We've been having a few heated debates in our home, and one of them involves something that looks a little bit too orange and yellow. Thankfully, I'm not talking about Donald Trump's skin and hair.

Our debates are not of the GOP variety, but rather about our various options for refinishing our antique pine floors. We've been looking at our various options for breathing a little life into these beautiful floors pretty much since we bought the house almost exactly a year ago. But the actual job of refinishing the floors has had to wait due in equal parts to the HVAC/plumbing disaster back in February, and to our inability to make a final decision.

The floors in our new house are beautiful antique flat sawn random width clear pine. They appear to be a mixture of heart and southern yellow pine, and almost all of it, save for a few areas of repair patches, are original to the home.

While we both quickly agreed that we didn't want to do the good old stain and poly refinish route, given that our floors in Old Town have a much more formal look than we're going for and have really started to show their age as the poly has flaked and fractured in places, just what route we wanted to go is still up in the air.

In debate number one back in June, we shared some of our original thoughts on using the very historically traditional floor finish of Waterlox (100 year old recipe of ting oil and resin). Though the tung oil finish is historically appropriate for our 107 year old floors, the sample boards we applied it to showed us just how yellow and orange the floors would likely look. (And many of you echoed our fears in the comments.)

We're talking Trump, walking wind blown from the back nine, in Florida orange and yellow. While this is great for a lot of historic pine floors, the decor styles Wendy has been focusing on for this house is far more white and far less amber. Think lots of neutral colors with aqua accents, casual fabrics, and a number of antiques and second hand furniture thrown into the mix. So I lost debate one and we kept looking for a better solution.

After licking my wounds of failure following my test patches of Waterlox, I started researching the looks Wendy has been pinning, and some modern approaches to historic floor refinishing that might be able to achieve that look. Through all of my research the thing that I really started to understand is that there's just no single solution that will work for every floor. I now understand the most important thing about choosing a method to refinish your floor:

A floor finish should be based on the aesthetic, maintenance, and price you're comfortable with for your floors, not simply what the contractor you're hiring is most comfortable with applying. It's important to find the product you want to use first, then find the contractor that wants to work with you on the approach you're interested in. If you have a contractor that can't accommodate you, you have a contractor you don't want to work with.

So the hunt was on for a product that is what we want, and for the contractor who is expert in applying it.

I started by sanding down a few spare boards we have in order to test out various solutions I'd been researching. The board on the left is the current color of the floor, and if you look closely you can see the swirl marks and bad stain job all over the board from the last time it was refinished back in the early 1990s. It's due to be refinished again.

During my research one of the products I saw mentioned quite often is the one coat application solution of Rubio Monocoat. Knowing that photos of flooring that isn't similar to ours can't do it justice, I ordered a few of their sample applicator bottles in various colors to give it a go.

It's a single coat no VOC oil based application that can color the wood as it stains. It leaves a very matte finish and has a track record of excellent wear with no need to re-coat for as many as 20 years.

The other real draw of the Rubio product is the fact you can spot correct scratches. Since it's a single coat oil application, you just apply the finish to the floor where he scratch or damage has occurred, then wipe away the excess. The unscathed wood will not accept new oil, only the exposed fibers will grab the oil and will be treated with the product. This sounds perfect for dog nail scratches, which we're sure to have. Over time the floor builds a patina that's more akin to what you're likely see in historic floors, rather than the somewhat plastic look of traditional polyurethane.

After doing a ton of research on the many colors available, I decided on trying out "Natural" color and a few of their 5% colors, like White 5%, Smoke 5%, and Mist 5%. The idea here is to only slightly tint the wood and to allow the beauty of the wood's grain to do the real work, rather than applying the full color to mask the wood. I mean, just look at the array of colors Rubio offers.

Photo Credit: woodlife-flooring.com

As I applied the oil in sections I followed the instructions. I had high hopes this would be the silver bullet for our floor refinishing woes and that I'd be able to claim the debate crown in floor debate number two.

I'd read that the Rubio solution is great for newer wood, but the tighter grain of hard old growth wood (even old soft wood is hard), sometimes doesn't accept the oil the way it really needs to.

After applying the oil and allowing the necessary dry time we took a look at the finished results.

As I nervously unveiled it to Wendy, my heart of hearts knew it wasn't meant to be. It wasn't yellow or overly glossy like the Waterlox, and certainly didn't look plastic or glossy like stain and poly, it was simply too matte, too subtle, too murky. 

I knew right away this wasn't the solution for our house. I'm sure under the right conditions, wood species, decor choices, etc. that this would be an awesome solution. But for our house I agree with Wendy, it just won't work. This sample board helped us realize that we both want something more subtle than gloss poly, but more significant than an oil/wax finish that Rubio offers. We're looking for something that's a good middle ground. Somethings juuust riiiiiight.

