wide pine floors

Pregnancy weeks 33 and 34 have been wicked busy with flooring and finishes.  We are on schedule and under budget, but running a deficit on sleep.

Everything now is driven by getting the radiators installed; in order of sequence, the walls and ceiling needed to be painted, the floor then installed and finished, the base molding cut, primed, painted and installed, and then the radiators hung.  A different order of sequence would get heat in sooner, but it would be a much less clean install.

It is worth the effort and push, but the mild weather of October has passed quickly.  Tonight we are having a Nor’easter and temperatures will drop down below freezing.  The good news is that the flooring and finishes are complete.

Eastern White Pine floors fit our budget, and we love that look.  The softest of woods, the boards will dent and ding over the years, but you know, these indigenous trees of the region have provided flooring for hundreds of years throughout thousands of New England homes.  Cherry, Oak or Maple may be the vogue today but white pine floors have a long tradition and we chose to follow that path.

I sourced the boards from a mill in Mercer, Maine.  I mean to say, that the wood came from trees felled in Somerset County.  Our floor is local.  I purchased 540 square feet of 3/4″ thick “tongue in groove” boards in widths up to 18″ and lengths up to 16 feet.  This length assured that our floor as no joints.  It is a beautiful floor.  “It looks like a table top,” the tradesmen say.

I purchased “premium”, which is marketing talk for wood of a lesser grade – knots that is – but because the sawyer is retiring this month, he sent down clear “select” – boards without knots. One of the boards, 18″ wide and 16 feet long, has no knots and no sap.  18″ of heartwood!

“King Pine” they are called here.  In Colonial times, by Royal decree, all white pine trees with a diameter more than 24″ belonged to King George I, to be used as masts for the ships of his Navy.  But 18″ of heartwood without knots would only come from the center of a trunk much greater than 24″.  It is easy to think that tree could have been 48″ in diameter with a height pushing upward of 150 feet.  A massive tree.  Regrettably felled, but now having a pride of place in the center of our dining room floor.

The boards arrived on the bed of a pick up truck.  I laid the floor with the help of a friend, Glen P, a Master Carpenter, among many skills (see my blog “Resourceful” of 19 September).  In exchange for not bringing his tools he deeply discounted his rates, but he did bring more than 25 years’ experience and savvy.  We used all of it.

First we measured the diagonals to check that the room was square.  Surprisingly it was only about 3/4″ off square.  Then we laid red rosin paper over the subfloor to ensure the floors won’t creak.  The paper acts as a barrier between the subfloor and top layer, so that the expansion of the boards moves freely.

We cleaned any dust or wood chips as we went along, careful here lest they get trapped under the boards and cause creaking.

It took us 38 hours – two days – to lay the floor.  In a 180-year old house, the floors pitch and roll like a ride at Coney Island.  In new construction you might be able to glue the boards in place, or use cut nails, but we needed the bite of screws.  We toe-nailed the boards in place, and then screwed down the groove side using 2 1/4″ course thread square drive trim nails, placed approx every 24 inches.  It is very clean.

Glen taught me to set the screws by “reverse drilling” (putting the driver in reverse, counter-clockwise) while pushing the screw down into the wood.  It is counter intuitive, at the least, but it breaks the wood grain, so that – after turning the driver to forward (clockwise) rotation – the screw will cleanly enter rather than ripping the grain.  Small details matter.

We set the screws approx 1/4′ deep into the boards, and later I filled the holes using Woodwise brand “Maple-Ash-Pine” wood putty.  By setting the screws into the sapwood, the color match is closer.

It was a lot of work but we got the job done.  All credit goes to Glen.  The floor is beautiful!  Every tradesman who enters the house stops and stares at it.

I thought long and hard about the finish – urethane or oil?  I opted for Tung Oil – the traditional finish – which would penetrate the wood, rather than sit on top.  Research lead me to the Waterlox Sealer-Finish, which will not show water stains.  I heard that “Danish Oil” products will not safeguard against water stains and wanted to stay clear of that.  But Waterlox requires four coats, plus 72 hours to hard-cure – at 65 degrees.  I am working in an unheated Maine farmhouse, so easily the cure time could be double.  And the cost was going to run upwards of $1 per square foot.  I definitely had not the time, and preferred not to incur that cost.

Laying the floor took longer than I expected, pushing me deeper into the cold season.  The mild October has moved into a Noreasterly November – cold and damp – and I decided that I could not hold out for the traditional finish.  Also, Noah, my contractor, said that the tung oil would not block stains from grape juice, etc, which is likely given two little children.  Tung oil was beginning to look less and less attractive.

I chose to use a water-based urethane finish from Vermont Natural Coatings.  It is made from recycled whey protein of dairy farms.  The product is low VOC, has neither odor nor dryers, but cures – in normal conditions – in one hour.  In my cold house it has cured in approx three hours.  The manufacturer suggests three coats but it seems that I will need four coats.  Even requiring a fourth coat, I have happily solved the cure time issue.

Tonight I will apply the third coat.  I will sand with 150 grit between each coat.  Hopefully by the end of this weekend I will have the final finish on the wide pine floor.

Here is a photo of the floor after two coats.  

6 Comments on “wide pine floors”

  1. Oma says:

    I am exhausted just reading about your work.Can’t wait to see it, feel it and walk on it.

  2. bmahany says:

    God bless YOU! this is work beyond my imagination, and that you not only execute it beautifully but write about it beautifully is beyond me. i love the work you are putting into that house, that sacred space for you and your family. we are with you all along the way. sending much love, and awe, your sister.

  3. ann says:

    looks great! and i think now we will have a streych of warm days too….

  4. Beth says:

    Impressed! a true labor of love! Do you take boarders? 🙂

  5. Ah David, looks like fun! Remembering laying the floor in my daughters room prior to her arrival….my back was sore for months! Love the credit you give me for the counter intuitive advice. But hey, if it works…

  6. another glen p? although I have 2 n’s, crazy there is another, and no doubt where you got the other info on, my mistake, i have used that maneuver multiple times previous, as well as in the nj install for the cabinets…good trick

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