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Q.I'm refinishing a 70-year-old oak floor with inlaid mahogany accents. Some areas are damaged and need a few minor patches. How can I maintain the contrast between the oak and the mahogany while minimizing color variations between new and old material?

A.Michael Purser, a second-generation wood-flooring contractor in Atlanta, responds: Color variation is common when new material is used to patch a damaged inlay or section of flooring. (For example, recently milled mahogany will be lighter in color than the older, original material.) So I always make a special effort to match the patch with the original. Depending on how accurate the restoration has to be, I look for new wood that's the same species, the same milling — that is, quarter-sawn or flat-sawn — and the same age as the existing floor. Suppliers of recycled lumber are a good source for this.

Also, don't plan on staining the entire floor to "even out" the finish. Old floors typically weren't stained originally, and doing so now will only obscure the contrast between different species of wood. There will be a color change when the floor is refinished, of course, due to the loss of the very top layer of wood — darkened from UV exposure — and the old finish, which has usually ambered with age and dirt. But the wood will darken again naturally, and the two finishes I use — Basic Coatings Emulsion (www.basiccoatings.com) and BonaKemi Mega (www.bonax.com) have ambering qualities.

For the best color blending, I use a final-finish compatible gel stain; two of my favorites are BonaKemi's DriFast Stain and Dura Seal's Fast Dry Wood Stain (www.duraseal.com). First I apply a coat of finish or sealer to fix the color of the floor, then I stain either individual pieces of new wood or entire sections of new flooring to match the existing floor (I test my colors on sample pieces beforehand).

To get straight lines and to keep the stain from bleeding, I mask off the surrounding wood with a "quick release" masking tape (these tapes are blue or green and are sold at paint-supply stores). Applying the gel stain with a small foam applicator makes it easier to control the material; brushing away from the tape keeps the stain from accumulating underneath it.

Once I'm satisfied with the color match and the stain has thoroughly dried, I apply a thin layer of finish to the stained area, remove the tape, and then make multiple applications of finish to the entire floor.

This process can be time-consuming — and it will definitely add to the cost of the work.