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It’s nice when an old house gives you a pleasant surprise for a change

… especially when that house is Ye Olde Wreck, the infamous creation of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.

Yesterday I was depressed. It was sunny and mild (in November!) so why I should have been depressed, I don’t know. Well, I do know. It involved writing. And the seemingly hopeless task of getting a vital message across to people not likely to pay attention.

So the cure: quit damn writing and go hammer on something.

The house’s one-and-only bedroom is this winter’s project. I was going to work on the walls, but that meant first tearing off a slab of floor trim (ugly as sin, but oh, what wondrous wood they built with back in the olden days). That put me on my knees on the floor. That led me away from the walls.

Like everything else in this place, the bedroom floor is a mess. The kind of mess that makes you wonder, “What on earth were they thinking?” A patchwork of ridiculousness.

About 3/4 of the floor is — or now was — sheet linoleum. Late 1940s vintage, I’m guessing by the design.

The other 1/4 is divided between painted wood with all kinds of holes and bad repairs in it and an entirely different type of linoleum. Squares. Distinctly early 1950s colors. With white paint slopped liberally over it. Having no conceivable relationship to the other ghastly stuff.

Clashing ghastlies!

The painted, holey, and badly repaired portion of the floor was originally inside this unthinkable closet …

… which The Wandering Monk and I long since disposed of. But that’s no excuse for the overall badness.

All this must go.

Fortunately for me, Jim and Jack did their usual insane job on the floor but in a way that proved a glorious blessing. The big slabs of sheet linoleum were stapled down. Sometimes nailed. But mostly fastened with staples that eventually rusted from the damp. Jim and Jack used a token amount of mastic only on the edges. It long ago gave up any adhesive power.

The Monk and I, having already torn the back five feet off the bedroom, had also already discovered that the brittle old sheets could be pulled up by hand. And we’d gotten a hint that not only was the floor underneath properly constructed (amid all that rot, ruin, and stupidity); it was beautifully constructed. Two layers of gorgeous tongue-and-groove, done right.

But who knew what might horrors might still be hidden under that misbegotten linoleum?

So today I went at those sheets with hands and scrapers and pliers to extract the rusty staples. I took up most of the remaining linoleum and …

… beauty!

That’s not hardwood, but it’s softwood of the olden-days kind. It’s got a few water stains where the roof leaked or the staples let in damp. But nothing that can’t be sanded out.

The only problematic part is the floor under those icky 1950s linoleum squares. Whoever put those down made up for the lack of mastic elsewhere. Those are glued to survive the heat death of the universe. What’s worse, given their era, the mastic could have asbestos in it and therefore not be healthy to sand, even if I can pry the tiles up.

Good thing I asked the Monk to save as much of the flooring as he could when he tore off the back of the room. ‘Cause I think we might just have enough stashed in Neighbor J’s nice, dry garage to replace both the damaged and the overly glued flooring.

My intention was someday to carpet this room. But if we can repair the bad parts, then sand and finish them all pretty, it would be a cryin’ shame to cover up such lovely wood.

Thank you, Olde Wreck, for brightening my day.


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty November 19, 2017 4:22 am

    Sometimes you truly do get to take two steps forward, and only one step back…

    I love good wood floors myself. Only had one, about 45 years ago, and took loving care of it. I hope you can save all of it, or most of it. 🙂

  2. Comrade X
    Comrade X November 19, 2017 8:02 am

    Wood & tile for me, anything but carpet.

  3. Claire
    Claire November 19, 2017 8:26 am

    That’s generally my view of things, too, Comrade X. But it’s a bedrooom. In the cold corner of the house. Where my bare footies are likely to meet the floor first thing in the morning. So … carpet. Although if the wood floor works out, that and an area rug will be a much nicer solution.

  4. jed
    jed November 19, 2017 9:00 am

    One of the great decorating tragedies of prior decades was putting wall-to-wall flooring over wood floors. Throw rugs and area rugs, please!

    When I’ve done this sort of work (which hasn’t been much), I’ve used a floor scraper. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is you have to sharpen those, except it’s not like sharpening a knife — you want a square edge. Of course, being careful of the wood underneath is an issue.

    No doubt you’ve done web searching on this. I found,

    Cut through the vinyl in about 6-inch-wide strips in the same direction the floor runs to minimize any chances of cutting across the grain. Set the utility knife blade just deep enough to get through the linoleum or vinyl. Heat the linoleum with a heat gun and then pry it and the glue up while the glue is still soft. Scrape away as much of the glue as you can while being careful not to gouge the floor.

    I’m thinking this glue scraping is done more like one would use a cabinet scraper, where the angle of the scraper to the wood is about 80 degrees. Done correctly, scraping softened glue won’t damage the wood. A scraper also won’t raise dust the same way sanding does, though if there’s asbestos, you’ll want to be careful to properly vacuum it up and dispose of it.

    And oh, that faux parquette linoleum is so so tacky!

