Faced with a restoration project where exact duplication was required by law, Aaron Sheaves of Sheaves Floors in Weyer’s Cave, Virginia, was careful to gather both quality information and materials before beginning the job.
“I was tasked with renovating floors inside a four-story home built in the 1870s, beginning with the main level of the home. Because the house was on a historic registry, strict laws say that you cannot change the look of the flooring,” says Sheaves. “Whatever is taken out, something identical needs to go back in.”
The floor to be restored was a top-nailed 8” rift and quartered white oak parquet pattern original to the 1870s home. Each strip was 2” wide by 8” long. The exacting requirements led Sheaves to reach out to Sprigg Lynn of Universal Floors for advice.
“I’m still relatively young compared to others who do this kind of work, and Sprigg gave me advice on how to do this restoration properly. The floor was totally loose, and there was also a hump in the floor that had been sanded down so much that there wasn’t anything left,” explains Sheaves. “On every step from start to finish, he saved me so many painstaking hours where I would have been trying to figure it all out myself.”
Sheaves’ primary challenge became procuring proper reclaimed wood for the restoration.
“Finding an old rift and quartered white oak floor to match something from 1870 can be hard to come by. I was concerned it could take six months to a year to find. You just never know,” explains Sheaves. “You cannot get in a hurry, as to me, it was important to find something from the same time period so that it had the same age and patina.”
Sheaves waited for four months to finally get the 200 square feet of flooring he would need to do the restoration work.
“I reached out to a company called Brick + Board out of Maryland that does a lot of work with reclaimed wood out of old buildings that are being torn down. The wood came from a home in New Jersey from the 1890s that had been demolished,” says Sheaves. “Once I sanded the original finish off, it matched what I needed perfectly. My next step then was to cut a bunch of different sizes and start to dry fit into the existing floor.”
Sheaves said the repairs ended up taking almost a week, as it was a bit like putting together a giant puzzle.
“Not every square was exactly 8”, so the first day was checking what was intact and tight, and taking out loose sections. I then spent the next several days cutting, milling, and ripping each piece down, and then dry fitting everything,” says Sheaves. “It didn’t have to be perfect, as I had to mimic what was already there. I had to leave in gaps so that my repair matched the existing floor, which had gaps and did not have perfectly lined up corners.”
Sheaves then began to alter the replacement boards to mimic the look of those that would surround them. He approached these tasks with patience and the idea of making his repairs invisible.
“There were certain things I needed to do to the boards. For example, I had to take colored pencils and stain pens and highlight the board seams. I also had to use stain pens on each individual nail hole in the repaired area to duplicate the look of the existing nail holes, which had a greyish black look,” says Sheaves. “I needed to make what I did look like it happened 150 years ago, even down to the nail hole sizes that went into the top of the floor. I did that by hand with a nail set and a hammer.”
Once the boards were “aged” to his satisfaction, Sheaves began the process of giving the floor a careful sand and finish.
“I sanded the completed floor with a planetary sander and did a first coat of Bona craft oil. The following day, I then went back and used a stain pen and colored pencils on the nail holes and the ends and seams,” explains Sheaves. “Once I applied a second coat of craft oil, it looked like the repair had never happened.”