Tips on transforming old timber floorboards into a timeless, hard-wearing floor

Tips on transforming old timber floorboards into a timeless, hard-wearing floor
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Carpet or tiles in older homes can hide a treasure trove of timber floorboards just waiting for a lick of polish to transform them into timelessly beautiful, hard-wearing wooden floors. You could call in the professionals to do the job, or save a bundle by doing it yourself. But first-timers should be aware of potential pitfalls.

1. Which Wood?

Deciding to match a new floor to existing boards wasn’t the wisest choice for Melbourne homeowners Brigette and Conrad Tulloch, who recently renovated their modest 1950s brick home.

They added a living room to the back of the house and did virtually everything themselves with the help of their fathers and a carpenter friend. “We chose Baltic pine floorboards because it would match with the flooring in the original part of the home and polished it in a clear, gloss finish,” says Brigette. “It looked magnificent to begin with, but then it started to shrink and crack a bit. It would sound like rifles going off.

“On reflection, Baltic pine was probably the wrong choice; it’s too soft and dings up easily. With two children and a dog with sharp claws, it’s taken a bit of a beating, but in someways it better matches the older flooring.” If she was to do it again? “I would choose hardwood floorboards because it’s tougher.”

Choose a wood that works for your household.



2. Tool up

Sam Hong of Melbourne’s Floor Brothers knows that a dirty, dented, paint-stained wooden floor can be sanded and polished into a thing of beauty, but he says using top-notch equipment is essential for a professional-looking result.

“Make sure you use a good-quality machine, some of the machines that you can hire out are just not good enough for the job. You really need to get a good machine from a floor sanding supplier. And a belt sander is much easier for someone doing it themselves to use.”

A thing of beauty: Floorboards can be sanded back and completely transform a room. Just make sure you have the right tools.


3. Ground work

Don’t skimp on prepping the floors before sanding. Nail down any loose boards and ensure all nails are sitting well below the surface. Protruding nails can be knocked in with a hammer and nail punch. Wait until after the first sand to fill nail holes and other defects with wood filler and allow time for it to cure.

Preparing your floor is the key.



4. Smooth operator

If the floor is in rough condition, fit the sanding machine with coarse (40-grit) paper for the first “cut”. Use 60 to 80-grit paper on a tidier floor. Push the sander gradually and evenly for an even finish, then move on to finer 120-grit paper for a second sand. Use an edging or detail sander to work right up to skirting boards.

“Another pitfall for DIYers is that they may not sand the floor enough,” says Hong. “Without enough sanding you’re not going to get a perfect result, ending up with a floor level that is uneven or ‘cupped’.” “Cupping” describes floorboards that are concave in the middle, producing a rippled effect across the entire floor.

Avoid “cupping” by smoothing and sanding the floor with the right tools.



5. Strong finish

Staining your boards will have them looking as good as new, says Bunnings’ national paint buyer Barry Murphy, but renovators should take their time choosing a colour.

Choose a colour to complete the look.



“The key is to test out your chosen color on a small area prior to applying to the complete surface area. If the color doesn’t work, use a deck stripper to remove it rather than sanding it off. Be sure to consider the natural color of the wood being used. For example, pressed pine is green when unfinished so if this color isn’t preferred, look to use a semi-transparent or solid stain to cover its natural tone.”

Murphy says it’s important not to work in direct sunlight when working on your boards, as this can cause bubbles in the stain or finish. “And avoid working beneath heating or air conditioning vents as they can blow dust directly into your stain.”