In my first house – which I built in 1971 and 1972 – I layed hardwood floors which I coated with a hard finish. The floors looked beautiful, but as time marched on the cumulative effects of living – dogs running and playing, re-arranging furniture, neglecting to wipe grit and grime off the bottom of shoes – lessend that beauty to the point where I realized that sanding and refinishing were part of my future.

As I began planning my second home I discovered the beauty of patina. Virtually every time I came upon a wooden floor that I really liked it would be: 1) in an old, often really old house; 2) soft wood, most often white pine; or 3) if it had an applied finish, that finish was oil. Decades, if not centuries, of foot traffic, of kids being kids, of pet scratches, of spills, of abrasion, of dirt and dust had worked a wonderful magic on the soft wood. Such floors had a patina so rich and so deep that I had an epiphany – staining is man’s attempt to impart to wood surfaces, quickly, the look that takes Mother Nature years and decades to impart. If you can defer gratifications, Mother Nature does it best, by a very wide margin.

So, at the begining of the planning stages of my second house, I procured a quantity of locally harvested one inch thick white pine boards in varying widths. I stacked, stickered, and covered the boards for air drying. Almost a year passed before I was ready to lay the pine. I had a local mill plane the planks down to 3/4″, rip them to widths of 4″, 6″, 8″ and 12″ (so that the pattern wouldn’t be so random), and ship-lap the edges. I could have used cut nails to secure the floor, but chose to screw the floor in place. At each joist center I countersunk a 1″ diameter hole half way through the pine, then screwed the board in place, glued in 1″ diameter end grain Walnut plugs, and finally cut the plugs flush to the floor with a very sharp chisel. I then coated the floors with boiled linseed oil.

As I surveyed the floors I was underwhelmed. No, it was more than that, I was really disappointed. The floor looked way too white, the walnut plugs were too strong a contrast and floor looked bland. But I had neither the money nor the emotional energy to pull up the floor and try another approach, and I decided to leave it. After the first year, the floors didn’t bother me as much. By the third year they began to look like I knew what I was doing. As the pine aged it darkened, going towards a reddish brown; the contract between the pine and walnut became acceptable. Cleanups were done with Murphy’s Oil Soap and maintenance consisted of a recoating of oil (no sanding required) about the fifth year. When this house sold in record time, I assumed it was because of the layout, or the beam work, or the site; but, no, the new owners later confided that it was the patina of the floor boards that provided the strongest pull.

What a bargain: a floor made from a fast-growing, locally grown, natural, recyclable, biodegradable, low maintenance, low embodied energy material which was easily installed and which looks its worst when new and looks more beautiful as it is used. This about a green as it gets.

– TZ

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