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Old 02-24-2010, 10:31 AM  
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Default Old Farmhouse Wood Floor


I'm purchasing an old farmhouse built in 1900-1910. The foundation is old sandstone, and you can see the wood flooring from beneath between the joists (no sublfloor). I know these old houses are built with the wood floors (no subfloor). The flooring under the carpet is painted and looks to be about 4 inces wide or so. I'm wondering if it is finishable hardwood- whether I can sand it and make it nice or if it is not "that type" of flooring. How can I tell if it is finishable?

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Old 02-26-2010, 12:54 PM  
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How can I tell if it is finishable?
Pick a room and go for it. If it isn't "finishable" you'll find that out fairly quick.

I don't know how anyone on the Internet can answer a question like that sight unseen.

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Old 02-26-2010, 04:49 PM  
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Well, what you should do is take a good look at the underside of those boards. Hardwoods all come from "deciduous" trees, which are the ones that drop their leaves in the fall. The softwoods come from "coniferous" trees that have needles instead of leaves. (And, as you might expect, there are always exceptions to every classification; balsa wood trees drop their leaves and are therefore considered a hardwood, but balsa is the softest wood you can find. Also, the Larch tree has needles instead of leaves, but it drops it's needles every fall.)

One important difference, however, is that deciduous trees (the hardwoods) generally will have a trunk that doesn't have branches growing out of it. You'll have a relatively straight trunk with no branches until you get to the crown, and that's when all the branching suddenly happens. Softwoods are different in that respect. They will have more branches growing out of the trunk. Softwood generally grow straight, and that makes them great for making into lumber, but the lumber you get will typically have lotsa knots. You have to have "old growth" fir or spruce trees to get away from the knots that typically show up in younger trees.

So, do a knot survey on the underside of your wood, and the more knots you see, the better the liklihood that the wood you've got is one of the harder softwoods like fir or pine.

Back then, typically they would use a hardwood for the floor on the main floor (where they entertained guests) and if they wanted to save money, they'd use a harder softwood for the upper floors where the bedrooms were and people walked mostly in stockings or bare feet. So, if your house has an upper floor, and you find hardwood on the floors up there, then they definitely would have used hardwood on the main floor which their guests all see.

Finally, if I wuz you, I would strip off the carpet and any floor paint on the wood. In the 1900's there simply were no paints that would provide the kind of hardness that we can get now from polyurethane floor paints or polyurethane hardwood floor finishes. Back then, people had bare wood floors in their farm houses, and they weren't intended to be elegant. You'll uncover a lot of history, including the liklihood that the boards will be a little worn on top from decades of cleaning with a stiff scrub brush and sweeping with a corn broom.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with leaving a wood floor like that alone and using it just the way it is once you get the paint off. It will even be an interesting conversation piece since you rarely see the rustic wood floors that people had 100 years ago anymore.

I'd be kinda leery about refinishing it even if it is hardwood because with no subfloor, all the strength of your floor is coming from that wood. Sanding the wood down to refinish is going to make it thinner and weaker, and perhaps you need that strength more than you need a better looking floor.
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Old 02-27-2010, 11:06 AM  
Bud Cline
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Probably the best way to identify the wood used in this structure is to look out one of the windows and see what species of tree is on site or nearby. That's likely the wood that was used on your floor 100 years ago. Back in those days a lot of the wood used in construction was all local and in close proximity to the build site if not from the build site.
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