Saturday, 14 February 2015

Lye and Lies - The Saga of a Floor

The other day in the supermarket, I bumped into a friend of mine, whose path in life weaves across mine every two or three years. After our initial "Hi's and how are you's? Family well? etc" I paused, took a deep breath and launched into the saga of La Petite Maison. After sympathetically embracing me, he said "Darling! I too have been that soldier!"

As I unburdened myself to him with the stresses of the months of hard, dirty and not least expensive, graft he nodded consolingly and murmured soothing noises as though to an animal in distress.. 

The most recent painful event has been that of the floor. This particular chapter began over a year ago when I started searching for a floor to lay over the concrete sub-floor in the newly built extension and hallway.

A very bare looking shell of the new extension - wiring underway, 
(not a very aesthetically pleasing photo)

I had been given the details of a salvage yard that specialised in reclaimed flooring at non-exorbitant prices. The first samples that I obtained were of a beautiful clean bare redwood, but the boards were too wide and although they would have looked fabulous in the extension they did not suit the hallway.

After a wait of another few weeks, a second sample was produced. This was a narrower 6" board of Oregon Pine and was certainly reclaimed timber - covered in a horrible brown stain and thick with years of dirt. Under pressure from my Men-Folk and conscious of time passing, I acquiesced that once the stain was removed the boards would look every bit as good as the existing boards in the house that I had already sanded and treated.

(view from under the bed of already treated floorboards in the bedroom)

The timber arrived - great long heavy lengths of wood, and was stacked up along one wall of the extension, where it remained inconveniently for several months.

When the last of the plastering work in the loft conversion was completed, we were ready to turn our focus to laying the floor. By this stage the slight niggles that I had experienced ever since purchasing the wood were now major qualms and I was starting to lose sleep. (I wished that I had just got the impeccable redwood flooring and not been so fussy about the width of the boards).

The stain on the wood bothered me - was it pressure impregnated which might prevent it lightening to the same degree as the other floors in the house?

Would the oiliness of the wood (it had left nasty tell-tale oily marks against my newly painted wall where it was stacked) prevent the glue from adhering properly?

Would the underfloor heating make the wood smell? (There had been a definite detectable odour of oil from the wood even without the heating being on.)

The Elder of the Men-Folk sought to alleviate my concerns and over the period of a week we painstakingly cut grooves, cleaned and planed the boards - a filthy, arduous and challenging task I can tell you and we were both physically exhausted when the final board was completed.

The flooring joiner arrived and looked dubiously at the pile of boards, voicing aloud my apprehensions that the stain was possibly right through the wood. Mr Long-Suffering made non-committal noises and shrugged impatiently, but all my doubts came flooding back and I made a decision that regardless of all the time and exertion already invested, the floor would have to be returned to the Salvage Yard and another floor obtained.

When I plucked up the courage to break the news to him, the Salvage Yard owner was less than enthusiastic. He insisted on sending a 'Professional Floor Layer" (PFL) to have look at the wood and give an independent opinion before any final decisions were made.

Time was ebbing away quickly and my patience was beyond breaking point. The PFL arrived, bringing with him expensive and technical equipment. He assessed the wood, hummed and hawed, poked and prodded it with his equipment before announcing in his soft Irish brogue that it was "a fantastic floor," and many of his Clients would "pay big money for this exact floor," and the only thing that was wrong with it was that the moisture content was too high. (A problem caused by the wood soaking up the water in the atmosphere created by the plastering work upstairs).

Another couple of months slipped past. The wood was re-stacked and a dehumidifier installed, churning through electricity for three weeks without stopping.

The PFL had agreed that he would lay the floor, monitoring the wood first until it reached the correct moisture content. He was somewhat scathing about my plan to treat the floor in the way that I had the other floors - using lye and white oil, and did his utmost to convince me that a wood wash and lacquer was by the far the best finish and would achieve the effect that I was after. My fears about the floor resurfaced and I worried again that the orange stain would not disappear when the floor was sanded and that I would need to use another stain in order to cover it up.