The good news is that I've got a good lead on another option that I'll share with you for debate number three. It's sure to be much sooner than the gap between one and two, but that's primarily because we're really moving on the floor refinishing now and want to make sure it gets done sooner than later. Who knows, maybe I'll come away from this next one victorious? But as we all know, only time will tell who happens to be leading in any given poll after each debate.

Comments 11


9/30/2015 at 1:11 PM

Take a look at Bona Naturale. Matte finish, not nearly as amber as Waterlox or oil-based poly, and the ease of application of a water-based poly. Plus, it can handle spot touch-ups for dog nail scratches, etc.

9/30/2015 at 1:35 PM

I was actually going to suggest Monocoat. I used Smoke on my red oak floors and really like the way it came out. I'll need to get some of those samples to blend in some patches that will probably happen within the year (pet stains). My experience was that the most dramatic impact was in the pores of the oak.

I'm wondering about the role the species of wood plays in this. With the pine, you're getting a lot of yellow. Maybe you want to neutralize that with a dye stain first before clearcoating with something else. Of course, if you're going towards white, you'll want to factor in for the bluish hue of some water based products.

Have you considered a light grey stain under a satin waterbased topcoat? It would get you out of the yellows family and the grey/blue would probably work pretty easily.

10/2/2015 at 1:37 PM

i was really interested in this post even though I'm not refinishing floors, because I've never liked the typical poly sealant approach. I don't love the gloss and I really don't like how it looks when it starts to chip and flake.
I was wondering about oil or wax sealants an am bummed to hear the Rubio didn't work. But I can't wait to hear what you go with!

Do you think the Rubio would work for staining furniture built from scratch? I'm kind of itching to try it.

Amusing sidenote: I got a chuckle oout of the ads displaying at the bottom of the post in "suggested posts". Both are about increasing testosterone. Either they're there because I'm a girl reading about DIY or because you're writing about "wood". Ok, I'll go back to pretending to be a mature adult nowAlt smile

Flyover Pilgrim
10/2/2015 at 5:17 PM

Our old floors were prepped, then stained. Our refinisher then applied two coats of the "shiney" topcoat (for the durability of the product), then the last coat had a low gloss satin finish. We love it.

10/4/2015 at 2:05 AM

I live in a 1923 home and I have been renovating for the last 20 years. Recently, I uncovered layers of floors in my kitchen only to find a picture frame patterned floor in maple.
I stripped it, sanded it, put a stain (equal parts of walnut, mahogany and golden oak), then put 3 very thin coats of matte Fabulon (this is used to finish bowling alleys). I picked Fabulon because I have a Great Dane and I wanted a durable finish. It came out great.

10/5/2015 at 11:31 PM

When we built our period house (in 1976) we knew we did not want the shiny bowling alley look on our floors, but an old look. We have red oak floors with two coats of golden oak stain finished with paste wax. We opted not to put a sealer on the floors. When they need to be perked up, I use Scott's Liquid Gold on them and a cotton mop. The floors have darkened a bit over the years, but I've never been unhappy with them and they have the period look we wanted. The best part about our floors, they don't show scratches or wear even after 39 years.

10/10/2015 at 12:01 AM

What about an un-pigmented, straight Lye treatment before you seal? It will de-yellow without getting the artificial look of the pigmented Lyes and Oils. A bit Scandi but if you take the un-pigmented route the wood doesn't look drowned, just yellowed.

TKraft Art & Interiors
5/19/2016 at 10:02 PM
Phew. GREAT READ. Thanks for all the leg work, awaiting the final solution...
Joey Joe Joe
5/19/2016 at 10:02 PM
You wanna' come over and install my new floors?
Jean-Christian Pitre
5/19/2016 at 10:02 PM
Alright guys, although I'm not really a big fan of going for the light-grey route for the colour, I still want to help out, and chime-in. First off, I DO NOT believe the claims of this Monocoat product. Even if it had worked on your sample, I refuse to believe that what basically looks like just an oil stain with maybe a bit of poly mixed-in, with a ONE COAT application can be hard wearing and long-lasting enough to be a durable floor finish. Most flooring finishes need stain, and around 3 coats of clear coat, and there's a reason for that. Secondly, I would actually suggest staining the floors with watered-down acrylic paint. It may sound really bizarre, but this is basically the same thing as those ridiculously expensive SAMAN water based stains. The only drawback is that it may raise the grain a bit, and may be a bit harder to apply. I've seen great results with this technique though. My aunt uses it often, and I've used it to mimic wood tones on antique restoration work. For some reason this comment box won't let me add a photo, but if you go to my photos, under the folder "things I have made" you can see an orange kitchen island that was "stained" with watered down acrylic paint. You can still see the wood grain, and you can tweak the colour until it's exactly what you want. More water=more transparent, more paint=more opaque.
Jean-Christian Pitre
5/19/2016 at 10:02 PM
Additional thought: You may also consider using a tinted varnish rather than stain, but they tend to be trickier to apply, and I'm not sure how well they would hide repairs and mis-matched colour areas.
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