Shop Floor is in. But What Finish?

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On Sunday the flooring crew finished installing the new white oak in the storefront and did a sweet job. The joints are tight throughout and I’m happy I spent the extra $900 to install the floor at a 45° slant.

The next stage is sanding and finishing. We’re not staining the floor and are using only an oil-based polyurethane (three coats) on top, which should give us 15 years of hard use.

The details of the floor finish were the most difficult part of the job for me. I’ve worked in shops with smooth wooden floors that made it impossible to do any benchwork because I couldn’t get a firm footing to plane or saw.

The traditional solution to this problem was to sprinkle plaster of Paris on the floor to afford some grip for the workers’ feet. A more modern solution is to sprinkle sand in the finish, either as it is being stirred or right after it is applied.

Neither of those appeals to me. So we are going with the flattest polyurethane available. I asked the flooring guys why flatting paste would improve the traction. They said the transparent silica in the paste is what provided the extra traction.

I’ll let you know if they are correct at the end of the week. By then we’ll be moving tools and benches to the new storefront so I can build the replacement transom windows, new front door and display shelves for the books. That should be a fair test of the transparent silica.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Our March 12 book-release party is completely booked now. If people cancel, I’ll post a note here. Sorry we cannot accommodate more people; we have a maximum occupancy from the fire department.

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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50 Responses to Shop Floor is in. But What Finish?

  1. Brian Clites says:

    Polyurethane?!? Plleeeeze. You should be using SOAP FINISH, obviously 🙃

  2. Paul Sidener says:

    The place is looking great.

  3. Mixture of Boiled linseed oil, Turps and Bees wax – my standard bench top finish. Smells Great also \. You could of course go over the whole surface with a toothing plane…

  4. waltamb says:

    You did not ask for my advice and you will probably use Poly.
    Yet… experience taught me not to over finish floors.
    Once the floor is sanded level, finish sand to no more than 120 – 150 grit.
    Then flood with Linseed oil first.
    I used Raw not the chemically altered “Boiled”.
    Let soak in and buff off.
    Cover the floor where there will be traffic for the next few days so other work can continue.
    Then kick everyone out and use an oil based Gym Floor Finish.

    Floor finishing is unlike Furniture finishing. You want there to be more grab or resistance to slipping. It is called the coefficient of resistance (or drag). You want a good hard floor, and you already have that in the W. Oak. Now you just have to seal and maintain.
    Sorry to say but there are no floor finishes with any sort of long lifespan without maintenance.

    That’s all I’ll write because everyone out there has an opinion and will take the path which seams correct for them. Regardless, it will look fabulous for sure with any decent FLOOR finish applied.

  5. I’ve decided to use a mixture of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

    The finish has been decided so you can hold your tongues.

    • 🙂 Tom Stoppard apart from writing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead – also said “We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.” so a few buckets of finish and go with the grain…

  6. occasionalww says:

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

  7. Brian Clites says:

    We’re unleashing our venom because you titled the post “but what finish?” And because you’re about as notorious a polyurethane hater as anyone on the interwebs.

    This space is special and original. Do you really want someone else to drench it in petrochemicals when you’ve so publicly prided yourself (and built your brand) on reviving historical finishes?

    Not criticizing so much as obeying the de facto LAP mantra #friendsdontletfriendsusepolyurethane

    • Brian Clites says:

      P.S. I am a hair-trigger mobile commentator and, apparently, completely obtuse to Shakespearian-derived satires that were released before my fifth birthday 🙂

      • colsdave says:

        “What a fine persecution—to be kept intrigued without ever quite being enlightened.”
        “It would have been nice to have had unicorns.” The sparkle ponies were not that appealing…

  8. Brian Clites says:

    A weaker man might be moved to reexamine his faith

  9. Stefan Rusek says:

    I recently floored my shop. I wear sandals or go barefoot most of the time, If I can’t get the grip I need, I slip off my sandals. A bigger problem (though not without its benefits) has been that my bench sometimes moves while planing with a heavy set. The benefits are really high otherwise, I can move equipment around the shop much easier now, and it looks lots better.

  10. Just curious, is that piece of wall furniture/cabinet from a bar?

  11. Hank Cohen says:

    The silicon flattening agent might be something like Colloidal Silicon available from West System Epoxy. This is the stuff used to turn Epoxy into a gel that won’t run. Boatbuilders use it along with woodflour collected from your sander to make the gap filling glop that makes lapstrake plywood construction waterproof. If your flat varnish isn’t flat enough you could always add a little. But be careful or you’ll have a gel that needs to be spread with a spatula. Unlike microballoons colloidal silicon is hard and reinforces the resin matrix. It’s very tough to sand when used with epoxy.

