Homeowners frequently ask if their old, beat-up Douglas fir floor can be sanded. They often think that, just because it looks terrible now, that it can’t be salvaged. In reality, these old fir floors are often a gem waiting to be polished. Ok, it takes a little more work than just a little polishing; however, many fir floors do still have a lot of life left in them.
3 1/4″ (or 3 1/8″) vertical grain Douglas fir is found in many 1940 homes and prior in the Fargo/Moorhead area. This was considered the “less expensive” option for flooring, since hardwood was really the only option at the time (not entirely true, but close enough). Because it was less expensive, older homes often have Douglas fir in the less visible areas, such as upper levels and kitchens.
Douglas fir is a beautiful wood; however, it is very soft. For this reason, we do occasionally run into fir floors that are too far gone to be salvaged. Typically this occurs from heavy wear or water damage that can’t be sanded out. If the area of damage is small enough they can often be repaired, but if it is throughout the floor it may not be cost effective to repair.
Since Douglas fir is a soft wood, on upper level floors we often find four deep gouges that make a rectangle. These gauges are from old bed posts wearing away at the same spot for many, many years. Sometimes these areas are shallow enough to sand out, but other times they require repair. Alternately, many customers have requested to leave these as part of the history of the floor.
Customers are often surprised at how light Douglas fir becomes by the end of the sanding process. However, it does darkens quickly, and within a few months to a few years the fir takes on a deep, earthy tone. This darkening is caused by UV exposure and reaction with the oxygen in the air. In heavy traffic areas, this deep color doesn’t always sand out. In the flooring trade, we call this bruising, which is just where the wood has been exposed more to oxygen and the color in the wood has deepened. Because of this bruising, fir can have patches of darker color when the majority of the floor is relatively light right after sanding. This can also be seen on the butt-ends, which are highlighted by this dark coloring due to theirs being exposed to more oxygen. Over time, as the floor darkens, the coloring evens out to take on a beautiful color.