There's been a growing trend over the last decade or so toward installing hardwood floors in homes. At the same time, much of what is called hardwood flooring these days is increasingly engineered from material other than solid hardwood lumber. These floors are easy to install and beautiful, but they don't have the staying power of a solid lumber hardwood floor. Many DIY types are afraid to work on solid hardwood because their experience tells them hardwood floors are fragile. But when it comes to genuine hardwood, nothing could be further from the truth, and unless your floors have been badly mistreated, most genuine solid lumber hardwood floors can be repaired to a nearly new condition.
One of the most common issues that older hardwood floors will exhibit is dark spots where water damage or other moisture problems were allowed to remain unchecked until the wood became discolored. Many home owners would be tempted to tear out or cover over a floor with darkening. Here are the steps you can take to improve the look dramatically and often even remove the stains completely.
Sand out the damaged area. Start with coarse grit paper (the lower the number, the rougher the texture; #80-#60 grit typically works well). Use a power sander to remove the finish, stain, and top surface of the damaged wood. “Feather” the edges of the repair area by lightly sanding the surrounding area to blend in the repair. If you need to do several spots in one room, use a drum sander and strip the finish from the whole floor.
Restore the wood’s smooth surface. Working with progressively finer grits, sand out the area where you removed the color and damage from the floor, using up to a #100 grit finish. Again, feather the edges.
Remove all of the dust with a tack cloth and mineral spirits. You may have to repeat this process, allowing the floor to dry completely between passes. Wear a respirator mask and use odorless mineral spirits to prevent inhaling fumes.
Restore the wood’s finish color with wood stain. An oil-based stain works best. Consult any paint specialist at your local home center, lumber yard, or paint store for recommendations on color matching and brands. Use a soft bristle brush to apply the stain and follow the instructions on the label for best results. For large areas or whole rooms, use a lamb’s wool applicator.
Restore the floor’s clear finish. Apply polyurethane or spar varnish to match the floor’s original finish. Use a soft bristle brush for small areas or a lamb’s wool applicator for large areas or whole rooms. Follow the label instructions for best results.
Minor Damage to the Wood
With engineered hardwood, you often cannot make repairs once the surface has been punctured, but with solid lumber hardwoods, filling damaged areas is typically simple and will restore the look of your floor.
Sand the repair area as outlined above. Your goal is not to even out the damaged area completely, but to remove loose finish and splintering, and to take the area down to the raw wood for color restoration.
Clean dust from the sanded repair with a tack cloth and odorless mineral spirits, as outlined above.
Fill the damaged area with a professional, solvent-based wood filler rated for stain. The most common varieties are water-based and will not harden well enough to maintain the repair. Ask your paint specialist for help in finding the right product.
Sand the filled repair once the filer has hardened completely. Follow the label instructions for best results. Using #100 grit paper on a random orbital sander works well for small areas. Drum sanding is best for a floor that has multiple damaged spots.
Restore the color and finish as outlined above to complete the repair.
Replacing Damaged Boards
On occasion, a single floor board or several adjacent boards may become too stained or damaged for repairs. In these cases, single boards can be replaced with a little bit of patience. Since hardwood works with a tongue and groove locking system along the edges and ends of the board, table saw skills are required to prepare the repair piece for installation.
With a circular saw, cut the damaged board ½ inch in from each long edge, parallel to the edge along its entire length. Set the depth to the thickness of the floor board.
Pull the resulting strip from the center of the damaged board with a hammer and chisel. Once this is out, remove the remaining edge pieces with a hammer and chisel.
Use a table saw, router or circular saw to cut the bottom lip from the groove edge of your repair board so that it can sit on top of the existing “tongue” on the board next to the damaged board you removed. Do the same at the end. Cut your board to fit tight in length.
Insert the board into the void left by the damaged board you removed. Typically, they fit very tight and require no fastening. The floor finish will “glue” the board in place. If the area is high-traffic or the board appears loose, use a pin nail gun with some 16 gauge brads to fasten the new board to surrounding boards by nailing on an angle along the edge in a few places.
Restore the color and finish of the repair following the procedure outlined above.
Care and Maintenance
Once the repairs have been made, your restored floor should be cleaned and resealed as outlined by the floor’s manufacturer. For older floors, an occasional screening and application of a new wax finish are recommended.