Flummoxed Over Flooring Finishes

Calling all flooring guys out there! I’ve got a flooring conundrum to share with you. Care to offer some advice?

Here’s the deal: I’ve had a hardwood flooring project on my to-do list for a long time. It’s my shop floor, actually. A couple of years ago, I got a great deal on 900 square feet of hard maple “shorts.” Tongue and groove, beautiful stuff. My plan has been to lay it over the current flooring in my shop, which is plywood subfloor. Not that I mind plywood, but it gets banged up pretty easily and doesn’t look as nice as a hardwood floor. At $1 per square foot, it was a deal too good to pass up.

So why have I waited so long to install it? My wife sure wonders that every time she sees the amount of space it takes up in the garage and the junk (er, keepsakes) we could be storing there instead.

Here’s why I’ve waited: I honestly don’t know what finish to put on it. Not a clue. The shop floor takes a beating, no question about that. I move skids of machinery and other supplies in and out of there every year. Dirt gets tracked in, as well as snowy or wet foot traffic during long winters and rainy springs. The finish needs to be tough enough to stand up to this kind of abuse.

On top of that, I need the finish to dry pretty fast. The shop won’t get shut down and emptied during the installation. Basically, I’ll be able to install about half of it at a time, moving everything from one side of the room to the other. The finish has to suit this sort of chaotic process, too.

Then there’s the long-term maintenance issue. The day will come when the abrasions and dings will force me to renew the topcoat or strip it and start over. Cured, oil-based poly doesn’t stick well to new poly, or so I’ve read, so I’m concerned that using it will require a complete sand down and re-do instead of just touching it up here and there.

Rob Johnstone suggests that I go with a drying oil like a Danish oil finish, then just reapply down the road. I’ve even debated about using shellac sanding sealer, but that wouldn’t hold up well to water spots. It would sure dry fast, and I could reapply without adhesion problems. It’s a question of durability.

I’ve even debated about just leaving the maple raw and letting it age. I remember the old oak floor in our neighborhood Gamble’s Hardware Store that was decades overdue for refinishing. It actually looked pretty cool, all dark and worn. Gave the place character, and that seemed fitting for a classic old hardware store.

Anyway, I’m wide open to suggestions. What’s fast, reasonably tough and repairable? What would you do if you were me (and don’t tell me I was a dope for buying that maple in the first place).

Please weigh in here. I’d sure appreciate it if your experience could point me in the right direction. My wife would thank you, too.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

12 thoughts on “Flummoxed Over Flooring Finishes

  1. I vote for a drying oil finish so that it would be more resistant to stains, paint drips, etc. Other than that, I would leave it bare. I kind of like the look of ‘antiqued’ flooring.

  2. Chris, I usually don’t reply to blogs of any kind. The I have to share this with you. 25+ years ago I built a lawnmower shed in NJ. I decided to put something new called Varathane. I put seven coats on it letting it dry, during the hot summers in NJ, 1 day in between.
    After 20 some odd years I decided to move the shed closer to a pool and use it as a pump house.
    I removed the roof, sides and took up the floor which had over the years a few riding mowers, and every yard tool you could image. After I hosed off the dirt, most of the floor was almost brand new. I had to show it to my neighbors. I reused most of it for other outdoor projects because the inside of the pump house was now pavers the same as around the pool.
    You can’t beat Varathane as far as I am concerned. Not even sure its still around.
    Good luck with your choice.
    Bob Shubert

  3. Chris; To add to what Bob had to say, make it a Marine grade Varathane or Tung Oil. I use it on my Mahogany front door, touch it up every couple of years. It reapplies over itself easily enough and the marine grade will stand up to the “weather” in your shop. Good luck and have fun with that shop!

  4. Raw, aged maple is a beautiful thing. I had them in our old house and loved it very much. People would come over and ask about it all the time. It is a lot of work though as you have to treat it every so ofetn to keep away termites etc.

  5. Woodentoysman:

    What did you treat your raw maple floor with?

    Thanks for your input!

    Chris

  6. Years ago I used a product on a floor called GymSeal. It’s the same stuff used on gym floors, which happen to be mostly maple, hence the name. I figured anything that could hold for years of students in a gym would hold up in my house. I’ve sold the house so I don’t know how well it has held up, but that floor was tough and looked good the years I lived there. It wasn’t complicated like Swedish Finish is to apply.

  7. Try bowling lane finish. Bowling lanes get more ware and beating than even gym floors. Check google, yahoo or bing for manufactures and suppliers. Also, check with your local bowling lane place.

  8. Robert,

    Good idea on the floor finish suggestion. If it can stand up to bowling ball abuse, it would sure work for a shop floor finish!

    Appreciate it,

    Chris

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