Here is a update on our latest attempt to reproduce an oak floor that looks eons old. Our goal with our latest product line Vintage Loft was to make a floor that looked like the wooden planks in an old loft apartment, or in the local hardware store. Not the big orange box hardware store, the one made out of brick that is in the old part of town, or at least it used to be. It makes me think of that great lyric from David Wilcox’s song East Asheville Hardware as he encourages listeners to continue to patronize their local hardware stores. “…go first to that age-old place, to that old wooden door that you have to close behind you, to the wide-board wooden floor, worn down soft, to the real thing, good advice, and quality at a fair price”.
In order to capture the old aesthetic we spent time in old warehouses, lofts and barns taking pictures of truly old wood floors and noting how they aged. Then we picked an appropriate material to use as the base. In this case we chose European oak logs from Germany and France. We chose European because of a distinct character that we don’t find in American oak. The European white oak logs do not split in the center of the log while the American logs do. The result is, we can get many more wide planks. This floor is 8 1/2″ wide and comes in lengths up to 8′ so we needed a raw material base that would provide enough large lumber to fit the bill.
One feature of a truly old wood floor is that they were often only air dried and not kiln dried. The lumber was sawn and then let sit in open air for 2-3 months to dry down to 12-14% and then used in construction (most wood floors today are kiln dried down between 6-8%). In these old buildings the wood flooring would then shrink a bit more over time as it continued to dry which would result in knots further shrinking giving the floor more visual texture.
We started our process by sawing these large logs into cants (think railroad tie size piece of lumber). Then we take the cants and saw them into green (not dry) veneer on a bandsaw. A lot of old floors we’ve looked at still has mill markings from saw blades. After all, a lot of these old wood floors didn’t need to be pretty, just durable. By sawing them green we can fine tune the amount of saw marks we leave in the final product.
We dry the veneers down to an acceptable level and at the same time are able to reproduce the look of a very old wood floor. This mimics how the knots and character marks shrank in those old wood floors but at the same time offers properly dried wood so the product doesn’t shrink after installation. We really like how the floor ends up with natural texture without having to handscrape the face of the wood. While handscraping a wood floor is thought to make it look old, all it actually does it give it more texture. In this process the texture is limited only to areas where there are natural defects which makes the texture just as sporadic as the character markings in the wood.
After drying the veneer, we press it onto birch plywood and then add the tongue and groove. Next we aggressively wire-brush it using both lateral and rotary brushing to pull out all the soft grain possible. This process truly adds years to the appearance, we couldn’t find an old wood floor that didn’t have this look.
In order to get the board edges or bevels just right we had to come up with a new technique. Old floors do not have a 45 degree bevel on them. What they do have is lots of chips and nicks taken out of them. Remember a lot of those floors were not completely dry when installed so as they shrank the joints would often move up and down causing one edge to stand proud. This would result in them being chipped or splintered as feet and materials were dragged across the floor over the years. As seen in the picture above we were able to closely mimic this look with a new hand beveling technique and at the same time were able to calibrate them so they are even and smooth.
And finally we decided to finish this product with hardwax oil hybrid rather than urethane. First we coat the floor with two layers of UV cured oil. This base layer will keep the floor from staining. Then we lay a final coat of hardwax oil over the top. The oil gives and incredibly low sheen almost unfinished appearance which is exactly what an old floor looks like.