The Master Bedroom Floor

Before the beams came out of the green house, we took out the floor they held up, and the floorboards went into a pile in Chuck, where they were in the way all summer long.
These boards came out of Maggie’s old room and the roadside bedroom, where there were holes framed in (and covered over) for an old staircase and a chimney. I sifted through the piles a few times, and it was apparent that I had a variety of boards on my hands. Thick and thin. Light and dark. Knotty and clear. All of them had 5 or 6 coats of floor paint on one face, and none on the other, and large and small nails everywhere.  Deep down, though, they were really nice boards: long, wide and flat, and really, really old.

The boards came from the 2nd floor of the green house. The hard way.

The boards came from the 2nd floor of the green house. The hard way.

The idea was to use them for the master bedroom floor, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen for a long, long time. I scraped off the big chunks of dried crud and de-nailed about half of them onto the lawn, but lost interest and skipped the rest. In the fall, I moved the whole pile into the new basement, where they could be dry – and still be in the way.

All winter long, while I plowed through other projects, the pile of boards was in the way, and every time I had to work around them, I’d look them over and wonder if it was a big enough pile to do the whole room. With all the ragged edges and and irregularities, it was impossible to add up the area, but I’d eyeball the pile and tell myself that it looked about right. Not that it mattered, because there are no more boards to be had anyway, and if I ran out, then I’d deal with it somehow. What I did know was: this is going to be a lot of work.

But not for a long long time, and meanwhile, my enormous shop filled up with piles. Piles of floorboards. A pile of beams. Trim wood piles. Door wood piles. An offcut pile. A dozen assembled cabinets. Plus all the boxes, benches, and tools that actually belong in the shop. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I’ve indulged myself with such a spacious shop, and I tell myself that the best way to justify it is to bite off a project so big that I need a shop this size to get it done.  This house is just such a project. And just about the time I ran out of space, I started finishing up ‘other projects,’ and the piles began to disappear. And eventually, I  looked at that pile of floorboards, and it wasn’t in the way.
It was time to get started.

(I took lots of photos of this project, but can’t seem to find them. Damn!)

So I finished de-nailing the pile and ran them through the planer.
It overheated, so I gave it a rest. I lightened the cut and it bogged down and stalled.
The blades were dull. Shot, in fact. The other set of blades were sharp, so I put them in and 15 minutes later, they were dull. Shot.

These dulled planer blades are edge-to-edge, and you shouldn't be able to see any light between them.

These dulled planer blades are edge-to-edge, and you shouldn’t be able to see any light between them.

OK, so I was 10% done, and I was out of planer blades. There’s a place in Newport where I can get them sharpened, but it costs money and takes 3 days and, at that rate, I wouldn’t be done for a long, long time. It turned out that my grinder can sharpen a 16″ blade, though, and  by the time I got all the boards planed down, I’d sharpened them a dozen times, and  was pretty good at it.

The first couple of planer passes got rid of the paint layers and most of the nails I’d missed, not to mention about 3mm of planer blade length. I sorted these boards by thickness, and they ranged from 3/4″ to 1 1/8″. It was pretty clear that I was barely going to have enough boards, if I had enough at all, so I had to keep planing off perfectly good wood until they were all 3/4″. Worse yet, the boards are old and dry and fragile, and as I planed down pass after pass, I watched as the knots vibrated loose and fall out, or simply  disintegrate. This was demoralizing, but I rescued as many as I could and glued them back in. After planing off and on for a couple weeks, I finally had a pile of floor boards. Much smaller than before, but all the same thickness.

My pile of 200 year-old flooring, sorted by thickness.

My pile of 200 year-old flooring, sorted by thickness.


While the hickory flooring was thick, strong, and milled with a tongue and groove, these old boards were too thin for T&G, so I profiled them with a shiplap. It was a lot of work:

Rip the boards. Stack in a pile.
Rip the other edge. Stack in a pile.
Mate the boards for width and length to span the room. Stack in a pile.
Rip to width. Stack in a pile.
Dado the ship. Stack in a pile.
Dado the lap. Stack in a pile.
Move the pile upstairs. Stack it.
Dry-lay the floor, cutting to length.
And finally, I know the answer: there’s not going to be enough wood for the whole floor. Damn.

So I sorted through all my offcuts and shorts and the ratty boards I hadn’t even planed down and came up with enough pieces to finish out the room.
Plane. Stack. Sharpen. Stack. Plane. Stack. Rip. Stack. Rip. Stack. Rip. Stack. Dado. Stack. Dado. Stack. Mate. Stack.
They’re not as pretty as the long ones, but they are the genuine article, and we’ll just hide them with the bed on top of them and they’ll be fine.

At this point, I decided I’d screwed up one of the dado passes (too much ship, not enough lap), needed to re-mill them, and using a router was the only way to do it right. I couldn’t quite bring myself to haul the pile downstairs to mill it and then haul it back up again, so I made one last big mess on sawhorses in the living room. Then I stacked the boards in yet another pile.

I took a 4 day break from ‘housework’ to attend Adriane’s wedding in Woodstock. Mary had rented a house on the river, and we topped out at 10 adults plus the little girls. We had a campfire, a barbeque, a birthday party, a couple bike rides, a pool and ping-pong table, a meet & greet, the wedding, the reception, and a brunch. I got bitten by a tick at the outdoor ceremony and was on Lyme alert for a few days. I got very drunk on very good wine at the reception.

When I finally got back to work on Monday, I dry-laid the boards one last time, and checked that the problem with the shiplap milling had been fixed and that there were enough boards to cover the whole floor.
It was all systems go, so I took up the boards again, stacked them in one last pile, and prepped the room for installation.

Compared to the hickory, installing was easy, because there was no T&G to get stuck. On the other hand, because of the ‘live’ surface, there was zero-tolerance for stray glue drippings, so I had to pay attention. We also used ‘cut nails’ instead of pneumatic blind nailing, and there are eyebrows scattered all over. If anybody asks, they are ‘very old eyebrows.’

My job was over, and I turned the project over to Mary, who’d been looking forward to finishing these old boards for over a year. She brought in a buffer and steel wool, only to find, in a test spot under the bed, that the surface abrades right off. So she and Ashton sanded the whole surface by hand between coats. Three times.

Elbow grease: Nature’s wood finish.

Our 200-year old bedroom floor.

Our 200-year old bedroom floor.

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