Our Best Decision Yet: Refinishing 100-Year-Old Wood Floors

Our Best Decision Yet: Refinishing 100-Year-Old Wood Floors

October 4, 2020 0 By Jeffrey Quinn

Hello intrepid reader! I’m happy you decided to stop by to read about our experience refinishing 100-year-old wood floors. But I have to be honest, I was slightly worried that I’d never be able to write this post. Old home renovation experience aside, there were definitely moments when we thought we had bitten off more than we could chew. But more on that later.

When we first bought our century home so many years ago, it came complete with dropped ceilings, a sandstone foundation and a scrapbook of wallpaper in each room chronicling the previous decade’s design preferences.

Things needed a face lift to say the least.

But as you may well know, the payoff with renovating an old home is something you simply can’t get with a newer build. So let’s talk about what is probably the most used part of a home – flooring.

The Decision: Should We Refurnish Or Just Start Fresh?

Choosing floors is a big decision. You’ve got your hardwood, then there’s ceramic flooring and let’s not forget about the cost-saving engineered hardwoods, laminates and vinyl options. But if you have a century home, there’s a good chance there are existing hardwoods.

We just had to do a little digging.

Since we were on a tight budget, we were praying that we’d strike gold and have beautiful hardwoods ready to be brought back to life. So what’d we find you may be asking?

Well, we found hardwoods. But they were in really rough shape and missing in half the room.

Actually, our first reaction was to cover these up and go with a modern fix on top. It just seemed easier than trying to salvage questionable looking wood floors full of nails, missing pieces and sticky stain from some random 30-year-old paste or chemical adhesive.

Still, we figured it was worth trying. And try we did! Step one: Clean what we should, scrape what we could and pull out all the rusty tetanus-laden nails.

Our Experience Refurnishing 100-Year-Old Floors

Cleaning what we could and prepping the floors the best we knew how was an obvious first step. And it actually helped us get a better picture of how the floor could look once everything was fixed.

So with all the sub flooring, decade-old laminate flooring and leftover nails from some past overzealous worker removed, we felt we had chipped away a little at our mountainous flooring problems.

Let’s remember, this is just phase one of our house remodel – tackling the kitchen. We really can’t wait to see what’s in store for us underneath all the mismatched carpets from the other rooms (insert sarcasm).

Anyways, with most everything removed from the original hardwood floors, our archaeological dig was actually starting to look pretty good. But we still had to deal with the industrial-strength stains and missing floorboard pieces throughout.

I mean, where can one find an exact match of 100-year-old flooring? Home Depot? Not likely.

So let’s move to the next section and I’ll show you how we fixed all these cumbrous hurdles our floors had accumulated.

How We Fixed & Refinished Our 100-Year-Old Flooring

Old floors can have a variety of issues. Usually, a good sanding and fresh stain can resolve most common problems. But our situation was unique – as per usual!

The three biggest issues we had with our old hardwood floors were:

  • Getting the stains out to make the floors look new
  • Replacing broken pieces and uneven sections
  • Finishing and matching the floors in parts of the room that had nothing

I guess the last two points are related and required us finding an exact match for our particular flooring style. So I want to show you exactly how we solved these flooring issues.

Here’s How We Got The Stains Out

When we first saw the dark tar stain caked on our otherwise perfectly fine hardwood floors, we thoughts a simple cleaner would do the trick, returning the floor to its former glory.

We were wrong.

Seriously, we tried it all. Every heavy-duty cleaner out there. But nothing made a dent. I mean, what was this mysterious tar on our floors anyways??

Well long story short, we ended up outsourcing the job to the same Amish crew that would later sand down and finish the floors with a low-gloss brown stain.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how they even got the back tar mess out of the floor – actually there’s still a slight shadow leftover – but I do know that it was some combination of magical cleaner and arduous sanding.

Just check out our before/after photos of this “black hole” spot! Well, it came out eventually and we were left with some truly unique floors, matching the overall character of our century home.

Here’s How We Found Replacement Pieces To Match Our 100-Year-Old Hardwood Floors

Believe it not, we were able to find our exact hardwood style, which actually came from an old schoolhouse that had been torn down near us. It felt like a miracle since the style we were dealt with was pretty original and would’ve otherwise been difficult to flow.

How we came across this find though probably of most use to you!

We were lucky to have someone in our family that worked in the salvaged lumber industry. So through his connections and expertise, we were able to find what we needed in just a couple month’s time. We were ecstatic to say the least!

So if you’re dealing with a similar situation, I definitely recommend searching for a local lumber expert. Especially someone who specializes in salvaged wood. They can offer you their extensive contacts, knowledge and expertise for replacing and matching hardwood floors.

Tips & First Steps

Refinishing floors can be a fun – but stressful – part of a home renovation. Especially when you’re dealing with 100-year-old (or more) hardwood! But through this experience (and many similar ones), we’ve learned a few important lessons.

So let’s go over a few tips and first steps for refinishing 100-year-old wood floors.


  • Don’t forget to…
  • Definitely check to see if…
  • Find out if…
  • Know when to hire an expert

First steps

  1. Check that there’s more salvageable wood than not
  2. If you need to replace pieces, reach out to local lumber experts with a small sample to see if they can find a suitable match
  3. When it comes time to laying replacement pieces, sanding and staining, don’t be afraid to outsource this work to a professional – they’ve got the tools and experience after all


This post has shown you our personal experience with refinishing 100-year-old wood floors. Although it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, we have no regrets and absolutely love the charm and character of our salvaged piece of history.

There are definitely some unexpected things and pricey surprises that can happen along the way when renovating – especially a century home. But knowing what to expect and planning appropriately by using our experience and tips should help the whole process go smoother.

Thanks again for reading today, we hope it’s been helpful or inspiring!

And let us know in the comments of any fun or interesting stories you’ve experienced while refinishing old wood floors (or any other part of a century home)!