Q: Our 1932 San Francisco home has gorgeous original oak floors. Most are in lovely condition, but the back foyer where a staircase, five doorways and a long hall converge is getting worn.
A section about 1 by 2 feet looks dusty and gray but won’t clean up, and it feels rough whereas the rest of the floor feels smooth. This is surprising, as it is in a corner where feet don’t go and is not in the light. The floor also has a spot that squeaks loudly.
Should the foyer be waxed to protect the floor from traffic? Can the "dusty" part be repaired with some sort of coating by do-it-yourselfers?
Also, how can we stop the squeaks without using nails, as we are afraid they might split or otherwise deface the beautiful old wood?
By the way, we are the people who had the sticky deck about a year ago. Your advice worked great.
A: Good questions all. The condition of the back foyer floor, compared to the rest of the floors in the house, tells us it’s time for refinishing. This is a job for a pro. However, if you don’t want to undertake this project as winter approaches, a quick fix is to do a deep clean or sand and refinish the small section that looks dusty and gray.
We suspect the dusty/gray patch is just plain ground-in dirt.
Try a good deep cleaning with a coarse abrasive pad, Murphy’s Oil Soap and water. Scrub the devil out of the floor. Chances are the dirt and much of the roughness will be gone and the original color will be retained. You’ll probably need to make a couple of passes to get a result you’ll be happy with. If this does the trick, a couple of coats of paste wax and a buffing with a soft cloth will restore the floor.
If this doesn’t do the job, you’ll have to break out the sandpaper to refinish the area. Invest in a palm sander that has a square face to get into the corners. Sand the area with 150-grit sandpaper and vacuum the residue. The first sanding should remove all the gray ground-in dirt and smooth out the rough surface. Finish by sanding the area with 220-grit sandpaper and vacuum the sanding dust. Wipe with a tack cloth to make certain every bit of the dust is removed.
Next, you’ll need to match the color of the newly sanded area to the rest of the floor. Paint stores, hardware stores and home centers have samples for you to take home to match against the existing floor. To get the best match, use a piece of scrap oak to test the stain. Apply the stain to the sample and let it dry. Then put a coat of polyurethane finish on it to see if the match is acceptable. When you’re satisfied, stain the patch and apply the finish.
Make sure to sand and finish a bit beyond the damaged areas. That will allow you to blend the color of the patch into the old floor.
Finally, if you follow a few simple steps you needn’t worry about splitting the floorboards when renailing them. Use 4d finish nails. Predrill the holes in the flooring. A neat trick we learned from an old builder is to use a nail tightened into the chuck of a drill as a drill bit. That way the hole is sure to be the perfect size. Nail the floorboard and set the nail with a nail set a bit below the surface. Finish up by filling the holes with the proper color wood putty.