We did two jobs over the past week on wood floors. They started out really ugly. And they ended up amazing. We finished them with 100% pure tung oil so they are really natural.
The first job was to remove some paint that a previous owner, in their infinite and unfathomable intelligence, had painted over the floors. Why they did this we have no idea. But they did such a good job that we also had no idea what was below the paint.
We suspected something great though.
First we sanded off the paint after determining it had no lead in it. We used a large belt sander. Then we got on our hands and knees and carefully sanded with a hand sander. Below you can see already that the floor was once amazing. it was white oak with mahogany inlay.
Once we had gotten all the paint off and sanded the old floor to a smooth finish we seeped it in pure tung oil mixed with citrus solvent so that the oil really soaked in. Tung oil needs to be applied in the right amounts so it doesn’t create an oily film on the wood. If done right it seeps in nicely and hardens the wood from within. It creates a long lasting finish that actually beautifies the actual wood.
This is different from varnish you apply on top of the wood. Varnish, the most common being polyurethane from petrochemicals, creates a hard surface on top of the wood but does not actually seep into the wood. It is basically clear paint. Over time the varnish wears off and the wood looks sad. Tung oil on the other hand can’t wear off since it is part of the wood.
Over time the tung oil cured wood only gets richer. And unlike varnish that needs to be sanded off if you want to refinish it, tung oil doesn’t need sanding. You simply add more tung oil to the wood to refresh it or heal a wound in the wood.
The client had wanted a natural floor installer and finisher because she had gotten cancer in the past and wanted to stay away from the toxic fumes of conventional wood applications. We were happy to oblige.
The end result was a previously beautiful wood floor brought back naturally.
The other job we did was in a gut renovation we are doing of a brownstone. The existing floors were unusable. First was a layer of linoleum:
Under the linoleum were sad planks of flooring. They were too badly rotted so we had to rip them out. Below that were some weary subfloors. As you can see from the picture below the subfloor didn’t look like much. It just looked like tired old wood not worth saving.
Most contractors would never use it and would cover it with new flooring. But we knew better. The house was built in 1903 and had the original subfloors – soft white pine. Adding tung oil to soft white pine is a magic mix since you get the beauty of the pine plus the subtle hardening effect of tung oil.
We also refuse to buy new wood for anything. Not one tree has been cut down from Eco Brooklyn’s building.
First we sanded it and then we applied several coats of tung oil. This is what it looked like after the first coat, taken from the same place as the picture above:
In another part of the house the subfloor had been taken out and replaced with plywood so we had to put a new floor over it. We installed some wood we had salvaged from another house that was being gutted. The contractor let us go in and remove the flooring. He was happy to get free labor and less dumpster fees since his plan was to rip it out and throw it away.
Here is one of interns (from an inner city youth organization) helping organize and stack the wood:
An interior design student intern who flew out from California during spring break is helping clean the wood:
Stacked and cleaned:
Here we are installing it:
We then sanded it and applied tung oil. Here it is after the first coat:
As one of my employees who migrated from high end renovations in Manhattan to work for Eco Brooklyn said, “These floors look like expensive Manhattan floors.” Even without the great help from interns we turned garbage into beauty at a fraction of the cost of those Manhattan floors. Our client is a first time owner getting a government loan who has a very humble salary.
With intelligent sourcing and salvage we can almost eliminate material costs, allowing me to employ more workers while offering affordable high quality floors to the client. Meanwhile we turn the process into an educational opportunity for aspiring green builders. It is so good to be true it almost seems like magic. How garbage can be turned into beauty while everyone benefits is really amazing to me. And extremely fulfilling. It is what Eco Brooklyn is about.