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Staining Floors

Preparing the Floor, Testing the Strength of Colour, and Methods of Applying Stains, Varnish and Wax Polish
By Ray Lewhite.

With stain and varnish, bare floorboards can be made very attractive, and indeed, inexpensive softwoods can be given the appearance of expensive hardwoods. By marking out the boards with a hard pencil and using a light and dark stain, one can transform plain deal boards into a very passable imitation of parquet flooring. Most satisfactory finishes are obtained with new floorboards, but a handyman with a plane and scraper will be able to re-surface old floorboards to bring them up like new. In a newly-erected house, remove plaster and cement droppings by scraping with a knife, and take care not to bruise the surface of the timber. Scrub the boards with hot soapy water to make them as clean as possible, and rinse off with cold water. If there are any boards not firmly fixed, tightly nail them back to the rafters. All protruding nails should be punched below the surface.

Removing Raised Fibres

Staining Floors
When the boards are thoroughly dry, wrap half a sheet of middle two grade glasspaper over a wood or cork block and rub down each floorboard in the direction of the grain. This will ensure that all raised fibres are removed. Should there be rough areas due to coarse sawing or planing, extra attention with the glasspaper is well worth while to make the surface smooth. Oil stain and water-based wood stains are sold by most paint shops and can be obtained in a range of colours of the popular hardwoods. Both types are ready for use. Place sufficient material in a painters kettle or a similar container, in water based stain you may thin by adding a little water if oil add a little white spirit.

Strength of Colour

Staining Floors
Test the strength of colour by brushing the stain upon a spare piece of floorboard, but if this is not available brush onto an area of the floor which is to be covered with a carpet or a piece of furniture. Allow a few moments for the stain to penetrate, then with a clean piece of rag wipe the surface of the board to remove the stain from the hardest parts of the grain. Should the stain be darker than required, add more white spirit. If too much white spirit has been added, then mix in a further quantity of stain. It is important to get the colour right before starting the job. Sometimes floorboards are very porous and quickly absorb the stain, causing application to be difficult and produce to deep a colour. Where this is the case, a weak solution of glue size should be applied. Use packet concentrated size and mix according to the makers direction. Apply the size warm with a brush. It should quickly penetrate into the timber; if it does not do so, it is too strong and more water should be added. As the application of size will raise the grain of the timber, when dry lightly rub down with fine grade two glasspaper and dust off. The floor is now ready to receive the stain.

Staining

Staining Floors
Start from the end of the room farthest from the door and apply the stain liberally with a clean 2in. paint brush making certain all is covered, and lay off in the direction of the grain. Not more than two floorboards of an average size room should be stained, working from the right side to the left. Before staining the next two boards, take a clean handful of absorbent rag and wipe the stained boards in order to remove the wet stain from the non-absorbent parts of the grain of the timber. Continue this treatment until the whole of the floor is stained. The next process is to fill up the nail holes and open joints with putty. Where the floor is to be a dark colour such as dark oak, teak, mahogany, mix into the putty some of the un-thinned oil stain to make it a colour near to that of the stained floor. This can be achieved by placing the putty upon a piece of wood or lino and rubbing the stain into it with a knife. For a light-coloured stain, tinting the putty is not necessary. Press the putty tightly into holes and open joints, preferably with a painters stopping knife, but an old table knife is suitable. Level off the putty and make sure that it is not spread over the surface of the timber. The floor now stained and filled is ready for the final treatment.

Wax Polishing

Staining Floors
Wax polishing is the most inexpensive and has a pleasant egg-shell sheen. Beeswax heated and thinned with turpentine is best, but the proprietary brands of wax polish are also suitable and have the advantage of being ready to use. Apply the polish liberally with a pad of soft rag, forcing it well into the grain. The following day a further coat may be applied, in order to increase the build up of wax. To produce the necessary sheen, when the wax is dry polish with a soft boot brush and finally shine up with a soft rag. There are two easy methods of obtaining a high class glossy finish. The first is with a spirit varnish and the second with a oil varnish. The latter is easy to apply and very durable. Spirit varnishes are very similar to french polishes with the exception that they contain a percentage of resin. They dry very quickly; a certain amount of skill and speed of application is necessary, but not beyond the capabilities of the handyman. The work is stained and filled as described, and the spirit varnish applied with a soft 2in. paint-brush. Only one floorboard at a time should be varnished and the material should be applied quickly and evenly. Take care not to over-brush, and do not go over the work which has been varnished. If, due to porosity of the boards, the varnish does not dry with a high gloss, a second coat of spirit varnish may be applied.

Oil Varnish

Staining Floors
When the oil varnish process is adopted, obtain floor varnish, which is specially manufactured for the purpose. This dries very hard and yet is not likely to chip. Two coats would be required upon the stained floorboards. Thin the first coat with ten to fifteen percentage of white spirit. Apply the second coat when the first coat is dry. To obtain a superior finish on areas that will be closely observed, such as doorways, apply a third coat of varnish. It is advisable however, to pay extra attention to these areas throughout the process, making certain that the bare floorboards are really smoothed by glass papering first with middle two grade and then with fine two grade. After staining and when all holes have been filled with putty, wood filler should be applied. These are made with gold size but unfortunately are not easily obtained by the amateur. Plaster type of fillers are, however, suitable. Mix it with water to a smooth cream and apply either with a short-haired brush or rag. Force the filler into the grain and when semi-dry remove the surplus with coarse rag, rubbing across the direction of the grain. Rub down when dry with fine glass paper to remove the surplus filler, leaving it only in the grain.

