Join 3,418 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Stripping an early 19th century wood floor - your tips and tricks, please.
February 12, 2010 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Stripping paint and varnish off a hardwood floor; your best practices?

I am going to be stripping the 200 year old pine floors in my house this weekend. They've got 3 to 5 layers of paint (at least one layer is lead-based).

After some research and testing, I've settled on using this soy gel stuff. My little 5 x 5 inch test patch worked out well and the process - put on a thick coat, lay plastic down, wait 12 hours, remove gel & paint with scraper, put gloop in trash, wash floor clean - was not too onerous.

But that was a test patch. So help me, I'm doing a whole house. If you've stripped your floors (with this gel stuff or anything else), what can you tell me that you'd wish you had known?

Bonus question: After the floors are stripped and cleaned, what sandpaper (or series of sandpapers) should I use to get a smooth finish? (Assume for the moment that I won't be putting down a new finish on the floor, but leaving it bare.)
posted by minervous to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Typically the stripping is done with a floor sander, so you may not find a lot of information on chemically stripping your floor. If you're just taking the finish off and the floorboards aren't cupped or warped, you can use an orbital sander which is much less aggressive than the drum sander. If you're not careful with the drum sander, you can gouge and ripple your floor pretty easily. Pine is pretty soft, so you have to be careful.
posted by electroboy at 8:59 AM on February 12, 2010


You have chosen a very ambitious project. I would suggest that you scale back for a moment. First, I agree with your desire to use the gel instead of sanding because of the lead-based paint. However, doing more than one room at a time is really a lot of work which can affect the outcome. I have never used a soy-based stripper on floors because I have always been able to use a sander. Any of the "environmentally friendly" strippers, when I've used them on other projects, have been less aggressive than the nasty ones.

I would suggest that you find the smallest room and apply the stripper to that room. Follow the directions and see what happens. My guess is that you will need to do it a second time. After you have gotten up most of the paint, evaluate the way the floor looks and the condition of the floor. It will probably need to be sanded. As electroboy suggests, an orbital floor sander with a very mild grit is the way to go. You can rent one by the day at a good rental place. Using them is a lot of work, but they do a fine job.

I don't think you should leave the floors unfinished. Pine will soak up anything that is spilled on it, whether children's paints, mom's cosmetics, food, or animal footprints. There are any number of good wood sealers on the market that are made for raw wood floors. If you choose a clear one it will be fairly easy to use on a CLEAN, DRY surface. Colored or tinted stains are a little more tricky in that you need to make sure you are applying them evenly and with the grain. Not for the faint at heart! Sealing is another reason to do this project a room at a time. (Unless you have the next week off and want to do it all before you go back to work?)
posted by Old Geezer at 9:21 AM on February 12, 2010


Nth the sander thing. In my experience "eco-friendly" solvents and cleaners are just not as effective as the ones with the skull and crossbones. Plus mopping up and dumping the sludge after its soaked is another pain staking back breaking job. When you're doing multiple rooms. Sanders are pretty cheap and their collector bags are pretty effective meaning you'll just need to to a bit of dusting a few hours after you're done.
posted by Scientifik at 9:50 AM on February 12, 2010


I would try doing a much larger test area to get a better sense of how it is going to go. over larger areas the gel may not work as evenly. Your old pine may be damaged in a lot of ways which have been covered up by the paint. Once you start scraping larger areas you will discover this, in particular you may find that the wood has "dried out" in places and shreds when you scrape it. all of which is to say that this is going to look fairly rugged when it's stripped: discolored parts, parts which have been cut out, damaged wood.

Pine is a very soft wood (not a hardwood at all) You didn't mention whether your floor is tongue-and-groove or face-nailed planks, if it's really 200 years old i'm guessing planks... which is better. when you get to the sanding stage, I would actually start at '100' grit sandpaper (larger grit = finer sandpaper). If this is too hard going move back to 80. often the finish on hardwood is sanded off using 60 grit or below, if you use use this on your pine it will eat it up really quickly because it is so soft. so, start at 80 or 100, you probably don't really need to go past 180.

ALSO: please take the lead paint thing seriously. you are going to surrounded by a ton of the stuff once you start stripping large areas. the soy-gel doesn't neutralize the lead, it just renders it into a big goopy mess of gel. consider that you are turning your house into a toxic waste site: how are you going to deal with this safely.

finally, you should at least oil the wood to protect it, boiled linseed oil is non-toxic.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:58 AM on February 12, 2010


Nth the sander thing. In my experience "eco-friendly" solvents and cleaners are just not as effective as the ones with the skull and crossbones. Plus mopping up and dumping the sludge after its soaked is another pain staking back breaking job. When you're doing multiple rooms. Sanders are pretty cheap and their collector bags are pretty effective meaning you'll just need to to a bit of dusting a few hours after you're done.

DO NOT DO THIS WITH LEAD PAINT. Lead poisoning is no joke.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2010


Perhaps I should clarify how to properly sand a floor.
1) Be sure to seal off the room by hanging plastic sheets over the doors and windows. This keeps particles from blowing around and makes your cleanup process much easier.
2) Be sure to wear a respirator and googles.
3) Use a sander with a collection bag, this will cut down on airborne particles.
4) After you're done sanding, sweep and moist-mop the floor and any flat surfaces, then let the room sit overnight to let the particles settle and moist-mop again.

If you use a coarse sandpaper you can make a single pass on the floor and save your self tons of time. This is also safer than using a product which produces pungent odors and toxic fumes. It's also easier than having to do 2 or 3 runs with an "organic" cleaner. Yes, ennui.bz is right you don't want to get lead poisoning, but if you take steps to protect yourself and do a proper clean up you'll be fine.
posted by Scientifik at 10:53 AM on February 12, 2010


Old House Journal has a good article on restoring painted wood floors as well as one on scraping & finishing techniques that might be applicable to your situation (these also include sanding advice on grits). I've got two friends who's floors in their houses were hand scraped, which preserved the patina. They're not the glossy polished wood floors of later years, which can be nice too, but they are beautiful and ready for continued use. Be aware that sanding floors is a process that can be done only so many times. Treat those 200 year old floors with care and they'll be good for another 200.
posted by pappy at 11:45 AM on February 12, 2010


do not skimp on your respirators or ventilation
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:46 PM on February 12, 2010


If you do not have a subfloor and you do have a basement, cover everything in the basement with plastic. Tack dropcloths to the joists in the basement ceiling if you have to.
If you do not, then all of the stripper will drip in between the floorboard cracks and coat everything in the basement. Then you will sand, and the whole basement will be covered in sawdust, which will stick to the stripper that is already covering everything.
THEN after you polyurethane you will realize that the poly dripped in between the cracks in the floors and stuck to the sawdust that was already stuck to everything.
THEN you will spend the next 6 years explaining to everyone why your washer and dryer look like they are covered in bark.

God I wish someone had told me this.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:32 PM on February 12, 2010


« Older Help me catch a fish!...   |  Due to an oddly arranged livin... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.