DEAR TIM: It is time to refinish our hardwood floors. Is there something I can have done that will enhance the look of the hardwood?
I have seen floors in old homes that mix different woods to create patterns, but I am sure this can only be done when the floor is installed. What are my options to make my hardwood floor come alive? Brad G., Shinnston, WV
DEAR BRAD: You bet there is something you can do to make your hardwood floor look vastly different than any in your neighborhood. You have several options. Some are very simple and somewhat inexpensive, while others are breathtaking and will set you back quite a few paychecks. In almost all cases, the work required to make the change will probably have to be performed by a professional.
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The inlaid work you have seen in older homes is still available. The craft's roots penetrate deeply back to the Roman Empire. Precision cutting, shaping and assembly of different colored and grained wood veneers into scenes, images and designs was actually called marquetry. The craft nearly disappeared during the Dark Ages, but fortunately it survived into the Renaissance.
One hundred years ago, labor was inexpensive. Inlaid floors were somewhat common. As labor costs rose, this building art form was only an option for the wealthy. Modern computer aided machinery has now lowered the cost so that many people can incorporate inlaid features into new and existing hardwood floors.
Perhaps the most striking feature you can add to a room is an inlaid border. These products come in multiple designs that will suit any style home. What would you think of a dramatic inlaid compass or navigational medallion in the center of your entrance hall? How about a floral, pheasant or deer head inlaid pattern? Some companies will actually take a photograph or sketch from you and create your own personal inlaid pattern or scene!
The inlaid borders and medallions are made using splendid, unique lumbers. Your selection might include wenge, jatoba, Bolivian rosewood or purple heart. They can also contain cherry, walnut, quartersawn white oak and white ash. The combination of these wood species makes for a most dramatic appearance. If you are installing a new hardwood floor, you can actually install strips of one or more of these various woods to create an inexpensive border in a room.
To minimize costs many of the inlaid products are commonly only 5/16ths of an inch thick. This is the usable thickness of the wood that is above the tongue in a standard 3/4 inch thick tongue and groove hardwood floor. If you want to add an inlaid border or medallion to an existing floor, the installer simply uses a precision router with a special bit and a template to create a perfect channel to accept the inlaid material. Strong glues are used to bond the inlaid product to the existing flooring. After the glue dries, the installer lightly sands the entire floor and coats it with multiple applications of clear urethane. New floor installations can use thicker inlaid products or install them the same as an existing floor.
If you can't afford or do not like the inlaid materials, you can try to stain selected pieces of your existing flooring a different color to create a pattern or border. If you sand and partially seal the floor before you stain, you can apply the stain across the grain of strip wood flooring without it bleeding or smearing. Creating a border or pattern in this manner is labor intensive and requires lots of hand-eye coordination. You may want to price out a simple inlaid product before you try to create your own.
My wife and I are having an inlaid border installed in our family room. We will use it to highlight the fireplace hearth. One pattern we like costs $20 per lineal foot installed and finished. Another one has a design that matches the rope twisting on our mantel and staircase newel post. Its installed price is $40 per foot. We are digging deeper into our savings to go with the rope twist border. My family will enjoy it. I hope the subsequent owners of our house will too.
This article was the Mystery Link in the May 31, 2015 AsktheBuilder Sunday Newsletter.