I have a lot of tools in my toolbox, but the best one so far is the rejection.
For many weeks out of the year, this tool helps me deal with any job that might otherwise ruin my day.
Then comes the week before Thanksgiving, when denial is the only tool gathering dust.
After a torrent of work, the house always looks good, just in time to put the turkey in the oven. Then, invariably, my wife and I noticed the wood floors, which look like they’ve been used for many years by a family in deep denial.
By then, of course, it would be too late to do anything. Our guests say nothing about the floors because they are so kind. Nice enablers.
I will rewrite the script this year. I was determined to decorate the floors quickly and without calling in a team of workers to sand and refinish. Just my wife, Karen, and me, and $70 or so in supplies at most. To keep it real this time-packed holiday season, I set aside just one evening for work.
For advice, I turned to four people: Jeff Jewett, CEO of Homestead Finishing Products and author of “Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Finishing” (Taunton Press); Michael Dresdner, author and blogger on the topic of wood finishing (MichaelDresdner.com); Bob Flexner, author of “Understanding Wood Finishing” (Fox Chapel Publishing) and Mark Votta, owner of Kenvo Floor Company in Exeter, RI among others, Mr. Votta installs oak flooring at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, where the Celtics play — a good proxy for what my kids do on our land.
The advice of professionals yielded three options: basic liquid floor wax, tinted and detergent wax, or polyurethane polish. They can all save you from the embarrassment of the holiday, but a few strategies are in order.
If you’re planning on dropping $4,000 on a professional post-holiday refinish job, an inexpensive liquid floor wax and cleaner, like SC Johnson One Step (about $7 for 22 ounces), will do just fine. But if, next year, you try to try the re-polishing job yourself, don’t wax now, because all that wax has to pay off first.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The first step is to determine what is on your floor. Here’s some help: The vast majority of laminate floors are coated with polyurethane. Some people have wax on their floors, either because they inherited an old house or because they used a cleaner that contains wax.
How to find out? Pour a few drops of water in an inconspicuous place. If this area turns white after 10 minutes, it is likely wax. Or wipe a small area with mineral spirits and a clean rag. The wax will stain the cloth. No polyurethane.
A smaller group of people will have varnish or shellac finishes, which are usually orange in color. But if you have a floor with wax, lacquer, or shellac, your last-minute job is all about one option: a liquid floor wax and cleaner, like Bruce Light ‘n’ Natural Liquid Paste Wax with Cleaner, or Wood Preen (both about $10 a quart) , among many other things. (Johnson’s One-Step is another option, but not on linoleum floors.)
“If you have really little time, this is the way to go,” said Mr. Drezdner. “If it looks better, great. Invite the guests. If not, it won’t hurt a thing.”
I’ve tried this on part of my land, and it works fine. Wood Preen brought a light amber color to areas with no residual polyurethane finish, and it also blocked water spots. I’ve considered using it on my entire floor, and given my history, I can imagine using it every few months as a permanent gap-filling measure.
But since the floor didn’t have wax, I had two other options that could save work in the future.
The first is a line of products dedicated to polyurethane floors that are still fully finished, albeit a bit faded. This list includes Minwax Hardwood Floor Reviver, Bona Hardwood Floor Polish, Basic Coatings Hardwood Floor Refinisher (each cost about $20 or less per quart) and Pledge Wood Floor Finish (about $6 for 27 ounces).
To understand how these products work, it is helpful to understand how the professionals work. When a crew rolls around your house with a 200-pound sander, this tool scrapes the surface of the wood to give the polyurethane something to stick to.
The bottled resurfacing devices are bonded to the existing polyurethane, so no sanding is required. It also tops the floor with a (thin) layer of the new finish.
brilliant? definitely. And they can polish your floors quickly.
But preparation is important. Clean the furniture, dust, vacuum the floor, and wash it well. Don’t bother with floor cleaners, said Mr. Jewett; Soap can sometimes leave a film. Alternatively, mix 1 part white vinegar (about $2 a quart) with 10 parts water and use a microfiber mop (Bonna about $20) or a damp washcloth.
“Just keep it wet like a healthy dog’s nose,” he said. “You don’t want to get a lot of water between the panels, because they can swell.”
It’s also why you don’t want to use water-based rejuvenation products without testing them in a hidden corner, or placing them on bare wood. Which is exactly what I did. But I will get to that shortly.
Applying these products is easy. I used a Bona mop, which comes with an applicator pad for such jobs, but you can also use a standard kitchen mop or attach a paint pad to a broom handle.
If you lack ceiling lights, prepare a portable spotlight. For resurfacing materials other than Minwax and Basic Coatings, which carry toxicity warnings, keep windows closed so the products don’t dry out while you work. (The smell won’t bother most people.) Finally, work toward your exit and off the ground for an hour or more while it dries up.
If, before you start, you don’t know if you have bare wood, don’t guess. Wipe a little water on a dull area. If it soaks in the wood and it darkens, it will be rust free. Or, said Mr. Flexner, study the floor in bright light. If it has any sheen at all, it’s still gone. “A lot of people confuse color and finish,” he added. “They think there is still a finish on the wood until all the color is gone.”
Renovation products have brightened the parts of the floor that still contain polyurethane. The section with Minwax sounded marginally better than the sections with Bona or Pledge, the resurfacing devices I’ve used, but Minwax has a toxicity warning, and it was the only product that made my eyes water.
The resurfacing devices did nothing for the bare wood I mistakenly applied to it. Fortunately, the floor of my room did not swell or sag, as Mr Jewett warned.
What do you generally do about exposed wood?
Dresdner recommended a kit called Varathane Renewal (about $80), which uses a two-step process to apply a new layer of finish to the floor: You coat the floor with product that adheres to a new layer of polyurethane. Mr. Fota recommended a similar two-step process, using TyKote (about $80) as the first layer, and Bona Traffic (about $109) on top. “Traffic is very easy to use,” he said. “You can apply it with a wire brush, and it will still look great.”
The big advantage of these products? No sanding. Big drawback? It can include a full day of work or more, so it overburdens the definition of “quick fix” – my holiday parameter. Retailers carrying these products are also scarce, at least in the greater New York area.
So, for my worn-out floors, I had one not-so-great alternative: a liquid putty wax, like Wood Preen; This product is tinted and will give exposed areas some color. Of course, with this step I bought myself another bit of work when I finally got to a proper refinish, with my 200lb sander and everything.
Did not matter. When the Thanksgiving guests arrive, I’m sure they’ll say nice things, and I’m sure I’ll once again enjoy denial. I will try not to blame them for that.