Wax Trax

At the end of the last post, we were rinsing and scrubbing, scrubbing and rinsing, after acid-staining the floor. According to the instructions, we had to keep rinsing until no more residue remained. This turned out to be a LOT of scrub-rinse-repeat. Our test patch took eight cycles, and, as it turned out, the entire floor took at least that many.

Cleanup in aisle 7...

After seven or eight times we were bringing up a lot less residue, so we switched to sponge mops thinking it would be easier. Although we spent less time emptying the shop-vac, it still took a long time to mop and rinse the floor, and we had to do so at least four times. We started to wonder if any color would be left at all! Finally, we got all the residue up that we could, and it was time to seal the floor. We got the sealer from the same company as the stain – everything I could find said it’s important to use the sealer specified by the stain manufacturer. The sealer went on with a paint roller:

Signed, sealed, delivered

Notice how much lighter the floor is after scrubbing away all the residue, but before applying the sealer:

I think this sealer really brings out your variegations

Per the instructions, I waited a day or two for the first coat to dry, then applied another. The sealer was pretty easy to apply, but it smelled unbelievably horrible. It smells like one of those silver permanent graffiti markers that make you feel lightheaded, only much much more intense. Had I not been wearing a respirator, I woulda conked out after about two minutes. As it was, when I got back home both nights, I had to head straight for the shower and throw my clothes in the laundry, since the smell permeated everything. It took about a week after that for Nerdwood to be habitable again.

Sealing should only ever need to be done initially, but in order to further protect the finish from scuffs and scratches, a couple of coats of floor wax are in order. This will need to be reapplied at some interval depending on how hard we are on the floor. We’ll probably institute a strict “No skateboards or ice skates” inside the house. Oh, and no golf shoes either (Dan, I’m looking at you). Once again, we got the wax from the same manufacturer as the stain and sealer:

That oughta wax your floor but good!

This stuff I like – doesn’t smell bad, dries within half an hour so I could apply both coats in one day, and easy to apply with a microfiber dust mop.

More curling practice

Whew, what a lot of work! But we’re pretty happy with the way it looks. Even better, it matches the color of the mud here at Nerdwood.

The view from upstairs

All ready for sliding around in our stockinged feet!


Turn on Thee Acid House

After working upstairs for a while, we decided to turn our attention to the downstairs. We had planned all along to stain and seal the concrete floor, because we like the looks of a stained concrete floor, and because it allows the in-floor heat to work in the most efficient way possible, with no other floor coverings getting between the heated tubing and our toes. Another important benefit of staining and sealing is that a darker floor will absorb more heat from sunlight, maximizing our passive solar gain.

The first order of business was clearing the floor – not an easy task, as it was covered with stacks of wood, piles of boards, towers of logs, tools, more tools, shelves, slabs of wood, and wood. Years of accumulated stuff. We moved stuff upstairs, we moved stuff to the porch, the shed, and to our storage unit. Since we will be tiling the first-floor bathroom (so it doesn’t need to be stained), we put the table saw and a few other very heavy things there. I even sawed off the little nubbins of rebar sticking out of the slab from when I mis-measured ten years ago. Damn you, younger Greg! Finally we had the slab cleared and we could start cleaning it.

Come and have a pint at the Broom & Squeegee

Coulda opened the windows and had a skating rink

Scrubbing with brooms, wet-vaccing, digging out the gunk in the expansion joints, we finally had a lovely clean slab:

So THAT'S what a floor looks like!

From our research, it seemed like the longest-lasting way to stain the floor was to use an acid-based stain. I ordered stain, sealer and wax from our local masonry yard. They were confused that I wasn’t buying more bags of lime. In order to protect the walls, posts, and masonry heater from the stain, we had to tape plastic everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.

Just like Aunt Mildred's sofa

Just to be sure, we tried staining a couple of test patches which will be mostly invisible under the staircase.

Floor graffiti!

A plastic garden sprayer works great for applying the stain. We let it dry, sprayed another coat, let that one dry, neutralized and scrubbed off the residue about eight times, and enjoyed a tiny patch of stained floor. It was somewhat helpful, but still pretty hard to imagine what the finished product would look like. I turned up the in-floor heat to 58 degrees, donned my trusty VOC respirator (the acid fumes were not in any way pleasant), and commenced to spraying, taking care to NOT stain myself into a corner.

After applying a second coat the next day and letting it dry for a day as well, we took a peek at the floor. It was much darker than we expected, but we had a lot more scrubbing to do.

You look marbleous

We neutralized the acid residue by pouring a water-and-baking-soda mixture on it, scrubbing it with a broom, and sucking it up with a wet-vac. Look at all this residue:

Did someone order the floor juice?

This post is getting a little long, so I will continue the stainy saga shortly.

A Song From Under the Floorboards

The view from below

Time to put in a real second floor, one that doesn’t have bits sticking out or weak spots that startle you when you walk on them, like the temporary plywood floor did. Temporary, as in it was only there for eight and a half years (!). Since the floor will be visible from below, between the joists, it has to look good on both sides, top and bottom. We had originally thought we would use a single layer of inch-and-a-half-thick planks, but none of the millwork places around here could do that unless we bought them knives for their milling machines, at a price of many hundreds of dollars. Instead, we decided to do the floor in two layers – a bottom layer of local aspen, the exact same stuff as we put up on the ceiling, and a top layer of local maple. Each layer is three-quarters of an inch thick, giving us the same total thickness as we had originally planned.

The aspen on the ceiling came to us pre-finished, so I asked the folks we got the ceiling from, Keweenaw Specialty Woods, for more of the same. Unfortunately, they told me they no longer provide finishing services, apparently the one guy they had who did that has left! I was pretty bummed at the prospect of applying multiple coats of polyurethane, sanding between each coat, before putting down the boards. Then Clare asked why we didn’t just use more linseed oil, since we were not going to be dancing on the ceiling (sorry, Mr. Ritchie). This worked out great – it’s really easy to roll the stuff on, no sanding needed, one coat does the job.

Once we had some of the boards finished, I ran a string line from one end of the house to the other, and screwed in the first “baseline” row, lining one edge of the board up with the string.

Level tear us apart, again.

You may notice in the picture above, some of the joists are weathered on top, and some look freshly cut. Since they were not perfectly level with each other (probably a combination of ‘rustic’ building techniques and sitting there for 9 years), I had to plane some down, and shim some up, to achieve some semblance of level.

Once the baseline was in, and we organized the boards by size, it was time to start slappin’ ’em in, and nailin’ ’em down with the trusty “Airstrike”:



The joists are in a spiderweb-like radial pattern, so we had to put the boards down in sections, the ends overlapping a joist, then cut a straight line down the center of that joist with a circular saw. Like this:

That old line again!

Did we miss a spot?!

Then we butted up the next section’s boards against the line we just cut, and did the same thing all over again.

Seems I've seen this seam in an unseemly scene

Soon, we had enough floor in place that we could use it to finish the rest of the boards in insect-free comfort. Note that we are only finishing the downward-facing side of the boards, which is why they are yellowish, and the top of the floor is not:

Knot much room to walk here...

After a couple of weeks, working nights and weekends, we have a delightfully flat, smooth floor upstairs. Still need another layer, but it really is starting to look finished upstairs:

Ready for clams on the half-shell, and roller skates. Roller skates.