When properly maintained, wood floors can last for hundreds of years. Bill Powell, owner of B. Powell Flooring in Earlton, New York, had the opportunity recently to breathe new life into a floor that was two centuries old when a client wanted antique wood floors in their mansion located on the Hudson River near the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.
“The homeowner had antique floors in their summer home in Cape Cod,” says Powell. “He wanted something similar to those floors, but he didn’t want to do a new floor with faux antiquing.”
The homeowner ultimately located approximately 200 square feet of reclaimed American chestnut to be used in the home. As the project got underway, Powell was dealing with flooring that was not tongue and grooved, and the widths varied on the individual boards.
“There was something unusual that I had never seen before. The boards were tapered from one end to the other yet had a straight cut. For example, 12” on one end, 16” on the other,” he explains. “We weren’t sure if there were enough materials to cover the floor space. I solved that problem by measuring in square inches, not square feet.”
“As I was working on the floor, I daydreamed about the original installer who was long gone, and what he would have thought if he knew that his floor would have a new home in the Hudson Valley.”
— Bill Powell, B. Powell Flooring
With just enough material to cover, the client did not want any of the original antique edges of the wood cut, so remilling them down to an even width was not an option. They had to measure each end of every board individually, then try to line up with the proper width while ending with another board of similar width. Powell says there were also pieces cut out of the old flooring, and the client wanted to leave the holes and patch them in.
“The client wanted us to use reproductions of cut nails. We were going to have to definitely glue this floor down, and the nails only were going to be for aesthetics,” notes Powell. “One of the challenges was that there were going to be spaces in the floor, and we would be able to see the glue through the cracks.”
For the glue situation, Powell reached out to Wayne Highlander at Bona for advice, and went with a mixol black to color the glue.
“Somehow, I had the delusion of using a mixing paddle and a drill. As it turns out, when you aerate adhesive, it will dry quickly. Unfortunately, it hardened in the bucket before we were able to use it,” he recalls.
Powell says it is a good thing he always over-orders materials, and when he called Highlander again, he gave Powell the idea to use a stick, which worked well.
“We made sure to lay the boards out in the areas that they were to be installed to see if it all worked. Then we cut the ends that were going to be under the trim. We pulled the boards up one row at a time, troweled on the adhesive, then installed the boards,” he says. “When the floors were installed, we cut all the patches one at a time with a scroll saw and installed them. The next day we went back and hand scraped, and hand sanded the floor.”
Powell says it was really nice to be a part of finding a new home for a 200-year-old floor.
“As I was working on the floor, I daydreamed about the original installer, who was long gone, and what he would have thought if he knew that his floor would have a new home in the Hudson Valley,” he shares. “It also made me wonder what will become of the tens of thousands of square feet of flooring that I have installed during my past 36 years in the industry.”