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Question on an 140 year old Floor Finish

Hello everyone. As you can see I am new here and just found this forum during my investigation on choosing a floor finish.
I have a home with 140 yr old white oak flooring on the first and second floor(square nails and all).
It has a great worn patina and I do not want to refinish it.
We've owned the home for five years using a mop, water and murphys oil soap to clean it on a weekly basis.
Here lately we've notice the floor looks more white looking (bleached). I would like to give this floor alittle (only alittle) more color and revitalize it.
One time I tried the orange oil spray cleaner and found this to make the floors too dark. I am afraid to use a tung or linseed oil as to end up living with way dark floors with no grain showing. Please understand this floor has no or very little evidence of varnish and has a great worn look.
I will add some pictures of what I have...
The pictures do not truely show the white bleach effect. In fact the pictures pick up more color than the eye can see.
does anyone have a good suggestion for me??

Re: Question on an 140 year old Floor Finish


I am out of my area of expertise here, but I can tell you that water is the enemy of any wooden floor, even those with today's high tech urethane finishes. If your floors literally have no finish on them, they will continue to turn gray with further wetting.

Many woodworkers dislike today's urethane or varnish type finishes feeling that they give a somewhat plasticy look. You might considered what was common before the advent of modern finishes, that being shellac topped with Butcher's wax. Clear shellac imparts very little color, at best a very slight amber tone.

A few years ago I worked on an older Tudor Style house which had pegged southern pine floors. The owners wished to give it an authentic look, as if it had been hand hewn. They drew pull scrapers which had curved blades over the entire surface to give that irregular hand hewn look. They then applied a dark stain followed by a coat of shellac and paste wax. It was beautiful!

I am not certain if it is possible to get rid of the gray staining without actually refinishing. Sanding would certainly do it. Traditionally, oxalic acid is used as a wood brightener, but it would require thoroughly wetting the wood and would probably also destroy the patina you wish to maintain.

Oiling wood will sometimes get rid of minor graying. My wife had a habit of washing our ceramic tile floors with water and inadvertantly getting the plinths of our teak china cabinet wet. The plinth started to turn gray, but an application of teak old would revive the natural color.

Re: Question on an 140 year old Floor Finish

Thank you for your response ordjen!
I am sure overwetting caused this graying effect and plan to curtail that chore.
For not being a expert you sure provided alot of valuable information and history.:) I did notice the orange oil I applied did hide the graying effect but made the wood so dark in large areas.
Thanks for your insight!
I wonder if going over it with some steel wool instead of sandpaper would provide more grain to show before I apply a shellac??
What a great forum with valuable knowledge!

Re: Question on an 140 year old Floor Finish


I am not sure why the Orange Oil seems to darken your grain significantly. Normally, a clear oil will not dramatically darken grain, but usually give the same appearance as when wood has been dampened with water.

You might want to make a test in some inconspicuous area. The clear shellac should not impart any color, but only minor darkening. It certainly will not obscure the grain. You might also experiment with amber ( sometimes called orange) shellac. It imparts a warm amber color that might actually enhance the patina you wish to maintain.

The graying you see is the bleached out wood fiber. Steel wool might be able to lessen the graying be removing these dried out fibers, while blending it into the surrounding area. Again, something for your test area.

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