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

Posted in: