Matching the specific details of an existing hardwood floor can be a challenge, especially when the job involves replacing wood of a specific size and length and then duplicating a beloved, attention-grabbing inlay. In such a situation, a job well done means a result that appears unnoticeable.
“When doing restorations, the hardest thing to remember is that it is not our job to improve something that was done years ago,” explains Benjamin Suer, owner of Diamond Wood Floors in Augusta, Georgia. “Rather, my job is to match what I do with the work that already exists in the home and leaves as little impression as possible of the work that has been done on the floor.” This philosophy was crucial to completing the restoration of a floor that had special meaning for a homeowner.
“I was contacted by a client who wanted me to repair her antique heart pine floors. She told me she had reached out to others, but no one else was willing to take on the job,” says Suer.
“I think that for many, matching someone else’s style is a lot more difficult than doing things the way that you would typically do.”
Suer arrived at the home and determined that the floor was in poor condition. The floor had been damaged badly due to a burst pipe in the ceiling. There also was pre-existing termite damage. The flooring also featured a design in the area he would need to duplicate.
“The floor had an antique pine and walnut border with inlaid scallops that held special meaning for the homeowner,” explains Suer. “The pattern was designed to match a beloved China pattern she purchased on a trip to London. She was adamant that any repairs I did exactly matched that pattern.”
Suer saw that more than half of the 17’ x 14’ border in the home needed to be replaced. He had to source antique pine that was 18 1/2′ in length because the original wood he was replacing was a single board.
“The key to success with the project was first locating reclaimed pine of the length necessary to make it look like a repair had not happened,” says Suer. “My other priority was matching the original artistry. The house was built in 1981, and the original artisan that created the pattern was no longer around. My challenge was going to be cutting and then inlaying in the scallop pattern.”
Suer felt the best way to accomplish duplicating the existing flooring was by hand-cutting the scallops.
“In hindsight, the simplest thing for me to do would have been to make a jig, use a router, and have a template to cut the scallops out, and then build a reverse template to put the pieces in. I did it the hard way,” says Suer. “I cut them all out by hand. This meant they all had to be individually transcribed and put into the floor. I did this because I did not have the material I needed to make a template. I wanted to move forward, thinking it would save me time. I probably could have knocked it out in 20 percent of the time if I had used a template, so it was a time-consuming lesson learned.”
Suer says he made the material for the scallops out of walnut that was gang-ripped down to ¼” thick. He then hot-glued two pieces of walnut together so he could cut both at one time.
“I used white glue to attach the paper template to the top of the walnut, and I then used a scroll saw to cut them out,” explains Suer. “When it came time to put it on the floor, because I had so many individual pieces, I had to trace each piece onto the long pine board by hand, and then inlay each of them.”
Once Suer installed the scallops into the pine, he sanded the floor flat and then used a hand router to add details to the scallops so that they would match ones that had not been replaced.
“Looking closely at what the original installer had done, I do think he used the same method that I did. I noticed there were slight variations in each, so even though my approach took a long time, it helped the floor to match as well as it did,” says Suer.
With the renovation complete, Suer only needed to finish the floor.
“Making everything match was rather simple, as the homeowner wanted us to refinish the entire house. We sanded and stained the floor with Bona Early American DriFast Stain. We threw Universal sealer on it, and then top coated it with Bona Traffic,” says Suer. “The floor came out rather well, and the homeowner was thrilled with the final result.”