  5. jed
    jed November 19, 2017 9:13 am

    FWIW, I found a video which does a nice job of giving an overview of using a card scraper. Thinking about this, possibly it’ll work better when the glue is brittle, rather then warm and gooey. You can improvise a scraper too — no need to spend money, though they aren’t terribly expensive. And, you can get by without a burnisher too; the shaft of a screwdriver can set the hook. Also, I’ve scraped without bothering with a hook.

  6. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran November 19, 2017 9:17 am

    I wonder why previous owners covered up a wood floor with linoleum? I had a early 20th century colonial in the city that had hardwood floors and before we moved into the house, I sanded and polyurethaned them. Previous owners did paint over the woodwork though, beautiful gum wood and it ruined it. I tried to strip it but the paint sunk into it and I couldn’t get it down to plain wood, so I repainted over it. What a shame!

  7. jed
    jed November 19, 2017 9:41 am

    > I wonder why previous owners covered up a wood floor with linoleum?

    Partially, it was a decorating trend. Also, particularly in re. carpet, the “cold floor” problem was a reason. And, linoleum is lower maintenance. I suppose carpet is seen as lower maintenance too, until you consider that carpets are big dirt traps.

  8. Alan Richmond
    Alan Richmond November 19, 2017 9:59 am

    We recently pulled up the flooring in one of the rooms in our project. A layer of glue, chipboard-type cardboard, more glue, linoleum (in a pattern not unlike yours), more glue, and the same square tiles you have there. Many of them cracked, buckled, and/or chipped. (Carpet over that when we moved in. That came out almost right away — we hate carpet.) We had previously had everything tested for asbestos — all negative.
    The plan was to get as much of the old flooring off as we could and decide what to put on it later.

    The linoleum/tiles where hard and brittle enough from age that they peeled up in big chunks if you got a small pry bar under them. No lack of adhesive here, that peeled up half the chipboard, too.

    That left a fuzzy layer of cardboard and hard brown glue on the floor — 6 inch tongue and groove old growth redwood.

    I figured I could get it down to the glue by soaking the cardboard and scrubbing it off with a stiff brush. That should be clean enough for what ever we put down later. I could sand it here and there as needed or sand the whole thing since we were starting to think the cheapest option might be to finish the wood that was there.

    And here’s where I felt like I won the lottery — the adhesive was water soluble! We ended up soaking old towels with hot water, laying them on the paper, and then huge chunks would peel up with a putty knife and minor effort. Scrub the remaining adhesive with a brush and wipe up the residue with rags. And the glue didn’t smell bad, it smelled kind of sweet, with a hint of root beer.

    We could soak the next section while we worked on the previous one. We were done in an afternoon. It was glorious.

    Of course, there’s another room like that one still to go…

  9. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran November 19, 2017 10:28 am

    RV commented: I wonder why previous owners covered up a wood floor with linoleum?

    Jed commented:: Partially, it was a decorating trend. Also, particularly in re. carpet, the “cold floor” problem was a reason. And, linoleum is lower maintenance. I suppose carpet is seen as lower maintenance too, until you consider that carpets are big dirt traps.

    Yup, so was painting over wood work a trend in the 50s and 60s, supposedly “brightened up” a house. Yes, carpets are big dirt traps and the cause of many allergy problems.

  10. Claire
    Claire November 19, 2017 2:40 pm

    Alan Richmond — Yikes, you almost make me glad I have my floor project and not yours. Thank goodness the fates at least gave you a break with the water-soluble mastic. I’d have never even thought of testing for that.

    Re: covering up wood floors … In the place and time this house was built, T&G softwood floors were pretty much the equivalent of plywood. While some were left uncovered, nobody gave a thought to the idea that they might be too beautiful to cover. And the guys are right about fashion trends. My folks had gorgeous oak floors throughout their otherwise mundane little tract house, but a couple of years later, when wall-to-wall carpet became the thing, they couldn’t wait to hide every inch of those floors.

    Definitely carpets are nasty, dirty things, though. A few years back I had an old dog who was starting to wheeze & when I took her to Furrydoc, her #1 piece of advice was, “Get rid of your carpets.” Ever since then I’ve gone with tile or wood floors and area rugs that can be picked up, cleaned under, and taken outside for the occasional violent beating. World of difference.

  11. LowKey
    LowKey November 19, 2017 7:57 pm

    Many mastics were water soluble. Try laying a few wet towels over the mastic covered portions of the floor and waiting an hour or two, then try using a putty knife. If water soluble it should be gummy and come off without much work.
    If that doesn’t do it, there are “green” solvents out there which will break it down.

    All else fails, try spraying (do a small test area first) EZ-Off oven cleaner on the mastic and waiting 30 minutes. Scrape up the mastic, then spray the wood with vinegar to neutralize any residue of the alkaline EZ-Off. Afterwards you’ll want to mop it clean and when dry sand the floor lightly to remove any of the wood grain that was raised by being wet. Bit of effort, but better than the possibility of sucking in asbestos fibers if the mastic does indeed contain them.
    Careful if you use the EZ-Off as it’s essentially just spray on lye.

  12. Claire
    Claire November 20, 2017 6:55 am

    LowKey. I didn’t know that about mastics. Thank you for the howto.

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