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  • Tim McGrath

Historic Hardwood

Caring for Original Hardwood in the Steel City

Nestled within the steep hills of Pittsburgh's historic neighborhoods lie homes that bear witness to the passage of time, their original hardwood floors serving as silent storytellers of decades past. As caretakers of these age-old gems, homeowners in the Steel City are on a mission to preserve and enhance their intrinsic beauty, a task that requires a delicate balance between restoration and conservation. In this extensive guide, we will explore the nuances of caring for original hardwood floors, from essential cleaning and maintenance practices to techniques for reviving their aesthetics, and finally, the art of refinishing for those seeking to revive the wood to its former glory.

Original Hardwood Floors

Before delving into the intricate world of preservation and restoration, it's crucial to understand what went into the creation of original hardwood floors in Pittsburgh's historic homes. Crafted from hardwoods such as oak, maple, pine, or cherry, these floors embody the craftsmanship and care that’s hard to come by these days. Each plank tells a unique story through its surface. The aging process introduces character, manifesting as subtle scratches, dents, and wear patterns, all of which contribute to the floor's unique personality. If you live in a significantly older home, chances are it’s seen a handful of families over the years who have created memories right on top of that wood. 

Cleaning and Maintenance to Keep Your Floors Looking Great

Regular Sweeping and Dusting:

The most important step in preservation of old floors involves a consistent cleaning routine. Employ a soft-bristle broom or a microfiber dust mop to eliminate loose dirt and dust that can mar the floor's surface.

Cleaning Solutions: 

Using gentle cleaning solutions can help extend the life of your floors. A mixture of a mild pH-neutral cleaner and water, or a hardwood floor cleaner recommended by the pros, ensures your floor remains nice and clean without stripping away its original finish.

Spills and Moisture:

Older hardwood floors may soak up liquids and moisture more readily than newer floors, especially if the finish has worn down over the years. Clean up spills as soon as possible to prevent the wood from absorbing excess moisture, which can lead to warping or swelling.

Climate Considerations:

Consider the climate conditions of Pittsburgh, where the weather can fluctuate. Humidity levels can impact the expansion and contraction of hardwood floors. Explore the use of humidifiers or dehumidifiers to maintain a stable environment, safeguarding your floors against potential damage.

Polishing and Buffing:

Over the years, hardwood floors may lose their luster. Bring back their brilliance with a carefully selected hardwood floor polish or wax. Follow this with a solid buffing to enhance the protective layer and reveal the natural glow of the wood.

Utilizing Rugs and Mats:

Strategically placed rugs or mats can not only serve as guardians against dirt but can also prevent potential scratches or dents. Rugs are also a great way to preserve the floor in an area that gets a ton of sunlight. Sun exposure over time can discolor wood, so we recommend adding in an area rug to areas that get excessive sunlight every day.

The grandeur of an original hardwood floor is showcased best when complemented by strategically placed area rugs and runners. These not only add a touch of elegance but also shield high-traffic areas from excessive wear. Opt for rugs with breathable backings to ensure the wood beneath continues to breathe.

Furniture Pads:

Another great prevention method is using furniture pads. Attach felt or rubber pads to the bottom of furniture legs to prevent scratches and scuffs. As a bonus, they also eliminate that horrible scratching sound while moving furniture around.

Spot Repair:

Spot repair kits are great for localized damage such as small scratches or minor dents. Utilize a wood filler that seamlessly blends with the floor's color, applying it with precision and sanding it smooth once the performance concludes. Many companies/brands make spot repair kits, and you can easily find one at your local hardware store.

Choosing To Refinish

If the pages of time have etched their story too deeply into your hardwood floors, and you're prepared for a more significant restoration, it may be time to refinish.

DIY vs. Professional Refinishing: Weighing the Options

While the DIY approach can be rewarding, it's essential to acknowledge the complexities of refinishing. Delve into the pros and cons of DIY refinishing versus hiring a professional. Factors such as experience, time commitment, and equipment availability can influence this decision. If you’re not sure that you’re up to the task of refinishing your own floors, give us a call and we can give you a free quote.

Preliminary Assessment

If you’ve chosen the DIY route, before you buy any supplies or start any sort of work, begin with a meticulous assessment of your floors. Beyond scratches and wear, consider the overall structural integrity. Are there creaks or gaps that need attention? A comprehensive assessment sets the stage for a thorough restoration.


If the damage is minimal, you may be able to simply recoat the floors. This involves applying a new layer of finish to the existing floor without getting down to the bare wood. This works extremely well for very worn floors where the coating has been worn off. You may notice that some high-traffic areas of your floor are more worn than others. You may want to start with those areas and see if you can match the rest of the floor first. The worn areas will more readily accept stain, whereas areas that still have a coating on them will not. The goal is to get the entire floor the same color, so take your time and start in a more inconspicuous area first.

Fully Restoring

If your floors demand a more intensive restoration, you’ll need to sand the existing coating off and get down to the bare wood as best as you can. First start by removing the baseboards/trim from the room so that you can do a thorough job. Once those are removed and out of the way, rent a floor sander from your local hardware store and move through the grits to remove the existing finish and level the wood surface. You should start with a lower grit, such as 80 or 100 and then work your way up to a finer grit such as a 220. However, tread lightly – oversanding can be the action that irreversibly damages the floor. Again, start in an inconspicuous area.

After you’ve sanded the floor down, you may need to patch some holes. You can create your own patching material by combining sawdust from your sanding with some glue or you can buy floor patching from the store. After you’ve done that and let it dry completely, you can move on to staining. Depending on the type of wood, chances are you weren't able to get completely down to the wood in all areas. Don’t worry, this is where stain comes in. Applying a stain color that either matches the previous coating or is slightly darker will mask the imperfections.

Before you dive into applying stain, you may want to apply a product called pre-stain. This product conditions the wood and will help you to get a more even finish. It’s a small extra step that makes a big difference. After that has dried for the recommended time, you can stain the wood. Follow the instructions on the can and make sure you have all of the materials you’ll need before you begin.

Once you’re satisfied with the stain, let it dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can now apply a polyurethane finish to seal in the stain and protect it from wear and tear. Follow the instructions on the can and be generous about dry times. If you don’t give the coating enough time to cure between coats, it will never get fully dry and you’ll be stuck with a sticky coating that will need to be sanded off and reapplied. You may want to do some light sanding with a 220 or 240 grit between coats to give the smoothest look.

Don’t forget about those baseboards that you took off earlier! Either re-stain those as well or give them a fresh coat of paint. After you’ve let the final coating cure on the floor, you’re ready to add the baseboards back to the room and then the furniture. Now would be a great time to invite your friends and family over to admire your hard work!

Honoring Heritage

Preserving the original hardwood floors in historic Pittsburgh homes is not merely a task; it's a magnum opus, a masterpiece of preservation that resonates through time. Whether you choose minor enhancements, recoating, or the grand task of refinishing, the goal remains the same – to maintain the timeless, beautiful look of your original hardwood floors. Taking care of your floors ensures that the original hardwood in your home continues to be a source of pride and beauty for generations to come.

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historic hardwood: caring for original hardwood in the steel city
historic hardwood: caring for original hardwood in the steel city

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