Smoked oak hotel floor

Location: Abergavenny, Wales.

Property: Medium sized Hotel and Restaurant

Timber: Solid oak wood parquet block

Age: New install

Removed finish: None

Applied finish: Traditional bespoke water stain, shellac seal, primer seal, two coats Bona Traffic HD matt (5 coat system)

Notes: Restaurant floor including reception area was 128 sqm herringbone parquet pattern stained by hand. Business suite was 50 sqm, ballroom was over 100 sqm, bar was 40 sqm we also completed another 120 sqm of rooms and reception / cloakroom areas (only some of which is shown) over the course of two years, plus stairs, skirting, counter tops and handrails amounting to over 450 sqm.

Description: The bar (not shown) was difficult as was the restaurant, smoked oak colour (shown) due to the need to obtain exactly the right colour. I maybe foolishly decided to use a traditional water stain rather than an easier but less natural looking nitro stain which on such a large area was incredibly hard technically to pull off and I only just got away with it. The result, which my very poor pictures do not begin to show was dramatic and quite stunning. This gallery probably shows the greatest disparity between real life and the photographs which were poor even by my standards as the light was very bad, ideally the room would need to have been painted and professionally lit to take decent pictures, the pictures of the smaller 28sqm reception area came out slightly better. The specification I drew up included five coats applied very generously to give the best protection possible. Lost revenue attributed to closing of areas for maintenance or refurbishment in commercial premises often far exceeds any cost savings made from cheaper, less durable and less professionally executed finishing. That is before the unquantifiable reduction in stress is factored in.

You can see the large amount of tools and equipment required to undertake this sort of job, what you cannot see is how uneven the floor was before we started as the hotel got their own maintenance brigade to undertake the work which they did competently but with slightly less than optimal finesse. When a floor is not laid optimally it is very hard, if at all, to get it one hundred percent perfectly flat macroscopically, the problem is we needed one hundred percent smoothness, microscopically! Water staining shows up every mark or scratch and we were going quite dark so to make sure after the screening with the trio I decided, slightly madly, to go over the whole floor myself on my hands and knees with a six inch random orbital sander / polisher with a powerful head torch. This took over eight hours, literally non stop, there was no other way. You can also see from the pictures that the whole floor was coated by two people with one inch wide zorino shellac polishing mops. People do not believe us when we tell them how we work. It isn’t madness, it’s just doing the best job we can. On jobs like this night turns to day and we work when we can to get things completed in as short time as possible, luckily for us the client was very helpful and thankfully our noise nuisance did not extend to any of the guest room areas.

Due to the nap of wood fibres herringbone parquet can look different tones when viewed from different directions, staining accentuates this. In real life the floor looked three dimensional with one row appearing a dark grey steel smoked oak colour with the other row appearing a warmer richer American black walnut colour. Looking from the opposite direction the colours reversed and walking around the room the colours changed as you walked. Again, due to its chatoyancy and directional reflectivity photographs fail to do wood justice, which is why we love it! Only gem and semi precious stones have similar properties. That’s why we don’t mind working on our knees for hours on end and coating large floors with little brushes.

The ballroom which we completed a couple of years earlier was coated using the same four coat process as the restaurant but without the stain layer. The business suite was also finished like this naturally clear. The other extensive work (not shown) which we carried out included staining and finishing of stairs, handrails, doors, skirting to reception and cloakroom areas along with clear coating of apartments. Much of the work was carried out over bank holidays. Three to five operatives were on site at any one time.

I don’t do adverts and rarely recommend but having stayed there as a ‘guest’ on several occasions during the course of my work and having worked in many of the UK’s top hotelsI can say that The Angel Hotel in Abergavenny is probably the nicest hotel I have ever stayed or had the pleasure to work in. The locally sourced Welsh food is especially fantastic and the level of service and warm welcome offered by William and his staff beats all the five star hotels I have come across. Needless to say the man also has excellent taste! The bars, restaurants and lounges are decorated, as are the rooms, to a very high standard managing to be both traditional with a modern twist at the same time. William is a man who declined an extra star rating so he may under promise and over deliver to his guests and also runs a Michelin star restaurant close by. I have few private customers whose personal tastes meet with my own but very few commercial clients. William is one and a visit to his wonderful hotel is well worth it.

I will at some point return and ask for some proper pictures.

Sanding fumed oak

Location: Parkstone, Poole.

