The History and Practice of refinishing fine wood floors
Hello, Fellow History (& Wood) Lovers!
I’m not sure of the exact age of the teak flooring throughout the Mansion, but needless to say it has to be more than 110 years old and worn as thin as a threadbare t-shirt. I’m replacing some of the flooring in the dining room because it’s been sanded so aggressively so many times that there was literally nothing left of it to refinish. While it might not seem like much to folks unfamiliar with woodworking, this teak floor started life with nearly 1/4” of sand-able material. With today’s equipment and a careful hand, this teak floor should have the life of 4 or 5 sanding cycles and we are at the end of the road before we even begin. The journey for this floor has been a long one which started before any of us were even born.
Can I squeak one more sanding process out of this old floor? Yes, I can because here I am using my fancy Canadian and German made sanding equipment, connected to state-of-the-art HEPA filtration equipment, all designed by engineers that put people in space.
As a 21st century craftsman, when I think about the primitive equipment that’s been dragged across this floor over its 1/4” thick lifespan, I feel pretty spoiled. It’s very likely that the first sanding this teak floor received was done with scrapers and muscle driven 20-pound weighted steel blocks that had a broom handle on one side and something that faintly resembles sandpaper on the other; a labor-intensive process that us modern craftsman can’t even begin to understand. Gustave Caillebotte captured things quite well with his 1875 painting Floor Scrapers.
As time went on this floor aged and needed refinishing again. This time the laborers were lucky, by 1913 the electric floor sander had been invented and was made just around the corner in Chicago. Still, a piece of equipment that I cannot imagine using, this new sanding machine probably had quite an aggressive appetite for wood and made quick work of floor refinishing but by no means was a finesse machine.
Wash, rinse and repeat! Sanding tool innovation and abrasive technology changed rapidly after the invention of that first-floor sanding machine. Things got easier for the craftsmen and better for the floor. Today we are able to work safely with very precise equipment, using high-tech abrasives made of fractured ceramic grains on exotic backers driven by 220V of raw floor sanding power….but floor sanding is still floor sanding is floor sanding.
Chris Grohs, The Floor Guy
Terrawood Design & Custom Wood Craft