Alex and I are tired. Over the last few months, we poured concrete, tore up our floors, built a wall and installed new flooring. With winter definitely here, we were ready to throw money at finishing our floors – especially because it’s a difficult and dirty job. I was willing to spend $500-600 but I think Alex was ready to double it if it meant that we could finally get a weekend off from Home Depot trips and working heavy machinery.
I called around for some quotes, and it was insane. Everyone wanted between $2.50 and $3.50 per square foot to just sand and finish our floors. With ~400 square feet, that would have been $1000-$1500! Insane! Refinishing, maybe. But it’s a lot less work to sand new floors than take years of dirt, finish and stain off of old floors.
So, we decided to do it ourselves. Sigh.
When people talk about “staining” their floor, they are often talking about both staining and finishing. However, these are two separate steps.
Staining is just that – staining the wood. It doesn’t provide any protection to the wood but simply colours it by penetrating the wood.
Finish, on the other hand, sits above the wood and acts as a protective layer between the wood and the rest of the world.
The confusion in the difference between a stain and a finish is from many companies who combine the two in a single product. Similar to a 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner, you can buy products that claim to do both for you: stain the wood and apply a durable finish. However, it’s not recommended to buy such a product. And it makes sense. The stain should be penetrating the wood, but the finish needs to sit on top. So how can one product do both things at the same time?
To stain or not to stain.
We liked the look of our floors as-is. It had a great Scandinavian look which goes well with the rest of our furniture and style. However, we were worried that not staining would somehow alter the quality or durability of the wood. After talking to some flooring experts, we learned that it was perfectly okay to not stain. So au naturel it was!
We didn’t look into stain too much because we had an inkling from the start that we wouldn’t stain. When we were buying paint, our paint store recommended bringing in a few samples of wood and they could make a custom stain for us based on some photos. We never tested this out, but we likely would have purchased our stain from a paint store, rather than go with one of the standard products, like Minwax. I heard mixed things about Minwax, but no one I talked to could recommend a specific brand of stain, so I don’t know if one is better than the other. For us it would have been more about availability of colour, and Minwax didn’t have anything we particularly loved.
Finishing is an essential part of finishing floors (see? it’s right in the name!). There are two main choices when choosing a finish: oil-based or water-based. Each have their advantages and disadvantages, and we spent a lot of time figuring out which to choose. Both oil- and water-based finishes also come in various sheen options – from matte to glossy. We wanted a matte look for our floors.
Oil-based finish has been used for decades and requires 2-3 coats. Its biggest advantage is its durability. Oil-based is arguably better at protecting from scratches and dents. So why not run out and get oil? First, the application of this stuff is annoying. Each coat takes 24-48 hours to dry, so the process of applying it is a bit tedious. It could take 3-4 days just to finish the floor. Plus, the smell is so strong that it’s impossible to stay in the house, even for a few days after the stuff has dried. But the biggest downfall for us was that oil-based finishes affect the appearance of the floor. Over time, the oil causes the floor to amber. Some people love this look, but I wasn’t interested in ambering the wood – especially because we weren’t staining it.
Water-based finish is arguably less durable, although there have been significant improvements made to water-based products as they become increasingly popular. Water-based finish dries clear and doesn’t amber the wood like oil-based finishes do. Plus, each coat dries in 2 to 3 hours and considerably less time to cure (7 days versus 30 days with oil-based). More coats are needed with water-based (3-4 are recommended) and the products are considerably more expensive than oil-based. Our main concern, however, was durability so I called around to get some advice on which water-based product to use. We were directed to Bona Traffic, which seemed to be the answer to our finish woes.
Bona Traffic is considered one of the best water-based finishes available. At $111/gallon, I’d sure hope so! Water-based products require 3 to 4 coats. Because we weren’t staining our floors, we also needed to use the BonaSeal, which penetrates the wood and seals it. It was an additional $50/gallon, but only required 1 coat. Each gallon covered 350-400 square feet (exactly the size of our living room), so we would need 1 gallon of the BonaSeal and 3 gallons of the Bona Traffic. It was going to be a $430 job.
I sent Alex to a flooring store to pick up the Bona Traffic and Seal. After a fairly negative interaction with the sales rep, he called me from the parking lot to inform me that he did not have the product. The sales person told him that he should not be applying the product himself because it was difficult to apply and required a professional. She gave him 2 phone numbers and sent him on his way.
I figured it was a ploy to give business to their contractors, but I humoured Alex and gave them a call. The first guy wanted $3.50 per square foot ($1400) to just sand and finish the floors. The second guy, Rick, was $1.75 per square foot (or $700 total) !!!! So, Rick became our new best friend and we asked him to come and do the floors as soon as possible!
On Tuesday, a small crew of Rick and his brothers arrived at our house to start the work. I showed Rick how we wanted the floors done (where to fill gaps, etc.) and they went to work.
I didn’t stick around, but I know they used the drum sander (which we were staying clear of) and were great about protecting the rest of the house from dust.
By Tuesday night Rick and his team had sanded the floor and applied a coat of BonaSeal and Bona Traffic. Rick was concerned that the floor was absorbing too much finish, so he let it dry and came back Wednesday to do another 2 coats.
The floor looked pretty good. There were still a few nail holes that needed to be filled, and Alex and I were concerned that the floor was still a bit rough.
On Friday he came to buff the floor again and apply yet another coat of the Bona Traffic. I think there were 4 coats total applied. If we had done this ourselves, it would have cost us more than $500 in finish alone!
The finished product was amazing!
They look a bit shiny in the photos, but they’re very matte. And beautiful!
The Bona Traffic cures to 90% in just 24 hours, but we wanted to wait until the floors fully cured before moving any furniture in. Just to be safe. It’s not like another week was going to kill us.