The bread and butter of Mary’s business is wood floors. She deals with other peoples’ floors day in and day out, and she would really, for once, like to have a floor like the ones she helps her clients with. So we put Mary in charge of the floor at the new house.
I have just one hard and fast rule for the floor: “I ain’t taking my shoes off to walk in my own house!” Beyond that, it turns out we’re on pretty much the same page: Variegated coloration. Wide-ish random widths. A kerfy, un-even texture, with knots. I suggested hickory because I happen to have a big chunk of it, and it’s good lookin’ stuff: like oak, but without the blahs.
Mary asked around, and Everybody advised against using wide boards.
“They’ll warp,” everybody says. “You’ll be sorry.”
But Mary had her heart set on wide boards, and I kind of liked the idea too. She started pinging her contacts in the flooring industry and worked out a deal with Ron, in down-state New York. We give him rough boards, and he turns them into flooring.
Late in February, we drove down to check out his operation and arrived around lunch time. Here’s a math quiz: If there are 20 items to choose from in a restaurant, what are the odds that all 5 of us will order the lamb sandwich? (1 in a million) The Pied Piper. We played with his machines and made a surface we liked. It was like the mix-your-own perfume place in France, except they didn’t sell us 1600 sqft of perfume.
A couple weeks later, the boards arrived on a truck. There was the milled and surfaced flooring of course, but there were also a LOT of rough boards. WTF? Turns out that the guy who sold us the wood wouldn’t sell us just the wide boards, so Mary took the whole lot. We’ll sell what we don’t use. The rough boards went in the garage, and the milled flooring went over by the front porch. My job was to get it inside, where it could begin to thaw out.
It was a cold, windy, icy day. The path to the porch used a rock as a step up. And the metal roof had been shedding its load on the rock all winter long. It was one icy rock.
It would have been a good time to build a nice dry ramp going up to the porch. But I chiseled the ice off the rock instead, because I didn’t want to walk back to the end of the ramp. Four boards per bundle, most of which I could lift. And about 50 bundles. Pick up the bundle. Walk to the rock, climb two icy 12″ steps to the porch, walk into the house, and set it down. Fifty times. And not once did I slip, fall, and hurt myself. But god, was I sore! When normal people do this, they get hernias and broken bones, but after a couple days, I was fine.
I was working on the master shower at the time, and I walked back and forth past the pile of boards 20 times a day. I looked them over and -whoa- they are quality stuff. We’d planned to ‘have them installed,’ but with boards like this, I decided it would be a privilege to put them in myself.
Everybody agrees that the right way to put in a hardwood floor is to start with dry wood in the winter, let it acclimate to the floor and then cinch them up tight to one another and glue and nail them down.
Everyone but me, that is.
If you cinch up 20′ of boards tight, you’ve basically got a 20′ wide plank, and in humid weather, it’ll want to expand, say, 1″, or 1/2″ on either end. The glue and the nails won’t like that at all, and the boards will (ahem) cup and crack and warp.
But if you cinch up about 2′ of boards tight, and put a gap every 2′, the movement within a section is only 1/10″, and between the gaps, the glue, and the nails, the boards just might stay flat.
So that’s how I installed the floor.
I started laying out the boards, placing the joints and covering the floor 1-deep. I flush-cut the jambs and fitted the thresholds. With wide boards, you want a tongue between the butts, and it took some thinking to decide to mill the grooves relative to the underside, because the top surface is quite irregular. For the tenons, I cut up 2 of those rough boards in the garage.
Two hundred fifty boards in the pile.
Two hundred fifty boards!
You take two down,
Cut ’em way down,
Two hundred forty eight boards in the pile.
We needed glue to install the floor. Lots of it. Ron recommended Sika polyurethane glue, so we bought 40 gallons of it online. The website steered me to paypal, which I don’t use much, and paypal decided the transaction looked suspicious, froze my account, and took a 3-day coffee break before deciding it was really me trying to buy glue. It finally got shipped, but I missed the delivery confirmation call, and we didn’t get the pails for another 4 days. So the wood had an extra week to acclimate.
Finally! I was ready to put in the wood floor, and I started in the Corner Office. I worked alone the first day, so I could work the bugs out of the process. I’m glad I did the tile projects first, because wielding a notched trowel is a lot harder than it looks. The glue is the consistency of warm peanut butter, and droopy strands of it get everywhere. Get it on your shoes, knees, or hands, and it will soon be everywhere you look, so I learned fast to clean up my dribbles immediately. By the end of day 1, I’d installed a couple hundred sf, learned the ropes, and covered my hands and forearms with glue.
Which wouldn’t come off. Fresh glue dissolves in paint thinner. Residue does not. I had to make a grocery run that evening and, while I refrained from touching every bundle of asparagus, I still had to hold out my blackened hand for my receipt and change. The clerk didn’t flinch, but she reached for the Purell.
It took 5 days (2 with Ashton helping) to install 95% of the flooring and then I ran out of glue. The coverage they claim is probably about right on a smooth substrate, but radiant concrete slabs are not smooth. Or flat: After the first day, I noticed that most of the concrete surfaces are below the sleepers, and ‘no amount of glue’ will reach from the concrete to the hickory. If I’d stopped smearing the low spots a few hours earlier on that first day, I would probably have saved myself a trip into Burlington for another pail of glue.
When they poured the radiant slabs, they forgot to fill a small section with concrete, and I turned it into a secret compartment, just big enough for a handgun and some gems, cash or drugs.
From the day the wood was delivered to the day I pounded the last nail was exactly 1 month. It seemed like much more. I cleaned up my mess and, for 5 days, I was not allowed to make any dust while Mary and Ashton finished the floor.
Oxidizer, sealer, sanding, wiped stain, top coat, sanding, and another top coat, and Mary was hurting everywhere, but she did a great job, and it is a beautiful floor.