  12. I recommend coffee grounds and hot water. Then, pour out into ceramic container, walk across your amazing floor and open up the store front, sip mixture delicately and enjoy it’s smooth aroma, knowing you chose what will actually work for you, and didn’t let public opinion or some arbitrary aesthetic dictate tyour actions for a smoooooth finish.

  13. waltamb says:

    This has got to one of those “Satire” posts… We all know the flatter the finish, the softer and less wear resistant it is.
    Gloss = Hard.
    Flattening Paste???

    OY… I believe we have been sucked in to the black hole again.

    “So we are going with the flattest polyurethane available. I asked the flooring guys why flatting paste would improve the traction. They said the transparent silica in the paste is what provided the extra traction.”

    Just linseed oil the heck out of it and it you want a gloss later… Shellac it.

  14. Mike Siemsen says:

    transparent silica = fine sand. I use Non-Slip Safety Rug to Floor Gripper Pads. Sort of a heavy duty version of drawer liner $35 for an 8 x 10 foot piece(not carpet pad). I also use it on my bench top to protect finished pieces. All it takes is a square under each leg to keep the bench from moving. Of course your feet can still slip, grippy shoes?. You may need a rubber mat for you to stand on. If you put the two working-side legs of the bench on a hall runner it should work ok and you can roll it up for the pictures. I can see why you chose not to use shellac with all the alcohol that could be spilled.

  15. Our forefathers used nothing but paste wax applied twice yearly. But the consideration for a finish is to know what the wood floor is applied over. A number of years ago, I was involved in a historic floor in a gym so we chose a finish that allowed vapor transmission (Waterlox), because we new that a polyurethane is a vapor barrier. Condensation would occur below the wood flooring and be trapped, so wood rot would eventually occur. It’s better to let the wood “breathe”. Also, be cautious of the depth of the water table as it affects old floors on grade that are near rivers or lakes. If the water table is high, then there could be vapor transmission through the historic floor. Newer concrete slab floors that were poured over vapor barriers don’t have that problem.

  16. Swedish finish tough as nails and water based

  17. It is wat I have on the floor in my house and it has lasted 20 years

  18. jenohdit says:

    This has to be satire. If a floor finish is wearing out instead of just starting to get right in 15 years you are definitely doing it the wrong way. I’m sitting on one right now that is 100+ years old with original finish. It was never even sanded from what I can tell although I buffed and waxed it once 15 years ago. It’s gorgeous and looks right with plaster walls.

    Flattened polyurethane is how I imagine (caucasian) flesh looks when someone is found floating in a lake after going missing for several days.

    Waterlox is a vastly superior product. Wear just makes it look better and if you ever have a need, you just spot repair or recoat the whole thing.

    • rosie712 says:

      Second the Waterlox option. I have it in my shop floor – – doug fir and it looks great. I have never really had any issues with slippage. I went for the satin option. Having some smoothness on the floor permits quick and thorough cleanup and dust management.

      • Looks great!!!

        As for the “finishing method,” it is kind’a like the “hand tool” or “modern power tool” debate/discussion that often rises over such matters…

        I tend to lean towards all traditional “hand tool” methods and/or at least “finish off” with traditional tools.

        As for “finishes,” I left “plastic” and/or modern finish decades ago and do not see a reason to ever return to them…”Modern finishes” (i.e, urethanes, epoxies, etc) simply do not (in my experience) ever perform as well (big picture) as traditional finishing systems when being applied to natural and/or traditional materials. I have used a “pine rosin, beeswax, tung and flax oil thinned with citrus oil” for over thirty years…There is never a need to “refinish” a floor (or anything else for that matter) when using these traditional materials. They last forever, are very hard wearing. Through regular “upkeep” of cleaning (traditional methods) and “living on” only grow more lustruses with time and aging…

        Thanks for sharing the progress of your project…

  19. hbm-la says:

    In my experience with Minwax Polyurethane, the satin version,with flatting agents, it feels like baby powder on … right, a baby’s bottom. Talcum powder. Unfortunately, I used it on some new stair handrails. Whishhhh!!

    Never fear. Should you slip and slide, you can always apply another coat in gloss and peel skin off your pinkies.

  20. seawolfe2013 says:

    Please think about shellack, it’s not toxic, it’s traditional, it’s repairable, and good looking, they did bowling ally’s in shellack. Poly is ok but a lot of sanding for repairs and it’s so 20th century. The new water based poly finishes are ok with the sterates in them that make them so hard but can be stark water clear and have problems with repairs and refinishing the same as poly. But they are easy on the nose, so much less toxic. Shellack can be walked on rather quickly but poly, oil or water based poly needs 7 days to get hard. Look,at shellack

    • jenohdit says:

      Stearates are added to “sanding” sealers not because they are hard, but because they are soft. They are soapy substances intended to lubricate the sanding process. That’s the only advantage to using one of those products rather than just putting down another coat or two of the final finish product. Stearates also can cause adhesion and fish-eye problems for water based finishes.