Property: Large detached residence

Timber: Hand rolled solid fumed oak plank

Age: Unconfirmed – possibly circa 1995

Removed finish: Two pack melamine modified AC lacquer

Applied finish: One coat natural shellac, three coats Junckers matt lacquer

Notes: Floor was hand rolled (wavy effect) and had to be carefully hand scraped and sanded to preserve these undulations

Description: This is the bedroom floor that I refinished in the house with the 60 sqm Versailles parquet living room. The floor was laid at the same time by the same company and as I found out during the course of the job, originally finished by a good friend and colleague of mine many years ago. The customer originally wanted the floor to be bleached or limed but I immediately saw it was coloured in a different way and after a quick test I confirmed to him that it had been fumed with ammonia and that liming or bleaching would not work well. Fumed oak, these days annoyingly rebranded as smoked oak, although no smoking takes place, is made by leaving untreated raw timber in a tent of ammonia fumes. Depending upon how long the timber is left in the tent the effect can be light to dark and penetrate just below the surface or the entire cross section of the wood as in this case, this means the wood is stained all the way through, although sanding will reveal lighter areas and different colours of grain. The planks were uneven across their width and had wavy edges, this artificial contouring of wood flooring is called ‘rolling’ as the edge appears to have been rolled over.

This floor was finished totally by hand and was extremely difficult to sand. I neglected to take pictures before I started which would have shown the crazy amplitude of the rolling which in my opinion looked incredibly contrived and false, even more so than the living room parquet. Sanding heavily profiled floors like this is impossible with a large walk around machine without totally destroying the floor, sanding with an edge and detail sander is very difficult due to the machines running at angles, which they do not like! There is no sander that can sand in the valleys of the gaps, especially when removing a very hard and persistent two pack finish and so these had to be sanded by hand which took two of us several man days. If someone had taken a picture of us scraping the edges the picture would have been almost identical to Gustave Caillebotte’s The Floor Planers, unfortunately minus the wine. The shellac used was pure, clear transparent, the dramatic change in tone and warmth between the uncoated and coated areas is due to the fuming stain and the action of the shellac which soaks into the wood much like an oil and gives it great depth and warmth. The floor appeared to glow which is not something my limited photography skills were quite able to capture.

Pictures rarely do a floor justice and none more so in this case and yes, the colour was that rich. Yes we worked very hard on this floor, yes we knew what we were doing and yes we had all the correct tools and equipment but the beauty of the wood is the real star here. It doesn’t matter how good a chef you are if you do not have the very best ingredients. This floor was beautiful due to the wood and treatment and even more beautiful than when first fitted due to the lower build finish and the reduction of the almost comically excessive rolling artefacts. This floor was originally fitted by the most expensive flooring company in the UK and I think we managed to improve upon it as we did with the living room. Very hard work but very satisfying, there aren’t many floors out there that look like this.

It does look very pretty and yes we can source real fumed (smoked) oak for you and yes we can roll oak by hand for you. An installation like this is not cheap, but looks stunning and we can achieve a more natural, authentic look normally for less than the cost of the false looking factory finished smoked oak boards. We can even take raw solid oak, roll the edges by hand and stain the boards using a bespoke made traditional water stain with ammonia for extra penetration which will give a smoked oak appearance for less cost (although the colour will not extend throughout the timber) Just remember it’s fumed not smoked!

Sanding reclaimed oak board

Location: Islington, London

Property: Georgian townhouse (listed)

Timber: Reclaimed English oak wide board plank

Age: Unknown – Contemporary installation using older timber

Removed finish: Linseed oil possibly over coated with oil based PU varnish

Applied finish: One coat shellac tint, one coat clear shellac, two coats Junckers matt lacquer

Notes: Hand sanded as timber thin / to preserve colour – tinted to improve aged colour

Description: The installation had been carried out to a very poor standard using thin boards and a weak and unsuitable sub floor, however the wood was obviously a reclaimed country grade containing many knots and shakes and consequently was very good looking.

The finishing was also very poor, on arriving there was a musty smell of mildew and stale oil, immediately confirming my earlier suspicions that linseed oil had been used. The finish had worn off especially in high traffic areas exposing the wood which was partially grey. Due to the softness of the finish and the oily smell despite the obvious old age of the finish it is possible that the linseed oil was not left to dry properly before being over coated either by more oil or perhaps an oil based polyurethane. These oil finishes had also contributed to considerable yellowing which obscured the natural aged colour of the oak which is lighter, less orange and more digestive biscuit like.

Due to the thin nature of the floor and to preserve as much patination as possible the floor was carefully sanded via hand machine. Two coats of shellac were used to protect against any residual oil contamination ensuring long term adhesion of the lacquer. The first coat of shellac was bespoke tinted to put back the estimated original aged colour (as if the timber had never been sanded) Only a subtle tint was required which looks perfectly natural and unnoticeable but gives an extra depth, warmth and authenticity to the aged timber. This is always the most skilled and artistic part of the job. The shellac gives a deep lustre and due to the high level of incident light and large bright rooms a matt lacquer was applied which whilst subtle provided enough life. The human eye, filtered through the brain sees things in a much more nuanced and sophisticated way than a simple camera lens, in real life in situ the reflections are softer and the floor does not appear quite as shiny.

Hand sanding Versailles parquet

Location: Parkstone, Poole.

