Monday, March 8, 2010

Mind the Gap

Some people build castles in the air. I imagine I'm going to get a finish on my 2nd floor hall floor before I go into the hospital for surgery two weeks from now.

The old shellac finish and the random paint drips are off and the 3¼ x 7/8 tongue-and-groove yellow pine floorboards are (relatively) bare. No problem.

The next step hasn't been so easy. That's deciding what to do about the gaping cracks between the floorboards. Should I ignore them and say they're part of the house's history? Don't think so. With three cats and a dog, too much gunk gets into them. And sticks out of them. It's filthy. It's nasty underfoot. It looks horrible. In some places the loose tongue has broken off and there's an opening down into the floor-ceiling cavity. Can you just see shellac running down that "drain"? Uh-uh. Unfilled gaps are not an option.

Neither can I take the floorboards up and hammer them back in place correctly, as some websites urge. These boards are subfloor and finish floor in one, and they have an interesting habit of running under the partition walls and into adjacent rooms.

After some investigation, I've rejected commercial wood fillers. Nothing I read tells me they can bear up under floor use. Besides, I wanted something that'd match the existing yellow pine flooring.

The people at This Old House recommend filling the cracks with stained rope. Can you see me at Lowe's, standing there by the rope display, trying to figure out how long of each thickness I was going to need? And the mess of staining it! Besides, that looks better in early 19th century Colonial-type houses, not in 1910s kit-Craftsman foursquares like mine.

So up until recently, my filler of choice was to be sanding dust-- from the floor itself-- mixed in with wood glue. But I've been experimenting with it for the last year or two, using it to fill gouges and missing areas in the wood trim. And I'm not sure how it'll take stain. And oh, it's a bear to sand. It certainly seems to dry hard and inflexible. Some of my gaps are pretty wide. Would my homemade filler come popping out in the summertime?

So, maybe two or three months back, I went on the Internet and entered a search for wood floor crack filler. And someplace I came across a website for an historic house someplace in Virginia or Maryland; I think it was built by one of the framers of the Constitution. And it had a video of a workman plugging the gaps in one of the floors there with long narrow strips of matching wood.

That's the way to go, I thought. I even have the matching wood to use, since my POs-1 used leftover floorboards for blocking around their new openings when they remodelled in the '80s. Trouble is, my cracks aren't uniform in width. They taper from as much as 3/16" at the wide end to almost nothing at the narrow. How was I going to cut strips like that on my table saw? I don't even own a pushstick! And you're asking me to cut long whippy tapers? No thanks. I'd like to keep my fingers.

Then there's the roofing nails some PO toenailed into the gaps to keep the loose floorboards from lifting. I'd glimpsed those pieces of metal sticking up and hoped they were some sort of staple they'd used instead of proper squareheaded flooring nails. No such luck. And no, you can't countersink an angled roofing nail. How could I get wood filler strips to fit over them?

But something had to be done. Stay tuned for what that turned out to be.

No comments: