Our wood floors are a product of nature. As we all know in the industry, imperfections are always possible. Whether they are from nature, from the installer, or from years of being in a home with its wear and tear, defects happen. Most of our clients expect a picture perfect, furniture-looking, finished product. Have the discussion with the client on what they want vs. what can be accomplished. As installers and sand and finishers we try to eliminate those defects with different filler choices and systems.
We use different sets of protocol/standards for new and existing floors as well as different systems to accomplish a quality and complaint-free outcome. With existing wood floors, the standard has a little more flexibility. Some gaps are acceptable because either it’s the winter time and the floors have contracted or, in our area, the subfloors have loosened somewhat and the fill will get the gaps out soon after being used. Chips, dents, and non-shrinking gaps are addressed. Other seasonable gaps are left.
New floors are typically expected to be gap- and imperfection-free. We typically spot fill while leaving minimum excess on the floor with most average new installations. This minimizes waste and cuts down on time. When the client is of the “perfection expectation status,” we will trowel fill the entire floor after our rough sanding. This ensures a perfect outcome. With all types of floors, new and old, we are addressing visible defects after every step of the process, right up to final coat.
The materials available to use to fill the floor vary and include grain filler, spot filler, trowel filler, touch-up putty, hardwax sticks, wood-dust mixes, and slivers. These break down to pre-made, off the shelf, fill and fill made from the parent dust of the floor. Each has their pros and cons. Off the shelf fills are convenient and ready to go. Many are suited for a specific species. Some match their designated species and some do not. Trial and error will help you to determine which matches best. Most are able to be thinned down with water to allow for a trowelable use.
Fill made from the parent dust on site is a little more time consuming, but allows for a near perfect species and color match. Many manufacturers have a compound/binder, which can be added to the fine dust from the floor being sanded to create this. One must collect an amount of fine dust from the edger or from the floor to be filled and mixed with the binder to create the fill. Some contractors have a collection of gallon coffee containers with dust from many species at the site, ready to use. Some are water-based, while others are alcohol-based. Naturally the more binder you add, the more trowelable it will be. We will typically allow a troweled over floor to dry overnight. This makes our next sanding much easier. Caution must be used when using the alcohol-based products. Pilot light/furnace and other ignition points must be turned off while it is drying.
We have used this product while refinishing old pine floors which were full of nails. After allowing the fill to dry we began sanding, a spark from a nail went into the dust bag and started to smolder. I could smell the smoke, quickly removed the bag and held tightly around entrance of bag and ran outside with it. Then we hosed with water. Be careful.
With every part of our industry, we must identify customers’ expectations. After this is accomplished, we need to come up with a plan on how to exceed those expectations. Filling defects may seem like a mundane task, every job, every day. But this simple task will eliminate call backs and help guarantee customer satisfaction.