Wood Floors: a Few Variations from Noel & Pat
© 2009 by Pat and Noel Thomas
It is best to cut your own flooring, as it has better grain than basswood, and you have your pick of types of wood. We normally use straight-grained fir, or oak, though oak is tricky, as the grain can be out of scale (too large), which looks worse than the almost grainless look of basswood. If you can't cut your own, try hardwood strips from S.H. Goode & Sons, or other supplier/distributors.
For a stained hardwood stage floor, Noel cut down strips from full-size maple flooring on our 8" table saw. The strips are narrow: 1/4" w, and just under 1/16"thick. For a storage area he cut fir into strips 3/8" X 1/16." If you have no table saw, look for strip flooring, preferably hardwoods rather than basswood, in miniature stores, magazines, or catalogs (try S.H. Goode & Sons, P.O. Box 5161 Torrance, CA 90510). Don't waste your time on scribed sheet flooring, and if you must buy pre-laid plank floors, cut the planks apart and glue them down one-by-one, mixing the grain so they don't match—otherwise it's just another dollhouse floor. And unconvincing. For painted floors, basswood strips work fine.
I normally lay floors on newsprint, or posterboard, outside of the project, as they are easier to finish out on the worktable. Make a pattern of your floor space, and glue the flooring strips onto that. The pattern is what I refer to below as the sub-floor.
- Lay strips lengthwise (front to back), to deepen the look of a room.
- Use a T-square and dark pencil to mark the sub-floor with parallel lines, square with the edges.
- Imagine the planks come in 10" lengths, then stagger the lengths a little, between 5"-10," for a random pattern. To avoid a choppy look, use a minimum of boards under 5." Sand the edges by hand, if needed.
- Smear Elmer's white glue evenly over the back of each board before pressing it to the sub-floor.
- Press each board firmly against the edge of the previous one. Check and re-check for parallel lines, keeping them perpendicular to the edges.
- When done, cover the floor with waxed paper, then a board big enough to cover, then weight down until dry.
Finish an "unfinished" utility floor by aging with Bug Juice (our weathering solution), then leave it as is to accumulate dust. To finish a stained wood floor, sand it, then smooth with 4/0 steel wool. Stain with a clear stain (we use McClosky's Tungseal (The Valspar Co., Philadelphia & Los Angeles, (which may no longer exist) in Light and Dark Oak). Brush on thinly, allow to dry, steel wool again. Brush on another coat, wipe off and allow to dry. It should feel as smooth as butter. For painted floors, apply thin coats of latex paint, steel-wooling between coats.
Once the finish dries, burnish with a soft cloth (old denim or cotton is great), then rub in Johnson's Paste Wax by hand, then buff again until the surface feels buttery. There is no need to further seal floors—they will look terrific this way, and people will want to touch them. They'll even age a little, on their own. If need be, touch up the surface from time to time with more wax and buffing. We also add age by darkening the corners with "dirty wax"—a little Raw Umber and Mars Black tube acrylic mixed into the Johnson's paste wax. Start with only a little, and add more if needed—you want it to be a secret ingredient, not consciously noticeable.