1. Archive

The best finish for wooden floors

(ran HP, HS, HC editions)

Question: My son sanded his pine board floors in the hall and on the stairs. What is the best finish he can put on those floors himself?

Answer: Best bet for the do-it-yourselfer is several coats of oil-based polyurethane varnish: two coats for hardwood such as oak, birch, or maple and three coats for softwood such as pine.

In the past, specialists have suggested high gloss as the toughest finish. Today the satin or semigloss is considered just as tough. Besides, high gloss will dull down in time.

How about the new water-based polyurethanes? No way. Because the water-based varnishes are tenderer than oil-based, seven coats are recommended, and at $30 a gallon this is ridiculous.

Water-based is okay for furniture, but even so you have to be careful for two reasons because the water-based stuff can cloud up if you apply it too thickly and, if you are refinishing a piece, water-based varnishes are not compatible with shellac or oil-based varnishes.

Paint drippings on brick

Question: How can I get paint drippings off rather rough brick and an asphalt driveway?

Answer: For the brick, apply chemical paint remover (Stripeeze or 5F5), wait 15 minutes, scrape, then rub with coarse steel wool. Rinse with paint thinner. Repeat as necessary.

On asphalt, do not use chemical remover; it will dissolve the asphalt. Rub lightly with a steel brush, then seal with driveway sealer.

You may have to do the whole driveway. Sealing a small area will not match the rest of the driveway. If the area is small, spray it with a flat black enamel.

Rotting window sill

Q. My house is 8 years old and has Pella windows. In one boxed window, a piece of sill is rotting. How can I fix it?

Answer: After only eight years, Pella should replace the window. I think it is the design of the window or the way it was installed in a "box" that caused the decay. Modern windows (it does not matter what brand) are generally made very tight, frame and all, which does not provide for drainage, as old windows do. Also, sometimes the sill is level, rather than sloped downward.

Both these designs can lead to standing or trapped water, and, with water that does not drain away, decay is inevitable even when the windows are properly primed and painted.

Also, some windows rely on caulking to make them watertight, which is okay in itself, but caulking can trap water behind it and wear off, requiring a new application.

You have two choices if the window is not replaced. Cut out the decayed part until you reach sound wood, apply bleach to the fresh wood to kill any fungi that caused the decay in the first place, rinse and let dry, then nail or screw on a filler piece of wood and caulk the joint well. It would be best to use pressure-treated wood as the filler piece.

A second choice may be better if the decayed area is not too big and does not go all the way through the sill, which is to dig out the decay, treat with bleach, rinse and let dry and fill the gap with an epoxy wood filler.

What about Bondo, the auto body epoxy filler? Alan Hill of Winchester, a restoration architect, said Bondo is not good for filling decayed wood areas because it does not move with the movement of the wood.

Homasote and termites

Question: Do termites like Homasote? My three-season room has Homasote walls and ceilings. They're in good condition except for water-stained sections from the floor up 6 inches. I plan to cut out the stained stuff and replace it with a pressure-treated board. Would that help?

Answer: Yes, but it will not do much against termites if they are in the house. Homasote is ground-up newspapers pressed like papier-mache into a rigid board. It is pure cellulose, dessert to termites, but it may be too thin for the termites to work in. If you have no signs of termites, don't worry about it.