Roofer Regrets Refinishing Hardwood

When Work Comes Back To Bite You

A Yardley customer in a panic calls to plead for help after reading our website post, “Fixing a Botched Hardwood Floor Job.”

Says she has experienced a botched hardwood floor attempt, and she started to explain. From the gist of the conversation she is a new owner of a home in Yardley, and had a lot of contracting done preceding their move in to the home. A new roof went on, a new railing on the deck, electrical work, and mainly in the interior, they had the hardwood floors refinished. So basically there’s a lot going on.

And when the exterior work was done the exterior work contractor offered to do their hardwood floor refinishing. Having some really hard working guys who did the exterior work, the owners were amenable to having them refinish their floors.

Sight unseen, this was a mistake.

Clearly there was little experience, and doubtful training, but they plunged in. And while the owners patiently watched, things went south. In a panic about the work, they called and reeled in the contractor. The contractor management team,  seeing the work took full responsibility, and they agreed to work it out and get it fixed to make it right for the customer.

Our client decided to switch things out on her own terms.

Our soon to be client Christine, started researching online, and found our case study about a screwed up hardwood floor job. She called me and said “Help, I have a botched hardwood floor job I need fixed, can you help me?” Using the word botched I knew she read about the job I posted entitled Fixing A Botched Hardwood Floor Refinishing Job. As I listened she explained what had happened. When I asked her where her house was she told me Yardley, PA. (Although not in my backyard, we have done work in that general area, and would consider it.) I set up an appointment do an estimate for them.

I texted her we were close, and she let me know that the contractor responsible for the screw up was going to be there to listen in.

Ok. She explained that they have been very good about making it right. They wanted to listen to what we would be proposing, and also, they wanted to see our methodology, and ask us to critique their work.

Being a delicate and dicey situation we gently dove in. On one side we had to assess if and how to fix it, and on the other side we had to offer solutions. They were completely honest with us that they shouldn’t have tired to do the job, and they genuinely wanted to repair and restore their floors and pay for the it. (I sensed although it was a delicate situation both parties wanted to work it out without it going legal.)

We entered the house through the front door, and looking right, what Christine described was “dead on.”

As we entered, this contemporary home we landed on a stone foyer surface first. The far wall was stone, and there were the open stairwells, a short set up, and a full set down. At first glance we saw the following:

edger digs on stair treads
You can see and feel the wave marks known as “edger digs.” a flaw in the sanding
  • The stair treads were like a brown (use your imagination to describe the color), totally painted. Not one ounce of the grain popped thru the over  stained application.
  • The sides of the treads near the spindles had severe edger digs
  • The treads were sanded against the grain (in the opposite direction)
  • Some had deep waves in them
'Edger digs', banana marks on hardwood
This landing has bad edger digs that you can see along the edge by the railing

Climbing the stairs more of the mess hits us in the face.

  • Sanding was against the grain
  • Incomplete sanding schedule left a completely dissimilar and unacceptable roughness
  • Painted stain totally obscuring the wood
  • Edger digs upon edger digs all along the edges of the floor.
  • Prominent holes not filled
  • Drum marks “divots” were deposited when the refinisher engaged the drum (dropped it down) while stationary
over stained hardwood
This overstained hardwood floor in Yardley is out of control!

Between the ‘over staining’ which obscured all the grain, a plethora of ‘drum divots,’ waves of ‘edger marks’, these floors experienced significant trauma.

I felt the pain for the customer, and honestly, I also felt the pain for the contractor too!

Clearly this was an unfortunate  for everyone involved. Having a diplomatic conversation the contractor accepted complete responsibility. They asked for us to critique the work. Then they showed us a video of the work being done.

Besides the fatal mistakes that gouged and left “half moon digs and divots, the sanding, besides in the wrong direction was not executed properly.

According to the NWFA, there is a schedule of sanding that takes place that begins with rough cuts, and progresses to finite passes that produces a smooth, consistent and flat surface. Depending on what is being sanded it usually starts with a 36 grit, or 50 grit. If it is a rough floor, or one with ‘aluminum oxide,’ the refinisher may even start with a 24 grit, or 33 grit. All in all it may be as follows:

  • 36 grit
  • 50 grit
  • 80 grit
  • Screen to 100 or 120
  • buff
  • repeat all on edges
  • scrape the corners
  • tack and or vacuum the floors

There is a lot of work to prep a hardwood floor.

It takes a keen eye and a close visual, and a steady hand. Additionally it also takes almost a dance with the machinary. In total the floor is worked over 5-8 times before the stain application. And it is best executed by someone who does it day in and day out!

The contractor relayed that they did but probably about 1/3 of the sanding, and in no way according to the standards or what is normal for the sanding schedule.

