Three decades into his career, Scott Achterberg of Achterberg Floors in Peoria, Illinois, had an opportunity to revisit one of his very first projects. Seeing the floor again gave Achterberg perspective on the beneficial changes he has witnessed during his time in the hardwood flooring industry.
“I was raised in a construction family, and it was my father’s idea to start a floor sanding business. I recall being at the house with my father, where the homeowner had self-installed a Brazilian cherry floor. We were hired to sand and finish it,” says Achterberg. “After we finished, the homeowner said he would call us back once he had installed the other portion.”
The phone call came 26 years later. The homeowner only recently installed the rest of the flooring. Achterberg was tasked with getting the new floor the same color as the aged floor and cleaning and re-coating the old floor he had worked on in his youth.
“While the name sounded familiar, it was not until I pulled into the driveway that memories began flooding back,” explains Achterberg.
“I could recall the heavily patterned Brazilian cherry floor. More than anything, though, I remembered being proud of the work we did. I found this amusing, as it does not compare with the work that we can do today.”
Achterberg credits his experience, education, and today’s equipment with his ability to make hardwood floors much smoother, flatter, and better than he could have at the dawn of his career.
“Looking back, I laugh at the equipment we were using. We were using a decades-old refurbished sander,” says Achterberg. “Using today’s modern equipment is much easier than before. If someone uses older equipment, they owe it to themselves and their clients to look at some of the newer technology on the market.”
Just as important as the right equipment, Achterberg believes his skill in working with clients and managing expectations through clear communication has been a critical factor in his success.
“Since I was last in the home, I have learned so much about the importance of managing customer expectations. It’s one of the most important skills in this industry,” Achterberg explains. “My challenge was to make new Brazilian cherry that had been sitting in a stack for three decades look like the existing, aged floor. There were shadows where the sun through the windows had bleached it out while other areas had furniture covering it.”
While Achterberg was happy to finish the newly installed floor, he was frank with the homeowner about the age and condition of the old floor, the drastic color change, and that the simple cleaning and re-coat would not affect these issues on this 26-year-old floor.
“We discussed sanding and refinishing the older floor, but it was not something he wanted to pursue,” says Achterberg. “I moved forward knowing I had given the homeowner a realistic idea of what to expect.”
One thing the homeowner did not expect was how technology had changed regarding dust containment.
“We now have dust control systems, which we didn’t have back then. Today, what we do is virtually dust free,” explains Achterberg. “Sometimes, I’ll go to someone’s house that I worked on years ago, and they have plastic covering everything. Thankfully, they don’t need to do that anymore, and we will communicate that to them.”
Another change in Achterberg’s approach to sanding and finishing today comes from hard-earned experience and wasted time and money.
“Brazilian cherry is a very dense wood, and it takes quite a bit of sanding to get it flat. I’ve learned to use good quality ceramic abrasives,” says Achterberg. “Do not use cheap sandpaper. In general, there are no savings there. You spend more time sanding, changing paper, and using more paper. You’ll end up behind on time and money.”
Finally, Achterberg credits the rise of water-based finishes for changing his approach to sanding and finishing.
“The original floor we did had an oil-modified urethane on it, but today, we use water-based finishes. Since I first started, these water-based finishes have changed things. They have lower odors and are faster to dry,” says Achterberg. “For this project, I used Bona AmberSeal with a water-based finish on top. The benefit is that it is a water-based finish with an amber tint, meaning we quickly can match an aged look. Combined with the right tools and techniques, it makes these sorts of projects fun. I only wish I could go back and give them to my younger self.”