Expert Advice: Refinishing Fir Floors

If your home has original fir flooring or woodwork, here’s what you need to know about refinishing it.

Handsome and knot-free, fir flooring is a popular choice for today’s old-house restoration projects. (Photo: Courtesy of Duluth Lumber)

Most of the wood floors in our 1928 Tudor Revival-style house are made from fir, along with all the doors, windows, and trimwork. Can you give us some tips on refinishing this wood?

Strong, attractive, lightweight, and knot-free, fir was an all-purpose wood through the first half of the 20th century. It was once the mainstay of the aircraft industry, as well as common for framing lumber into the 1960s. Although you would pay a pretty penny for fir moldings today, in the past it was a standard offering in modest houses, such as Foursquares and bungalows, or in non-public areas such as bedrooms and third-story spaces.

A durable softwood with a warm, pleasing grain pattern—especially when quarter-sawn—fir takes stain well but doesn’t really need it. As with all refinishing projects, if you’re going to stain, you should test it first in an inconspicuous place to see how the wood reacts. (If the staining comes out blotchy, use a stain controller first.)

Flooring is one of the most common uses of the wood, especially in the West where Douglas fir is still widely available. Carol Goodwin, of Goodwin Heart Pine in Micanopy, Florida, says fir compares in density with antique heart cypress. “Frank Lloyd Wright used the two interchangeably,” she says.

For finishing softwood floors, Goodwin likes Loba Easy Start, a water-based sealant relatively new to this country that dries quickly and flows on bubble-free. When using penetrating finishes on fir, she says to expect any color changes to occur more quickly than they do with heart pine.

Tags: Expert Advice Flooring OHJ May/June 2004 OHJ Staff Old-House Journal

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