Understanding Floor Finishes for Your Old House

Shannon Lee

If your old house boasts beautiful hardwood floors, helping them age into something even more lovely should be a priority. Hardwood floors can last for centuries if you take care of them properly, which often includes mainitaining the floor finish. However, not all finishes are created equal, especially if you are looking at historical restoration.

Options in Floor Finishes for Your Old House

The basic options for floor finishes in your old house might seem simple, but what they do for your floor is definitely not. Here's what you need to know.

  • Surface finishes. These include shellac or varnish, which form a thin layer on top of the wood to protect it. They are typically a combination of resins and solvents. The solvents evaporate after the solution is applied, which allows the resin to create a hard film over the floor. Some tougher and more modern finishes go through polymerization and form a hard finish that can't be dissolved with the original solvents.
  • Penetrating finishes. These include tung oil, linseed oil, and Danish oil, which are designed to sink into the wood. These finishes bring out the natural beauty in the wood and enhance the color. Although they do not provide much protection against stains and spills, penetrating finishes can mean easy repair of scratches, dents, and other unsightly problems.

Both finishes have pros and cons. Surface finishes generally set up quickly, which means you can use the floor within a few days or even a few hours. The yellow or amber hue can have the look and feel of satin or can be high gloss, which has been popular for years. While surface finishes do a great job of protecting the wood, it can be tough to make repairs to just one section without having to refinish the entire floor. Penetrating finishes beautify a wooden floor but take time to set up and don't provide the same protection as surface finishes. You can more easily repair sections of a wood floor with a penetrating finish.

Determining which finish to use in your old house comes down to what your goals are for a particular room. Those with heavy traffic need the added support and protection of a surface finish, but areas where you want to preserve the natural look might do well with penetrating finishes. The type of finish that has been used in the past is often a good clue as to what might work best.

Finally, before you apply any finishes, make sure small imperfections in your floors are repaired. Loose nails, splinters, gouges, and other problems can make a finish lie unevenly on the floor, not to mention cause a trip hazard in high traffic areas. Carefully repair your wood floors before applying the finishes to ensure a long-lasting job.

The proper finish is the crowning jewel for those beautiful hardwood floors. Take your time and do the job right.



About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

Search Improvement Project