There are many ways to dress up a bare timber floor. If you’re dealing with existing floorboards, it will be necessary to sand back the timber to remove any existing finish. This first step will give you a blank canvas – a floor that’s receptive to whatever stain, paint or wash you wish to apply.
Liming floorboards, for example, will produce a lighter, airier feel, while staining pine boards a deep, rich colour can make them resemble a dark wood such as wenge. This can really enhance the look of a room.
Alternatively, you may wish to do something far more decorative like using white and dark wood washes to create a chequerboard pattern. The options are almost endless.
Wood washes impart a subtle lick of colour to highlight the grain of natural timber, so they tend to create a soft, French provincial-style mood. Porter’s Paints has a range of 10 colours in its Wood Wash range, but can also create made-to-order colours.
A decorative effect that works particularly well with wood washes are chequerboard patterns – for example, Porter’s Paints Wood Wash in Kohl (a pale grey) and White. For a bolder mix, try French Lavender and White.
Painting floors white remains a favourite way to dress up old (and new for that matter) boards, as it brings a sense of light and space into a room. A paving paint, such as White Knight Paints Paving Paint, is fine for a rustic approach, but be prepared for scuff marks. If you’re after a longer-lasting glossy finish, try an acrylic urethane that has been tinted white. It’s best to bring in the experts if heading down this road – these products aren’t designed for timber flooring, but can give a sleek result when applied well.
This is one of the few treatments that doesn’t require sanding. Wax is an option for those who want to keep a warm, pre-worn look to their boards and aren’t afraid to use a little elbow grease (or a buffing machine) along with their wax. Environmentally friendly beeswax can be buffed and polished onto boards to produce a natural, satin sheen. However, there are other products on the market, such as Feast Watson Mastertouch Wax, that are easier to work with.
A trade secret to getting your stain to take evenly is to prepare the floor by sanding first with a coarse grade of paper, around 240, then finishing with a fine 320 or an even finer 400 grade. Many uneven stain applications are due to poor preparation and not moving beyond the 240 grade of sandpaper. When it comes to colour decisions, always test on a sample piece of wood first.
By far the most dramatic way to turn a timber floor a rich, dark colour is with Feast Watson Black Japan. While the product is a semi-transparent stain, if several coats are applied undiluted the result will be a deep coating that dries to a hard finish. Traditionally, Black Japan was a bitumen-based varnish used as a decorative floor border. There really isn’t another product on the market like it.
Whereas real lime was once used to prevent insect damage, these days liming is done for a purely decorative effect. Then, the result was always a soft white lightening of the boards, but contemporary products can now be tinted to produce a pastel effect as well as the traditional white. Because liming is a treatment that fills the grains of wood, it is best suited to open-grained timbers such as pine, oak and maple.