Floor

The flooring was in sorry shape – besides almost 70 years of schoolhouse wear and tear, the floors had been badly abused during the machine shop years. Trap doors, stairwells and heat vents had been cut through, holes drilled throughout for wiring and pipes, the lower floor was saturated with machine oil and the upper floor puddled with paint blobs and sticky chemicals. Then there was the porcupine corner with its poop pile cemented onto the floor boards by concentrated urine.

The original floor boards as well as the sub-flooring were 7/8th fir. Remnants of boards found around the building were used to patch where the machine shop stairs and trap doors had been cut through and where the cement had been poured for the stamping machine. Square nails were used; pre-drilling was necessary as the old boards were extremely tough. Thresholds were laid using remnants of oak table leaves. Salvaged flashing was used in ‘old timer’ nailed patches over outlet holes. Corks of various sizes were used to fill the many wiring holes, 66 in the lower floor alone.

The upper floor was sanded inch by inch with a hand rotary sander removing much of the filth and spills; blobs were scraped off and the grooves picked out as much as possible, finding, besides crud oiled in over the years, machine shop screws and rivets, chewing gum, pencil lead, straight pins [from the girls-‘ sewing classes], and broken pieces of pen nibs.

Over the years of heavy wear, the floor boards were well worn and the nail heads standing proud. We were careful to leave them protruding, hammering down only those that were hazard high. After repeated picking and vacuuming, the floor was linseed oiled. This gave a nice initial appearance, it darkened the wood and made the boards appear more uniform. However, this could not be the long term solution as it would have to be a yearly treatment to hold down the dust – this simply would not happen – also the porcupine stench was pervasive on damp or hot days despite special scraping, sanding and multiple cleansers. A sample cloakroom was treated with tung oil and this gave the appearance we wanted – the look of oil but with a hardened surface. The entire upper floor, stairs and entrance were then treated with tung oil.

We used a mixture: 1/3 pure tung oil, 1/3 turpentine, 1/3 spar varnish – essentially the original Waterlox formula before they removed the POV’ and made the price prohibitive. This was applied by brush, let dry, lightly sanded, and one or two extra oil applications rubbed on with a cloth. In years to come, touch-ups can be applied at any time – overall or in spots where needed.

The downstairs floor was another case entirely, being totally impregnated with machine oil. We experimented, read and sought advice everywhere; all who knew agreed it was impossible to remove, scrub off, or lay a finish over machine oil. Indeed, we tried concentrated TSP, ammonia and detergents. We knew polyurethane or paint would never cling. It could not be sanded for it totally clogged the sander. Vacuuming some scrapings destroyed our shop vacuum. We tried various ideas to seal it down and none worked; the oil oozed up through combinations of Penetrol, turpentine, tung and linseed oil. The floor was therefore hand scrubbed with TSP to remove the worst of the filth, then vigorously wire brushed inch by inch to remove oil saturated crud and paint droplets. In the end, the appearance wasn’t bad, though over the years dirt and dust will again cling to the oil.