Even some Master Carpenters won’t do hardwood floor refinishing because they don’t run the machines regularly.

Occasionally we come across Master Carpenters who will tell us they wont’d do sanding because they don’t run the machines regularly and realize there is a finesse’ in using them.

You stop, you leave a divot. . .

Drop (or engage) the drum while standing still, you will leave a ‘hot dog size’ depression on the floor called a -drum mark’.You lean on one side, you leave a gouge. You hiccup or sneeze you leave a mark. You apply pressure on one side near an edge, you leave a mark. You hold the god-awful heavy edger so it’s easier to hold, you can leave the edger digs. It truly is a finesse or dance, and if you don’t do it everyday, you probably “ain’t” gonna do it right!

The sanding was a half attempt at best.

Fatal mistake, you never go against the grain of the wood. In observing this floor it was sanded against the grain, in any direction the refinisher decided to. The edger ‘man handled’ his edger along all the edges everywhere, and wavy digs were aboundent. The floor had inconsistencies, patches of roughness and waves were prevalent. Drum marks were present all over the floor where the refinisher, standing still, engaged the drum that dropped down deep into the wood. In the hallway the refinisher got too close to the wall and the machine caught up against the door casing, and left a deep drum mark, so deep we have to remove 4 boards in a couple places (a day’s worth of work alone) and replace them with donor stock from a closet.

Then on to the next round of mistakes, the staining.

With a paint tray and a long handled paint roller, the workers were paint rolling the stain on the floor and leaving it as a finished product!

The stain was rolled on the floor, in the opposite direction of the floor. (We were shown a video of them applying the stain.) They rolled it on from a standing position. And, they left the heavy stain application on the floor as is. In a proper manner, if hand applying it, you have a stain rag (cut up pices of a cotton tee-shirt).

To properly apply the stain many refinishers hand apply the stain.

On your hands and knees across the floor you “rag” it on with the stain rag, and “rag” it off with a clean rag. The clean rag absorbs the excess stain, and allows for the excess stain to be removed, to reveal the beauty of the grain. It is a transparent application of the color, an opaqueness, not a total obscurity of the stain left to cover the grain.

Even the hand pattern of the stain and wiping takes finesse!

Your best off to have a careful steady hand when applyin the stain. You want it in a consisent repetitive motion.

Ouch, the video was painful to watch. Besides seeing that the tell tale signs of not having a clue hit us in the face. We elaborated, with respect, an honest accounting of what we saw. It was humbling.

And again, the finish coats need an orchestrated motion when being applied.

Not any which way you want, this too has to be danced on with a gentle ebb and flow, and ‘WITH THE GRAIN!” With the edges being applied with a small pad, you then pour a puddle of finish that smoothly gets stroked along with a “tee bar” and a lambs wool pad. The finish gets massaged and carried, in the direction of the grain. It is carressed along the edges to blend in, and move across evenly with a sweeping motion, not to thick, not too dry. In actuality, when watching our guy perform this task, it is with a ‘whispy’ motion, looking and watching from above straight on, then looking again with a tilted angle from side to side. No better way to describe it— it is a dance for sure!

Seeing enough, this was a screwed up job from start to finish, or from stem to stern, no matter which way you look at it!

Knowing we could fix the “botch,” we offered promise to both the customer and the contractor.

It was unclear to us who did the work. And the mgrs were telling us what was done, what equipment was used. But they were also asking what should they have done, and what we would do. Offering relief, we did tell them we would get them an estimate quickly, and we would work to start the healing as fast as we could.

Before departing we said we could remove the “paint,” and we could remove probably most, if not all of the edger digs and drum divots. We would fill the holes left and refinish the floor properly. Frankly our steady hand was relieving to both.

Leaving the house we walked to our car with the contractor reps.

Feeling their pain, we offered that we would fix the floors and right the situation. We did ask what they were charging the client, to which they revealed. Admitting that it was likely our pricing would be well north of theirs, we substantiated it with the explanation of how it should be done. Our guess, we would require probably nearly double the time as there is a tedious sanding schedule that needed to be done in the first place. And, with all the edger and drum marks it might be longer than what we would need to fix the damage.  Shaking hands we offered promise and relief that would get them out of the ‘hot seat’!

We called Christine the following day, and gave her a verbal quote to which she immediately said “When can you start?”

Great news, but now we had to do a schedule “dance!” With about 4 deposits of jobs ahead of theirs, and one of which is a listing come September, we were offering options. We would have to work them in as we could, perhaps splitting the job in 3. As we finished the previous jobs we could maybe sneak them in here and there.

Confering further, I called the contractor to ask them “who hired the subcontractor?”

