How to Distress Pine Flooring
By Matt Weber
Give Wood Floors a Weathered Finish
Like fine wine, some things get better with age, and a popular trend in wood flooring is to impart a distressed look to the wood surface, which adds a weathered, timeworn appearance with a great deal of character. This practice can be applied to “age” new floors or to provide older floors a fresh texture. Heartwood Southern Pine is an excellent candidate for such a project because of its richly toned bands and, as a soft wood, it is easy to dent and ding for the desired distressed appearance.
Not only does a distressed pine floor look beautifully old-fashioned, it’s an easy wood to work and is comparatively affordable for solid wood flooring. When planed smooth, it requires little sanding before finishing, which is a welcome timesaver for pro installers and DIY’ers.
What’s more, by definition a distressed floor disguises accidental impact damage in the future. Although I installed prefinished flooring throughout much of my house, I cringe every time I see a scratch or a small dent that wasn’t there when I installed it. So, when it came time to install flooring in what will be a nursery and ultimately our children’s bedrooms, visions of toys and dishes hitting the floor danced through my head like sugar-plums. A durable distressed floor in a couple of kid-prone rooms seemed like a natural choice.
We were replacing a carpeted floor over a plywood subfloor, so some quality new flooring was in order. Our local supplier of choice is Littrell Lumber Mill (www.littrelllumbermill.com) from Decatur, Alabama, a family-owned business where a very small percentage of logs are even considered for the mill’s heart pine products. Only 60- to 80-year old trees with the right characteristics are suitable, and Littrell Lumber Mill guarantees 50 percent of the board face to be heartwood. Littrell heart pine is available in tongue-and-groove (T&G) dimensions from 4 to 10 inches, plus V-joint and double V-joint boards, as well as stair materials.
Because wood expands and contracts in response to changes in moisture and temperature, allow the boards to acclimate inside the room where it will be installed for at least 48 hours. Before moving the boards into the room, I pre-cut them into random lengths to make them easier to maneuver through the house and to help ensure a random pattern of staggered joints.
Prep the subfloor as you would with any flooring project. The subfloor must be flat, dry and level. Minor imperfections can be built up with building paper, but a liquid floor leveler may be required for bigger dips, as well as belt sanding for high spots.
For first-floor installations, you should use a moisture barrier over the subfloor. Use a paint roller to apply a coat of liquid waterproof membrane over the wood subfloor, allowing it to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If installing over a concrete subfloor, use construction adhesive to glue down 3/4-inch marine-grade plywood over the waterproofing.
Measure the width of the room and divide the span by the width of the exposed face of the boards. If you’re left with a final row that is less than half the width of a full board, you might consider ripping your first row of floor boards narrower to split the difference on both sides of the room.
Board by Board
Begin your layout by snapping a chalk line along the longest, straightest wall in the room. With the groove side of the flooring toward the wall, predrill holes along the wall edge of the first board, and nail it to the floor every 6 inches, following your chalk line. Use 1/4- to 1/2-inch spacers between the wall and flooring around the entire perimeter of the room to ensure an adequate expansion gap. If using an air-powered finish nailer, predrilling may not be necessary. Work all the way to the end of the wall, cross-cutting the final board to size. (You can use the cutoff from the final board to begin the following row.)
Some T&G boards are shipped in pre-cut lengths with jointed ends, but mine were full-length boards that I had custom-cut to size. Because I was dealing with square, un-jointed cuts, I was careful to nail each end closely to the butt joint to prevent separation.