driftwood, pickled and whitewashed; floors, part 2…

after my first post about refinishing our downstairs floors, i got so many emails with questions, comments and people wanting to know more info; to this day that post remains one of the most commonly read from my archives… that being said, i thought the subject could use a little follow up, as we finished our floors at the end of last summer and have a lot more experience under our belts…  sadly, as i went to go through the photos of the process, i realized the images were on a data card which matt accidentally left in an office depot in denver, co, never to be seen again…  so, i apologize for the lack of “during” pictures, but i will do my best to describe the process…

first off, we started with doug fir floors, original to the house, which have a very red hue to them, and a very distinct and variant grain pattern… ours were coated in several thick, 65 year old layers of dark brown shellac, which had hardened to the consistency of dry nail polish; unlike nail polish however, this shellac would not just flake off, it was stuck to say the least, and we had to sit on our hands and knees, after sanding twice with a 4 arm orbital sander, and scrape all the worst areas by hand with a paint scraper

this is a super old photo, actually from BEFORE we bought our house, but nonetheless it shows the living room floors pretty clearly… if you look on the right side of the picture, you can see what looks like dark shadows… this is actually the shellac, layered and filthy, which hadn’t worn off over time…

remember, what we were aiming for was a soft, light, slightly grey effect like this bleached doug fir…

 or whitewashed like this…

first of all we consulted our good friend jerry who is a very respected high end floor refinisher here in the hudson valley, and told him what effect we were going for… after taking a look at our floors, he told us we would have to strip them, and then we could bleach them several times to get the desired effect, as in the picture above… however, since we have done our whole remodel so far trying to use the most non-toxic, low VOC products and methods possible, and we were doing all the work ourselves, this didn’t seem feasible…

in lieu of the bleach, we set of in the direction of stain… our trusted salesman at our local hardware store suggested mixing pigment into a clear stain, in effect creating a paint like “color” in the sheer form of a stain… one of the main things when refinishing floors is to figure out the color tones present in your floors, and then figure out what color you have to use in order to balance that tone to your desired effect… because we were starting with the very red doug fir, i wanted to make sure to avoid getting a pink effect, or using a grey that would look green over the red… and of course, this is exactly what we got when we tried to use stain… we started with clear, and added in a stain color called driftwood, which looked pale grey and yummy in the sample, and the second we tried a test patch at home, OLIVE GREEN… yuk…

***this brings me to another VERY important point, whether you’re doing the work or hiring someone… ALWAYS, ALWAYS see or make a sample on your exact flooring… i couldn’t believe how differently things came out on our red floors… ***

we tried about 3 different stains, and then graduated to the idea of whitewashing, which ultimately worked for us… first we tried using greys which looked good on the chips, and we thought looked like driftwood, but each time we sampled them, they came out green… all different shades of grey, once watered down, just popped out over the red tone of the wood…

BM Pale Oak OC-20

finally we tried the Benjamin Moore color Pale Oak, which we had used on all of our trim upstairs… it is a very soft grey, but has a lot of yellow undertones; the chip looks kind of bland and ugly, and had i not seen it on something first, i would have never thought to use it in the first place… we watered it down 1:4, meaning  1 quart water for every gallon of paint, and then tried it… it was perfect! we could see the grain of the wood, which we really wanted, and also got a true light grey rinse, with just a hint of gold, as in driftwood… ultimately it looks more white than grey, which i’m fine with, but it had the desired lightening effect, and also doesn’t look too modern, like high gloss white paint in full opacity would, and it doesn’t look too “shabby chic” which would also make me gag every day…

here you can see the walls, Simply White, trim Pale Oak, and floors freshly done…

a larger swatch in the under-construction kitchen…

the finished whitewashed effect…

Here’s What we did in a nutshell:

