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Island House: Naturally Varnished Pine Flooring

Island HouseJamie2 Comments
Rendering of the San Juan Island house - under construction 2015-16

Rendering of the San Juan Island house - under construction 2015-16

What we've been doing since November

A working master bathroom - yay!

November was busy with Shawn completing inspections for electrical, plumbing, heating and mechanical and then the drywallers arriving to do the entire sheetrock job for us inside. It was our first time ever having professionals do the work. It was a liberating experience, to say the least. What would have taken us six months, they did in three weeks total. The hangers came and put up all the drywall in one day, then the taping and mudding person came and got all the seams covered and mudded. Lastly, the finishing mud was put on. We opted for a textured mud to go on the walls. It gives the suggestion of plaster and has a neat texture. The week before Thanksgiving, it was up to us to carry on with the project.

For a change, Shawn stayed at our rental and worked on his drafting work while I went to the house and got the priming done before a planned departure for most of the month of December (it was time for a break from the job site!). Before leaving, I wanted to get the entire upstairs primed and painted, so that Shawn could start work on the floor. I was able to do that before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, it was time to prepare to move out of our rental (hooray!!) and then leave for a three week visit to see friends in Pt. Roberts.  I wasn’t able to prime the entire downstairs, but I did get some of it done including priming and painting the kitchen. We also brought our 1 x 6” unfinished pine flooring in to acclimate just before Thanksgiving. The plan was for it to have a week or so to come to temperature and then for Shawn to install the flooring while I was in Pt. Roberts, joining me there after a week for a break of his own. This worked out well. While I was away, he installed the flooring upstairs and down and got the upstairs bathroom in working order, with toilet, tub and shower.

Hand finishing pine floors with natural varnish

Me, hand sanding the kitchen floor.

While three weeks seems like a long time to be away, it flew past and before we knew it, it was after Christmas and we were back at the house. For me, it was the first time seeing the flooring installed and it was stunning to see in “real life” rather than just pictures. Now, a new set of projects came onto the boards. My primary focus was on completing priming and painting throughout the house, and then starting the finishing of the floors. The painting was a good way for me to get back into the swing of working on the house. We also found out that the couch and chairs we ordered (after 8 years without!!) are arriving on the 12th of January, so that was the deadline I needed to get going on the floor finishing. For the floors, we opted to use a natural clear coat varnish. We didn’t want to whitewash the floors again but wanted to use another natural, non VOC containing product. After a fair amount of research, we discovered a company called Ecos Paints that offers a product called Wood Shield. 

Rolling on the second coat of Woodshield Satin Varnish by Ecos Paints!

I am always nervous when using a new product in such a high visibility area but my concerns about this product were unfounded. I followed the simple label directions and sanded, vacuumed and then mopped the floor, allowed it to dry and then applied one coat of varnish using a roller. After 4 hours, I applied a second coat. Beautiful results. A nice hard surface, even coats, nice distribution and such a pretty shine. We both marveled at the new appearance of the pine. It looked nice unfinished, but the finish captures a wet look, deepening the color a bit and giving a pleasant shine to the floors. The surface feels well protected. Thus far I’ve done the second bedroom, the bathrooms and the main living room/foyer area. I also got half the kitchen done. Shawn will be starting kitchen cabinetry tomorrow and needed at least half the kitchen done. I can’t do the other half till we can move all the appliances into their places. The living room is now ready for its long awaited furniture to arrive next week. The cat has not appreciated being shunted into her carrier for a few hours at a time, but at least she has windows to look out of while incarcerated, and there are no curious cat prints tracking across our floors.

Preparing to start the kitchen

Shawn has been drafting both for clients and for our kitchen layout as well as installing switches, plugs, and lighting throughout the house. He installed the washer dryer unit and also installed sink cabinets in both bathrooms and the downstairs toilet. While there’s a way to go yet, we are really down to cabinetry and trim inside. Having the drywalling done for us by professionals was a real coup for us in terms of setting us ahead of the finishing process. We were so glad with the work they (Miller Drywall of Friday Harbor, WA) did and how well the tricky angles in the upstairs bathroom and second bedroom (where the clipped gables are) came out. It was well worth the cost.

A bit of time away from our project amongst truly missed friends and environs was a great way to end our 2015 and get us rolling on the completion of our island project this year. We are aiming to be completed by early May (on account of needing some warmer weather to finish the siding work remaining). We will now update our progress more regularly, and the updates should be more interesting as it’s back to finishing work; always gratifying and enjoyable to see finishing work take place.

Review: BioShield Aqua Resin Floor Finish

Pine flooring with finished whitewash

Pine flooring with finished whitewash

I took a few weeks off from work recently to celebrate the close of summer and all the chores involved in it (interior and exterior house painting, siding, etc) with a week's getaway, but also to finish sanding and whitewashing the floors of our home in anticipation of move in. 

We have never bought raw wood flooring and finished it ourselves, though we've flirted with the idea since first thinking about building and remodeling over a decade ago. The idea was somewhat intimidating because of the finishing. Twenty years ago, as a very young man, Shawn helped his roommates apply a polyurethane coating to a floor and it was a difficult endeavor indeed. The polyurethane rippled and buckled in areas and was generally a beast to apply by an inexperienced crew. Anyway, despite having had a lot of good experiences with things we're unfamiliar with since then, the idea of applying a coating to a flooring was still a little intimidating. I feared having a similar experience, though I figured floor coatings of all sorts had probably come a long way since the early nineties...not to mention the power that learning bestows on one over the decades.

