Restoring Old Floorboards – Part I

One of the things I’ve been most looking forward to is restoring some of the period features of our Victorian house. For months I’ve been swooning over bedrooms with beautiful floorboards, like these white painted onesthese shabby chic ones and these shiny ones. Ours, however, looked more like this:

So we set about restoring them to their former glory. Here’s a little guide for fellow aspiring floorboard restorers…

Firstly, you need to make sure the floor is sound- replace any dodgy boards, fix them all down securely and make sure to hammer in any nail heads that are poking up. Remove any skirting you’ll be replacing to make sure you can get to all of the edges. If you’re intending to stain the boards, it’s definitely worth checking the colour and application of the stain first- we used an old board we’d taken out.

We hired a drum sander from our local plant hire shop. Drum sanders are pretty heavy, so I suggest taking a car (even if, like us, this means going at 7.20am in your work suit!) We got loads of belts, because you can just return what you don’t use and it would be pretty annoying to run out halfway through. Our belts were 120, 80, 60 and 40 grit.

The drum sander is quite a beast, so lower it gently onto the boards, or it will make a groove (and then you’ll need to sand the whole floor down to this level!) It’s then a bit like mowing a lawn, except a whole lot dustier and noisier.

After a few hours of sanding, you’ll end up with it looking a bit like this:

You then need to use something a bit smaller (we have a belt sander and a sheet sander) to get all of the bits between the boards and around the edges. You might want to hire a detail sander to make this easier- lots of places do a package hire deal with the drum sander.

You’ll be knackered at this point from all of that sanding, so it’s probably a good time to sit back and admire your handy work. Make sure when you clear up that you keep some of the (copious amounts of) sawdust back, as you’ll need it later.

After a nice cup of tea, it’s time to grab a filling knife/scraper and get to work removing the dirt from between the boards. It’s amazing what can accumulate in nearly 150 years…

This will leave you with a clear idea of whether you need to fill the gaps between your boards (in which case, try something like this) or whether you’re happy with the rustic look and that your boards are close enough together that you won’t fall down between them! We went with the latter.

We had a few gaps that did need a little filler, so at this point, you’ll need to get your saved up sawdust and mix it with a little PVA until it forms a stiff paste:

Use this to fill any gaping holes, but do be mindful of the fact that this may not ‘take’ the stain in the same way as your boards, so be conservative (or test it out on an old board if you’re worried):

You can now call it a day and leave the filler to harden overnight, ready for round two…

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