Homeowner and Fine Homebuilding magazines. He also is former managing editor of the Kennebec Journal, a daily newspaper in Maine.

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