Varnishing

Staining Floors
Remove the dust with a dusting brush and apply the first coat of floor varnish, well thinned with white spirit, with the object of binding down the filler. When dry apply the second coat of floor varnish and allow one or two days for it to harden throughout. Now take a half sheet of 360 grade of wet and dry abrasive and rub down the varnish to remove the nibs and to make it smooth. This should be done very lightly, first wetting the work with water and rubbing the abrasive paper with a piece of soap to act as a lubricant. When a satisfactory surface has been produced, rinse with clean water and dry with a chamois leather or a piece of lint-less cloth. Carefully dust off the work and apply a full coat of floor varnish, using a brush previously cleaned with white spirit. A mirror-like finish should be the result. In order to improve the durability of stained and varnished floorboards, periodically treat with a wax polish.

Artificial Grain Finishes

These Finishes are Effective in Obscuring Defects in the Timber or in Matching Natural Grain.
Much of the woodwork in houses a good few years ago other than the very modern type, looked very effective when a pleasing natural grain was visible. Unfortunately this is generally impossible, due to nail holes, cracks and other surface defects, and an artificial grain finish then becomes necessary. There is a wide scope for grained work of this kind for window-frames, door panels and complete doors and cupboards, and it is possible to cover up successfully almost any surface blemish on the wood. Though the article being treated has to be gone over several times, the working time is not so great as might be supposed, because undercoats and final varnishing can be done easily and rapidly. It is also easy to obtain a range of finishes, such as light, medium and dark oak, which much enhances the result. With panelled doors, for example, the panels may be slightly in tone than the remainder.

Making Good Defects

Staining Floors
The first step is to secure a firm level surface, and any of the well known fillers will enable small cracks, holes and gaps to be concealed. A little water is usually employed for mixing these compounds, but instructions will always be found on the packet. They must not be made too wet, set fairly rapidly, and expand on drying so that there is no danger of the filler falling out. If there is any possibility of the work not being rigid, extra screws can be driven in with heads recessed, and the holes filled. Cracks and gaps must be clean before the compound is applied as a durable result cannot be obtained on top of dust and dirt. Bad effects in old doors ,etc. can be mended with suitably shaped pieces of wood, screwed in place, the filler being applied to cracks afterwards. A fairly wide flat knife is excellent for dealing with long cracks adjoining shrunken panels, and the filler should be smoothed off as nicely as possible. Any stray lumps can be wiped off with a cloth, and the whole is left to dry thoroughly. Scraping or rubbing with sandpaper, will then allow a smooth even surface to be achieved. If any tiny cracks or holes have been missed they should be filled, as everything in the nature of making good the surface must be done at this stage.

Undercoat

Staining Floors
When the surfaces to be treated are absolutely dry, a coat of flat paint is applied over the whole. Glossy paints must not be used. the correct type of paint, especially for indoor use, is low in cost, and can be put on rapidly with a wide brush. It must not be used so thickly that it tends run or sag. The tone of the finished work can be modified by the tone of this undercoat, which is always rather light in colour. For light oak finishes, pale cream is suitable, with medium and darker creams for medium and dark oak finishes. The painted surface should look uniform in tone, and if the original colour, was very different a second undercoat may be necessary. If so it is not applied until the first is dry. When the undercoating is finished, the work should look well, and have no visible defects. When it is thoroughly dry, the next stage can be undertaken.

Graining

Staining Floors
Scumble fluid or paint is used for the actual graining effect, and it is a very thin, dull brown liquid. Avery small tin will cover an exceedingly large area of work, and the amount applied will also influence the tone of the final result. If an odd piece of wood is treated with the undercoating and allowed to dry, the scumble can be tried on this, to see the kind of result obtained. If it is too dark, it can be thinned with turps, but enough should be mixed at one time to do all the work that has to be of one tone. The scumble is applied very thinly with a moderately wide brush, and with a little experiment it is possible to obtain a suitable graining effect at once, as the fluid is put on. A fine grain effect can also be secured by going over the panels with a dry brush, immediately the scumble has been applied. Larger grains can be obtained by using a stiffer type of brush with stout bristles or a comb, if the surface is absolutely flat. Exaggerated curves, knots, and turns are best avoided, and the artificial grain is run in the same direction as the natural grain in panels, etc. Any one piece of graining is only carried as far as the wooden member in question extends, other section adjoining this exactly as if the natural wood were visible. With panelled doors, the panels are done first vertically, and quiet a pleasant result is obtained if the remainder of the door is not grained. If the whole is to be done, a darker tone will usually suit the timber surrounding the panels, the grain being run vertically or horizontally to suit.

Varnishing

Staining Floors
It is once again necessary to leave the work, so that it will dry completely. A coat of copal or other colourless varnish which will give a durable glossy finish is then applied over the whole. This will only take a short time, if a fairly wide brush is used. There is usually no need for two coats, indoors and the varnish should be brushed out fairly thinly. When the work is finished and dry, it should have a subdued shine like polished natural wood, and be quiet without any visible defect. It will also stand up well to normal usage. The illustration shows the stages in the order explained.
Fig.1. Four stages for applying artificial graining


Special Paint Finishes.