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!