I remained unconvinced about the lacquer. A previous experience and a lot of Googling had demonstrated that a yellow tinge can appear after a while on wood that has been lacquered and so that along with my determination NOT to have a shiny floor, made me dig my heels in and remain resolute that not only was I going to use the Lye and Oil, but that I was going to do it myself as I had done before.

Arrangements were made for the PFL to commence the laying of the floor and for several days he and his helper worked at fitting the boards.

Used to my Much-Appreciated Men-Folk and their tidiness, I was taken unawares by the careless attitude towards my house by the PFL. Coffee stained the white walls - inside and out and on the York stone hearth in front of the wood burner! There was glue where there should not have been glue and where there should have been glue, there was no glue. There was mess everywhere.

Molly the little cat who has adopted La Petite Maison, traumatised by the noise and strangers was as nervous as a kitten, and worst of all was the revelation that both men had smoked roll-up cigarettes continuously whilst working. The place STANK!

I was appalled and could barely wait for them to leave before throwing open every door and window. As he left, the PFL shook his head and said, "not a good floor that, those boards were in bad shape!" Too stressed and anxious to see the back of him, I refrained from screaming at him that this statement was the exact opposite of his endorsement when I first met him, of what a great floor it was. I was thankful I hadn't asked him to sand the floor and finish it also.

As we started to clear up the mess, it became apparent that despite first impressions, the PFL was not as professional at floor laying as he claimed. Mr Long-Suffering was FURIOUS and huffed with me, crossly rolling up his sleeves before pulling up half of the (not properly laid) floor and re-doing it again to his quality assured perfectionist standard.

After Mr Long Suffering had finished, the floorboards did admittedly bring a sense of character to the new extension, despite the dark orange / brown stain, and with the wood burner lit, the room felt a lot cosier.

As the boards were sanded, I studied them intently, watching to see what colour they would emerge. Grimly I saw a deep yellow tint that hadn't been apparent in the other rooms. I was certain that this was due to the wood being pressure impregnated.

There was only one thing for it and that was to take a deep breath and bleach the Hell out of the wood with the Lye. (I was so fed up now with the whole floor episode that I reasoned that if the Lye failed I could always resort to painting the floorboards white.)

Six hours later and all the boards were coated in Lye and had definitely lightened. 

Unfortunately unlike the other rooms where the boards had a reddish hue, these boards had now taken on a tint of GREEN. (Dark splodges and shadows in photo are due to water getting into my camera). Washing the floor vigorously did not lessen the greenish tint, but I was almost at the stage of not caring. Single-mindedly though I ploughed on, intent upon just getting the floor finished, irrespective of the shade of yellowy green.

Working on my hands and knees, I applied the white oil liberally but evenly.

As I removed the excess and began buffing - a strenuous task involving lots of elbow grease, I finally had my reward. 

The boards at the top right of the photo are oiled and buffed, as are the ones at the bottom right; the boards in the top middle are still covered in white oil; and the boards on the left have only got lye on them (note the horrible yellowy green streaky stain).

Under the cloth the boards were smooth and turning a pale colour...... with the lovely reddish hue the same as the other floors.

(The boards on the right are oiled and buffed, the boards on the left only have lye applied - again note the greenish tinge).

The kitchen extension now looks lighter and brighter without any major tinge of green, although the floor is definitely nowhere near as good as the other floors. (Note that the photos do not show the colour of the floor very accurately.)

A few of the boards that Mr Long Suffering did not get around to replacing do not look great, and he is adamant that they must be replaced, but I have been through so much pain with this floor that I am prepared to overlook the flaws in these boards. After all the flooring is reclaimed and not meant to be 100% perfect!

Work on building and installing the kitchen is still underway - more to follow on that, so photos of the completed extension must wait a little longer. All I will say is that a slight mishap occurred when experiencing an itchy nose as I used the Lye on my new Oak kitchen worktops! A big red mark under one's nose is not a good look, so if using Lye, whether it is on wood or for soap making - be careful, IT BURNS!!


PS I must say a big Thank You to Danecare for the excellent customer service and advice they provided with my order for the Lye and Oil.