Maintenance
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Repairing Hardwood Floors

Easy fixes for scratches, stains & gaps
By Kurt Anderson
Published: June 1, 2013
repair hardwood floors
FLOOR TLC – To protect your wood floor, use furniture leg protector pads under all furniture legs, and use wide rubber rollers, not hard narrow ones.
Photo by Thinkstock.com
Hardwood, despite the name, is not impervious. Gaps, scratches, and stains can all too easily mar that beautiful surface, and let’s face it: Cabin foot traffic can be pretty brutal.

Still, there’s no need to refinish your entire floor or cover it with throw rugs because of a few imperfections. Here are a few DIY fixes that will keep your toes gliding across the smooth, unmarred grain of a real wood floor.

Small scratches
Here are three ways to deal with small scratches:
  • Mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar. Pour a little directly onto the scratch, and rub lightly into the wood. Let the potion soak in for 12–24 hours, then wipe it off. Keep doing this until the scratch is no longer noticeable.
  • Touch up a slight, superficial scratch with a wax crayon, color-matched to the wood. Or pick up a wax stick, like the Minwax Wood Finish Stain Marker, from a flooring or hardware store. These markers include stain and urethane.
  • To treat slightly deeper (less than 1⁄8-inch) scratches, use fine steel wool or sandpaper and “erase” the scratch, being sure to work with the grain. Creating a uniform, bowl-shaped area with gently sloping sides can make the affected area less conspicuous than if wood filler is used. Use a slightly lighter stain for this area before applying varnish to diminish the shadow effect.   

Water stains
If you own lakeshore, you’ll relate to this formula: Lake + bare feet + a run for s’mores supplies = lots of potential water damage.

A fresh, shallow-penetrating water stain can often be buffed out with a soft cloth.

For slightly more stubborn stains, try applying petroleum jelly or lemon oil liberally on the area and leave it on overnight. Wipe it up with a soft cloth the next day. Repeat applications may be necessary. Don’t rewax or apply polish until you have the desired result; otherwise, you will seal in the stain.

If that trick doesn’t work, you can rub the spot with #000 (extra-fine) steel wool and wax. If this fails, lightly sand with fine sandpaper and clean the area using #000 steel wool and mineral spirits or a wood-floor cleaner. Allow the floor to dry, then stain, wax, and hand-buff.

Deeper water stains mean you’ll need to strip off the varnish and stain, and then treat the discolored wood with oxalic acid. Then you’ll have to re-stain and re-varnish.

Gaps
Wood floors will gap with humidity changes. Adding humidity to your cabin during very dry conditions in winter and taking away humidity during the sticky summer months can help alleviate seasonal gapping.

But sometimes a flaw in installation or shifts in the foundation can create unsightly gaps in your floor. You can purchase fillets of seasoned wood flooring from most flooring stores that will match your flooring. Just tap them into place. Depending on the fit, wood glue may double as adhesive and filler.

repair hardwood floors
Photo by Thinkstock.com
HELPFUL HINTS

Nails in the way?
If the area you’re trying to sand down has nails, be sure to countersink them below the scratch layer using a
nail punch.

Using filler or putty?
If you need to use wood filler or putty, try to match the color of the darker hardwood. Going slightly darker can actually look more natural, as it can resemble heartwood or knots.

Lots of damage?
Cut the offending piece of hardwood flooring out and bring it to your local flooring store. They may be able to match the wood species, color, and often will cut the replacement piece to the proper length.

Where to find the pros
Find certified wood flooring dealers, contractors and installers at the National Wood Flooring Association.
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