Choosing & Applying Stain
Staining and finishing are the culminating steps that begin to show all the wood's character. But remember to handle these products with caution.
Work in a ventilated area because many products produce harmful vapors. Be aware that solvent-based chemicals are flammable so extinguish cigarettes, pilot lights and other open flames in the area.
Oil-based stains are popular because they are easy to use and look nice. Oil-based stains are reliable and available in a variety of colors. Lately, water-based stains have been improving and gaining in popularity.
Whichever type of stain chosen, always follow the directions, note the drying times and test the stain on a hidden area or scrap piece before applying to the whole floor.
Staining an entire floor goes faster with two people, one applying stain, the other wiping away the excess. Using a rag, apply the stain cutting in from the corners and working with the wood grain. Wipe off any excess and change rags often.
Excess moisture can raise the grain of the wood and cause footmarks to show through the finish. Let the stain dry out overnight and avoid walking on the floor.
There are two basic types of finishes: surface and penetrating/wax. Penetrating finishes were popular, but now surface finishes are good do-it-yourself choices. They're water resistant, provide a durable top coating, and are easy to maintain.
Generally, surface finishes are either oil-modified urethane (often referred as polyurethane) or water-based urethane.
Water-based finishes have rapidly improved in quality. They're less toxic, dry faster (2 to 3 coats can be applied in one day), are clearer, more durable, an environmentally-friendly choice, and clean up with soap and water.
Oil-modified urethane is commonly used but cures out slowly. However, oil-modified urethane is thicker and usually takes 2-3 coats for a good finish. Water based urethane is thinner and takes 3+ coats.
CAUTION: Do not try to renew a urethane finish by applying wax. This makes it impossible to renew the floor except by sanding. Remember, wax and urethane don't mix.
Use a high quality natural bristle brush or foam applicator to cut in along the edges and corners. Avoid drips and thick overlaps of finish.
Start at the farthest point from the doorway and apply an even coat. While the finish is still wet, blend in any brush marks with a lamb's wool or foam applicator.
Work with the wood grain in 5' wide sections down the width of the room. Let the finish dry for 24 hours unless using the quicker drying water-based urethane.
TIP: We found a watering can useful in spreading the finish. Wrap a piece of straining cloth around the spout and fasten it with a rubber band to keep gunk out of the finish.
We've had a lot of luck using foam applicators. They are easy to use and properly weighted although slightly more expensive than the more popular lamb's wool applicators.
With either type it is important to rinse it out well (with water or mineral spirits, depending on the type of finish) to get rid of any loose fibers that could end up in the finish coat
The first finish coat may raise the grain of the wood a little. At this point, it's necessary to sand or buff the floor before applying the last finish coat.
Drag a damp cloth across the floor to pick up all the dust. Apply the final coat just like the previous coats. Stay off the finish and avoid stirring up any dust while the finish cures.
Wood Floor Care
Preventive maintenance is the key to a beautiful, long-lasting wood floor. Dust and debris tracked over a floor can scratch and dull its finish.
Placing door mats or throw rugs at all the entrances will help keep dust to a minimum. Use fabric-faced glides on furniture legs to prevent scratching the floor and clean them occasionally.
Clean floors at least once a week with a vacuum or dust mop. Do not, however, use dusting products because they can dull the finish.
For routine clean-ups, use a damp mop on floors with a polyurethane or similar surface finish. Wax-finished floors should never be cleaned with water, not even a damp mop.
For bigger clean-up jobs, follow the manufacturer's directions. Otherwise, use a solution of 1/4 cup white vinegar in 4 cups of warm water.
Use a damp rag or sponge and wipe the floor dry as you go. Oil soaps or ammonia products should not be used because they can damage and dull surface finishes.