Property: Large detached residence

Timber: Hand rolled oak Versailles parquet panel on plywood

Age: Unconfirmed – possibly circa 1995

Removed finish: Coloured shellac and wax

Applied finish: One coat natural shellac, three coats Junckers matt lacquer

Notes: Floor was hand rolled (wavy effect) and had to be carefully hand scraped and sanded to preserve these undulations

Description: This was a job I undertook in a very large property by the sea where I completed this floor which was the main living room (around 60 sqm) and a bedroom. The floor was a hand rolled oak Versailles parquet panel floor, which means it was shaped by hand to give it an aged effect. Personally I really do not like these artificially aged floors as to me they look, well, artificial. The dimensioning had to be retained and so hand sanding and scraping on my hands and knees (again) was required. I did manage however to reduce the amplitude of the fake ageing which I think improved the look and made it appear more authentic. The floor was not a real true Versailles panel which traditionally are made from solid oak, glue free with wooden pegs, this floor had an oak layer which had been cut and glued to a plywood base then artificially aged which I am sure would be enough to fool many people.

The world of skilled wood finishing craftsmen is small, a point which was reinforced when I contacted an old colleague (who now runs his own floor sanding company) and asked him for advice regarding another floor in the property. The property and floors are quite distinctive and after a few questions my friend laughed and said to me “I finished that floor when it was put in!” so I was asking the right person at least. The floor was finished in shellac and three coats of finish which I normally only reserve for commercial areas but due to the large amount of direct sunlight on the floor and the proximity of the sea (the spray from which entered the room with the window open on a windy day) I thought a stronger coating specification was required.

There were few surprises, just a very large, very wavy, difficult to sand floor which was quite difficult to coat as it had to be finished one panel at a time via brush due to the wave effect, which was nerve wracking, especially as the grain runs in all directions, not fun. The finished pictures did not come out very well, which was a shame as it did look reasonably impressive. I think the natural oak colour along with the reduced faked wear pattern the floor looked much better than when it was laid.

Fitting dark oak floor

Location: Camberwell, London.

Property: Detached residence

Timber: Supplied FSC certified European oak 20mm thickness with 6mm wear layer

Age: New

Removed finish: None

Applied finish: Traditional bespoke water stain, shellac seal, two coats matt lacquer

Notes: Floor was fitted perpendicular over older floor which was too damaged to save

Description: The original floor was too damaged to save as it had been destroyed by the actual installer during the installation and sanding, who also managed to fit a pine floor sold as oak. Very sad.

A new installation of FSC certified European engineered oak with the maximum wear layer of 6mm was fitted which is nearly down to the tongue and so to all intents and purposes can be sanded as much as a solid board of the same thickness. This was laid at ninety degrees to the existing installation for mechanical integrity, we also fitted a high quality thick, sound and heat insulated metal foil backed rubber underlay to even out any irregularity with the previous install. High quality raw oak was chosen and the colour bespoke mixed in situ using traditional water stains which have better permanence, lightfastness and a deeper colour than factory applied or bought oil or nitro type stains. They are harder to mix and apply which is where the experience comes in, but the result is a depth that is different to shop bought stained oak floors of which there are many. Buying raw oak and staining on site allows you to choose the highest quality timber stock and apply the exact shade of colour you require. You may notice the small amount of stain on the skirting, the pictures were taken before additional ‘piggy back’ skirting was painted and attached as a clever solution to covering the essential expansion gap and looks just like a part of the original.

Although the finish was very dark, almost ebony in appearance the look changed when sunlight hit it which you can see in a couple of the pictures including the coating of the sample board. This effect is harder to achieve with factory applied pigmented finishes, only the clarity and depth of water stains allows a timber to at once look both very dark and have subtle lighter highlights. This is due to a transparent dye allowing more of the light to pass through the finish to the wood before it is reflected back to the viewers eye, whereas a pigmented finish reflects most of the light off the pigment before it reaches the wood. Shop or factory applied nitro stains have a clarity and two tone nature that is in between water stains and pigmented stains. Many contractors these days only have the limited skill required to apply pigmented oil finishes. You can ‘water pop’ all day long but a pigmented oil finish will never come anywhere near this level of depth of colour. Many contractors say it simply isn’t possible. It is.

Why do these contractors and factories not use water stains? Because they require more skill to apply.

Oak takes a stain very well and can be coloured from white, including liming, through grey, to dark colours including natural tints like golden oak, medium oak, and jacobean, dark oak. I always try and use some traditional van dyke or walnut crystals in my stains as the hue mimics the colour of the natural ageing process of oak. Wood being naturally fibrous and growing in a specific direction has a nap (like the stripes on a golf putting green) and therefore a luminosity and reflectivity that is angle dependent. Photographs, as always cannot begin to portray the changing flip flop of colour and light that these types of floors produce in situ and one has to rather imagine the richness and warmth below the dark exterior. Needless to say floors like this look much better in real life.