For our floor coating we tried a product made by a company specializing in non toxic coatings called BioShield. The product is made in Germany. It's called Aqua Resin Floor Finish and comes in a huge variety of colors.  The product is a stain and finish in one.  One interested in purchasing this product should also be aware that there is another product by the same company with a similar name that is the stain only and does not contain polyurethane, so choose according to your individual needs. From the website: "Tinted, semi-transparent, water-based finish for interior floors and furniture. Use Aqua Resin Floor Finish for priming and finishing heavily used surfaces. High abrasion resistance. BioShield Aqua Resin Floor Finish is formaldehyde free."  We had installed the floors early in the building process and then proceeded to work and walk on them throughout the finishing of the house in order to give them a good used look (we were aiming for rustic and wanted to avoid a super slick engineered look in our floors). By late October of this year, the floors were well trodden and quite dirty from shoes indoors, drywall dust and just general hard wear. In other words, nearly perfect. I say nearly perfect because I intended to do a thorough sanding before applying the finishing coats. The sanding work cleaned up the wood beautifully, removing all the surface grime and deep construction related scratches and gouges. It was time to apply the first of the three recommended coats. The company recommends applying the product with a short nap roller, which I did. I used the same smooth nap that I did for interior wall painting.  

The first coat was pretty rugged to put on - meaning that it took some true physical effort. I worked room by room, area by area, but given that the floor plan is somewhat open, this generally entailed completing large areas at a time. The first coat was sucked into our flooring very quickly and seemed alarmingly uneven in application at first. I was worried that I would end up with lines and areas that were darker than others, and at the close of the first coat, I had a bit of this going on. I found it a little tricky to load my roller in such a way that I could get all the way across flooring areas without having to break and then re-apply the material. This breaking and then re-starting the process left lines that I didn't like. The first coat was also extremely light. I hadn't expected to need three coats, but I found that this was an exactly perfect recommendation for the finish to reach its full color potential. Despite my trepidation about the first coating (applied in the small bedroom so I could have a chance to get used to the product and apply it properly) I followed the recommendations of the company and allowed it to fully dry (they suggest allowing 4-5 hours between coats with a one week full cure time) and then sanded the overlap areas lightly. I found that this removed the glaring overlap nicely. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the application of the second coating. For one thing, it rolled on much more smoothly. The first coat is a work out because your floor is really thirsty and taking in lots of the product. But the first coating also leaves a slightly slick plasticized coating over the wood and the second coating adheres very nicely to this first coating. I found the second coat not only easy to apply, but interesting in that it almost seemed intuitive. By that I mean that the second coat seemed to take more evenly in terms of coloration, layering in more color in the areas that had turned out lighter in the first coat. The third coat was similar in that it was easy to apply, smooth and seemed to coat with a nice regularity. As I applied the material, I got better at loading my roller and not overlapping too much. Where I had slight overlap lines, I tried to lightly coat and then sand gently to avoid stark lines and blend the product. This worked pretty well. I also found that working with the boards as groups to be helpful in applying. I went with the grain for the most part, but found the application perfect going against the grain and across boards as well. The upstairs of the house has sloped ceilings and I had no problem with cross grain application in those areas where I couldn't stand properly or where my roller wouldn't fit except by working across the grain. In fact, it worked extremely well. 

The final coating is white and glows with a faintly warm pink tone that relates to the flooring underneath (southern yellow pine downstairs and western white pine upstairs). The upstairs wood we face nailed and I really like the effect of the slight darkening around the nails with the whitewash overlaid. It's very rustic and cottage-y. Overall, this is a product I would both recommend and plan to use again (that blue is calling out "someday" to me in a not uncertain whisper). Bioshield specializes in non toxic finishes and I felt very comfortable using the product despite the polyurethane. The product contains less than 115 grams of VOC per liter. There is an odor to the product which airs out quickly and I can't detect at all once dried. The resulting surface is slick to the touch and has a lovely lustrous shine to it - light plays beautifully on it. The feel of the floor surface is stronger and sturdier feeling than any of the pre-finished flooring that we've ever bought before. The whitewash effect is perfect for a rustic look or a beach type cottage and the white brightens the room marvelously while allowing nails and knots and other wonders of woodgrain to show through and please the eye. The surface also has a really nice hardness to it. It's definitely sealed. Water and other liquids are totally repelled from the wood and wipe up easily. I am thoroughly pleased. Aside from the slight rigor of the first coating's application (and the tedium of the sanding - which could easily be remedied by renting a large floor sander rather than using the little orbital sander that I did) this was an easy, no fuss and no fear process. Rippling was never a problem, I had a smooth, beautiful application without having to do any more than read the label and follow the directions. 

My only suggestion with this product is to purchase more than is recommended in terms of square footage, especially if you want a lot of color in the flooring. We ordered ten liters to start based on Bioshield's suggestion that the product covers 140-160 square feet per liter. We ended up ordering another five liters and I think once the stairs are done, this will be perfect for our desired look. A more experienced person or someone desiring a lighter color for the finished product might find the manufacturer's recommendation perfect. Further, one should pay attention to the warning by the company to not over-agitate the product prior to application. You are aiming to mix the product gently without shaking it to the point where air bubbles form. Apparently, if you over shake the product, the air bubbles may show up in the floor coating. I was a little nervous about this (the fear of rippling polyurethane runs deep, I suppose) and because the product comes in a squat bottle with a small spout, I wasn't sure how to go about mixing at first. I tried inserting a paint stick into the small spout and this was unsurprisingly a complete failure. I settled on slowly rotating the bottle upside down and in all directions while avoiding actively shaking the material. This worked well. The product should definitely be mixed well before using. If not, you won't get the color and may not get the proper polyurethane mix in the blend either. 

I had a great experience with this product. I loved the quality, the ease of application and the beauty of the final product. I expect that by the feel of the finished floor it will last a good long time.