1. prep the floors; vacuum, mop and let thoroughly dry

2. sanding; rent a 4 arm orbital sander and make sure to discuss with them what kind of floors you have, and what condition they are in… this will have everything to do with the kind of grit strength you will need in your sand paper pads… we started with 30 grit for 2 passes, then went to 60 grit for 2 passes, then 80 for 2 and finished with 120 for 2 passes. normally you would end with 200, but we wanted to maintain some grain variance, so we stopped there… i would caution against renting a belt sander, as they are really heavy duty, and are best used by a professional; if you don’t know what you’re doing you can eat a hole right through your wood…

3. prep floors again; this time vacuum and mop twice, and let completely dry… this step is CRUCIAL to getting a good finish in the end… you have to make sure there is no dust on the floors when you move forward…

4. paint; make sure you set up a system and work with a partner… once you start, the paint dries very quickly, and it’s too much for one person to accomplish alone… start with your watered down paint in a clean 5 gallon bucket, fit with a bucket grid… working from the back side of a room, towards your exit door, use a long handled paint roller fit with 1/2″ nap, and roll paint directly onto floor in 8′ sections, going in the same direction as the grain, one roller width at a time… once you have rolled a section, IMMEDIATELY grab a clean, dry, no nap white rag(think t-shirt fabric,) and hand rub the paint into the grain of the wood in the direction of the grain… you have to do this quickly, and you have to be methodical and organized, or you will end up with paint streaks crossing your grain… next, use the roller again crossing over into the first line about 2 inches each time, as if you were mowing a lawn… when you wipe subsequent lines, make sure to spend time and care evening out the cross over lines, or they will end up being more opaque than the rest of the floor, and it will looked stripped…

you continue this over an entire room, out the door, and into the next room…

5. let the paint completely dry for 24-48 hours depending on weather conditions, and DO NOT walk on it…

6. use high-end, durable floor finish in a completely MATTE finish, so that it looks like there is no coating on the wood. we used Bonakemi naturale finish, a really high-end swedish finish that is low voc and literally disappears once it’s on… it’s hard wearing and looks amazing…  we used 3 coats for extra durability because it’s in the main part of our house, with the most traffic…

very happy with the results…

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11 comments

  1. Pingback: driftwood, pickled and whitewashed; floors, part 2… | Hardwood Floor Cleaning

  2. Gregory

    Love it.
    If I were to follow a similar approach and for some reason later desire a different appearance, would it be necessary to sand down the floors ? I’m just wondering how committed I need to be long term before I begin. Thanks!

    • materiadesigns

      HI Greg,
      Although I have never refinished after doing this process; I would assume that like with any floor treatment, you can sand down to the bare wood and refinish in another manner… I think you’ll love them though! Good luck with your project…

  3. Christine Lemieux

    We are following your instructions on a newly sanded red oak floor. The problem is the finish we have changes the colour. I won’t yellow over time, but it seems to add some colour when it is put on. In Canada I can’t find the Bona finish products. I am wondering if the Bona finsh you used initially changed the colour at all. Thanks for any help! Christine

    • materiadesigns

      I’m not sure what finish you’re using, but no, the Bona products did not change the color of the floors at all when we put it on, except in a few places where we accidentally put it on too thick, in corners and around tight edges. In these areas we lightly sanded it back and the yellowing disappeared. In the future I think you can order Bona products from Green Depot and have them sent to CA… good luck!

  4. Ryan

    What finish was the paint you started with? Flat, matte? Something else? Trying to buy paint right now…any chance you are around to answer? Thanks.

  5. Love the natural look of it all. The more character the better. Crazy it started with the normal fir flooring look and looks the way it does after it was worked on.

  6. I am surprised that you did not need to bleach the floors to get rid of the reds. I plan to bleach first and wonder if the color will look the same. Also was the paint high gloss- oil based?
    Thanks,
    Lorna

    • materiadesigns

      We never had to bleach our floors because we wanted to allow the red tones to shine through slightly, providing a subtle warmth to the white…

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