It was explained to me that the workers were not subs. They were in fact their employees who are good, hard workers that do their exterior work for them. (As I explained the “botch” to our friend, 4th generation hardwood floor guy, a certified hardwood floor inspector, without knowing the situation he said they should be reported to the Better Business Bureau. And after the explanation that they are good workers doing the exterior contracting he replied ” If you need a cardiologist for a heart matter, you don’t see a proctologist!”)

Seeing how delicate the situation was, I was careful in offering solutions and relief without character assassinating a fellow contractor!

Again on the phone with the contractor, I reaffirmed that we would restore the floors and offer relief without gouging them. And while our estimate was well north of what they were charging (to the tune of 3k plus,) they sought to learn from the mistake. We did explain it would be the time needed for the proper sanding schedule, they were accepting. And while I am not sure how it was working between them and the client, I assured them I wasn’t taking advantage of them.

A note about the craft of hardwood floor refinishing- it is a continual learning experience, and one Mother Nature holds some secrets!

Any seasoned refinisher will tell you it is NOT an exact science! There is a lot going on to properly refinish a floor, and a number of things that can “keep you on your toes!” It honestly is a continual learning experience, and very few have the experience to say they have seen it all!

For us, we are always learning, and years in to doing this work. Good to know there is a tremendous support system between suppliers, the manufactureres, the NWFA (National Wood Flooring Assoc.), certified wood floor inspectors, and instructors, as well as colleagues to reach out to. Even You Tube videos are prevalent.

Bottom line is, this craft should be left to experienced craftsman. And although the contractor realizes it now, they have probably years and years of training, (mostly ojt) before they would be proficient enough to offer this service.

They further asked, moving forward would we consider doing their hardwood floor refinishing for them.

Well, the answer is yes, and they cited a job in center city. Then one of the reps said he wanted his floors done.

The healing begins.

We arrived and got organized as to how we would do things. First up would be the stairs, the fire place room, hall and the kitchen. In a mere couple of hours the stair treads were sanded. The painted brown color on the mahogany treads was removed and the edger digs were history! (Thank goodness, we were concerned that we couldn’t promise complete removal, but we were able to. And we even got the ones close to the spindles too!) Yes!!!!

By week’s end we had the first part of the sanding mostly done, and eventually settled on the color.

Turns out had a little surprise once the brown was removed. When it was sanded off we noticed some color contamination in the wood that was from an old rubber padding. It leached into the grain. So just as they thought they would keep the wood natural with no stain, we had to scrap that idea.

We would have to introduce a color that would obscure the pad discoloration that would not sand out.

So just as our pilot client, Christine, returned from hauling some famous improtant guy’s (name starts with a “B”) cargo around, ( not his beast this time), we dug in to decide on the color.

Not gonna lie, we had several samples we put down. The stock colors weren’t a fit, we tried a couple custom blends, and they approved a mix. Not too dark, but dark enough to absorb permanent stainage from the rubber carpet pad. (Reversing about 95%, Christine was willing to accept a tad of the dicoloration in exchange for a medium brown tone that pulls all the elements together.

“I am obsessed with the color of my floors!. Marvin Crushed it!”

The first reveal hit Christine ‘dead on!’ And of course her hubby Clint was concurred. And, by this time her parents, visiting for the week were impressed, and asking would we travel to Williamsburg! The flip houses for a living, and have wood floors needing refinishing too.Clearly having a trained eye for our craft, they liked what they saw us doing, and gave us an eye of approval. You Guys Crushed It!

Besides the color, Marvin has corrected about 95-98% of the poorly exeucted work, and erased it from “the canvas!”

So telling, the signs to a trained eye hit you square in the face! We cautioned the clients that we weren’t sure how much of the damage we could reverse. But on day one we started to see much of it disappear!

  • the “paint job,” meaning the brown paint (stain) was removed, revealing the grain of the red oak
  • all of the edger digs were removed, from the stairs, the landing, and all along the edges
  • the tell tale signs of the sanding and the roller marks that worked across the grain disappeared
  • the uneven-ness’ of the sanding was eliminated
  • the holes in various places were filled with putty and became a non-issue
  • all but a few of the drum divot marks will remain

But, it turns out that the evidence of poor execution is all but gone! Marvin looks like a hero, and their floors look amazing! Relaxing, our clients have said their blood pressure is relieved, and they have put the experience behind them. Now the floors harmoniously are tying all the elements in the home together, and they now can relax as they go on holiday, “on the way to Cape May!”

You don’t have to live with a “botched hardwood floor job” either!  A “do-it-yourself job” or that of a contractors’ effort, we can bring relief to a badly refinished wood floor job, or a badly damaged one at that. Relief is only one call away! Call us at 609.953.0472Contact Us on line and we will reach out to you!







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