  21. There’s another technique for non-slip that needs to be renewed but has worked on boat decks: apply the finish relatively heavily and then let it go just tacky. Sprinkle over sugar. When the finish dries wash off the sugar.
    Different grains get you different effects.
    It’s not really for hard wear areas but might work in a workshop.
    That said my own ‘shop floor has three coats of Osmo and no sugar. It gets a bit slippery when the dust settles.

  22. charlie says:

    Do you think three coats of hazy plastic is enough? We used four coats and our floors look just like a sheet of Formica, couldn’t be happier!

  23. Just when it seems some sanity and good faith are beginning to prevail in the world of woodworking comments.

  24. Damn, tough crowd. It’s almost as if people think you give a rat’s ass about their opinions. Or that the floor in a commercial building should be finished to the same specifications as a Hepplewhite sideboard. Both of which are equally ridiculous.

  25. You could finish it in dew drops and fairy tears for all I care, but damn, look at that awesome woodwork! I love that you went for the extra step of having the boards installed on the bias. Very classy!

  26. fitz says:

    I’m just glad to have someone share in the “you should.” Thanks! (And the floor looks awesome – I know Al and his expert flooring crew will do the finish up right.)

  27. Eric R says:

    I’m no expert like all these other guys, so all I can say is the place is really starting to look kickass.
    I’m going to have to start bugging her now to let me make a visit someday.

  28. belloeinvincibile says:

    I had oak flooring in my restaurant and had it only oiled and waxed, the guy who installed it said it would be the best. It had to be cleaned with a polishing machine everey 12 – 18 months and always looked like new. Over 7 years of pretty heavy use it kept its beauty. So if I should have to choose, I’d go for oil and wax again.

  29. Derek Long says:

    I think you should paint it a nice pink.

  30. Farmer Greg says:

    I once applied a soap finish on a doug fir floor I installed for a client way back in the day, and it looked great. Don’t know how it held up over time, but the finish should, theoretically, be easily renewed. And we used Waterlox on the heart pine floors in our farmhouse renovation and really liked it, though I have the suspicion that we were just buying an overpriced wiping varnish that we could have made up ourselves.

    These floors look great, and they’ll look amazing once they are finished. Wish I could attend the shin-dig in March!

  31. Looks great!!!

    As for the “finishing method,” it is kind’a like the “hand tool” or “modern power tool” debate/discussion that often rises over such matters…

    I tend to lean towards all traditional “hand tool” methods and/or at least “finish off” with traditional tools.

    As for “finishes,” I left “plastic” and/or modern finish decades ago and do not see a reason to ever return to them…”Modern finishes” (i.e, urethanes, epoxies, etc) simply do not (in my experience) ever perform as well (big picture) as traditional finishing systems when being applied to natural and/or traditional materials. I have used a “pine rosin, beeswax, tung and flax oil thinned with citrus oil” for over thirty years…There is never a need to “refinish” a floor (or anything else for that matter) when using these traditional materials. They last forever, are very hard wearing. Through regular “upkeep” of cleaning (traditional methods) and “living on” only grow more lustruses with time and aging…

    Thanks for sharing the progress of your project…

    (apologies Chris…Post above was in the wrong location…sorry…)

    • Have you considered no finish?

      • Hi Mike,

        Yes…and for many of my timber frame floors over the years and in more “traditional buildings” the sebaceous oils of bare feet and simple water and oil soap cleaning is really all the wood floor requires to look great. These floors (with certain species of wood) wear like iron or stone…

        Thanks for bringing that up…

  32. What if I get too much schlemmer in my Waterlox? Won’t that set off a peptide reaction similar to when a piece of titanium makes its way into a household microwave?

  33. gblogswild says:

    Maybe you should just pretend it got finished. It’s a lot cheaper…. 😉

  34. toolnut says:

    Here’s the best advice in the world on how to handle your floors: turn off commenting.

    And before I forget, the floor looks great!

  35. Niels Cosman says:

    You should start a local public access show called “This Old Bar”.
    It would be like this “This Old House” except there would be more drinking, swearing, and you would never leave your house/bar.
    Ok, maybe it would be nothing like “This Old House”, but it would be pretty sweet.
    Party on Chris!

  36. I was spinning through the blogroll and saw the dovetailed boards and next, the wood floor. For a second there I thought you had dovetailed the whole thing!

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