Tech Talk: Addressing a Floor at the End of its Service Life

“When you’re hired to refinish an old floor, how do you address a floor that may be at the end of its service life?”


Todd McDonald
Maple Ridge Handscraped

First, if it is a solid wood floor, take a utility knife and stick it in between a crack in a board and see how far down it goes. Mark it with your thumbnail, and you can see how much wear layer is left to sand off. Second, if you see a bunch of shiny nailheads sticking up, that’s usually an indication that it’s too far gone. Finally, if you start seeing cracks that are approximately 3/8” coincide with where the groove is, that usually indicates that the floor doesn’t have any structural strength left because the groove is starting to crack and move on its own.

In most cases, if the floor is gone too far, then maybe a screen and coat can be done. If a floor has gone too far past its life, it’s really best not to do anything with it because it will fail eventually. Only twice in my career have I seen an instance where nothing could be done to an old, solid floor. One happened to be on a stage floor in northern Michigan. You could see where the top portion of the groove was split and splintering because it had been sanded so many times that it had no life or strength left to it.

To keep a floor able to be refinished, floors with a wax finish should be rewaxed periodically. For those with a urethane finish, using a pre-made cleaner from the finish manufacturer works fine. Never, ever put a polish on the floor because that can cause issues down the road.

Jared Mohler
Mohler’s Custom Wood Floors

We pull out the AC vents if they have them in the floor and look to see where we are at on the wear layer. If I can’t do that, an older floor will have gaps, so we can shine a light down and explain to the client that if the top of the groove is too thin to sand, it needs to be replaced. If they’re not willing to do that, we walk off the job. Most solid wood floors last a long time, so we see that rarely.

I tell clients they need to have a professional sand their floors, as it shouldn’t take a 16th of an inch off to sand a floor. If they use a professional, the floor should last them their lifetime and the next generation, too. They should stick with the finish manufacturer’s recommended cleaners, and I tell them it’s like painting a house. If you wait until it’s peeling off the walls and you have to do major work to get the paint to stick, it’s the same way with a floor. If you maintain it every six or eight years, depending on traffic, you can go in and lightly screen and put a fresh coat of finish on it, and you don’t have to take off extra layers of wood and resand. You can do a buff and coat instead.

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