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A Bit Geek

11 February 2016 Published in Construction

End Grain Wood Floors - A Brief History
One day I had come across a flooring in an old church and became intrigued, I had never seen anything like it before. It was a wood floor, but as opposed to the side of the grain being exposed, it was the end of the grain. After doing some research I was shocked to find out that these were quite a normal installment hundreds of years ago, up until the early 1900's. They were especially popular in factories, warehouses and even as roads because of their durability and ease of repair. In street applications they were often sealed with tar to preserve the blocks and make them waterproof. On interior applications in factories they were set and not fixed to the floors, they were especially useful in that in the event of an oil spill the end of the grain would quickly absorb the oil making the workplace more safe, they were soft to walk on, and yet the surface was impact resistant and difficult to scratch. If a block were damaged, it was simply pulled out and replaced in seconds. I decided that I needed to recreate this old world craftsmen appearance in my own home.

This was the look I was going for.

End Grain Floor


Inception of the Notion

A few months ago I purchased a house that was carpeted from wall to wall with the most horrible carpeting. Before purchasing it I had done some snooping and after lifting several corners, realized that underneath the carpeting was hardwood flooring, throughout. So, I knew after purchasing the home it wouldn't be much of a task to rip up this eye sores, spend a few hours sanding and refinishing and I would be happy with the new look. below is what the dining room looked like on closing day.

End Grain Wood Floor

After ripping up the carpeting, this is what I found in the dining room... MDF. Not what I wanted to see. I had hopes that their might be some hardwood under it so my adventure continued.

End Grain Wood Flooring


 The Discovery

After ripping up the first MDF subfloor (and having started some painting), I stumbled across this, more of less of what I wanted to see, linoleum flooring. 

This is where my digging stopped and I came up with an idea I had seen in an old church. Installing an End Grain Wood Floor that I had fallen in love with at an old church! 
When I was finally able to find a facility that manufactures and sells them, It came to my attention that the $11-15 per square foot asking price was a bit out of my range, and that was just for the materials, further research proved that the cost, with materials to have them installed was already north of $20-25 a square foot, making my 180 square foot project a $4500.00 investment. 

End Grain wood floor


Cutting The End Grain Wood Flooring

 I went out and found twelve, 8 foot long 4 x 6 timbers of reclaimed yellow heart pine that I proceeded to cut into 1,800 4 x 6 tiles. I set up my Dewalt DW705 chop saw with a 1/2" stop to make te cuts quickly and consistently. 

This process took about 5 hours. 

When I was done I was left with a completely filled 32 gallon trash can of sawdust that I saved for later. I had plans for that too.

End Grain Wood Floor

End Grain Wood Floor

End Grain Wood Floor


This is the saw blade I used because it was a thin kerf blade so the wast ratio was low and the vented design kept the metal from heating up from the duration of time I was using it.

Laying the Wood Tiles

I used latex tile adhesive to set them with 1/8" gaps to account for inconsistencies in the edges that I would later fill with a custom home made group, made from 2 parts sawdust from the cuttings and 1 part oil based polyurethane.
WARNING: In hindsight, an oil based adhesive would have been a better idea, as the water based adhesive swelled the bottoms of the tiles causing them to curl up. After it dried the tiles flattened out, but it had freaked me out at first, and made me think I would need to rip out all of my work and start over. So you can use water based, just be aware they it will swell and they might even crack.

 End Grain Wood Floor


This is the adhesive I used, however as I mentioned I would opt for something that isn't water based, the next time I try this.

 End Grain Wood Floor

Adding the Borders

After the body of the floor was set, I decided to add a border to give the room more character. So I took some of the leftover timbers and ripped them with my table saw to make 4 inch planks for the edges. I sealed those on the bottom sides so they would not swell and curl up before securing them to the floor.

End Grain Wood Floor

 End Grain Wood Floor


 End Grain Wood Floor


Sealing the Finished Set

After the tiles were set, I sealed them with a coat of polyurethane, lightly thinned with about 30% mineral spirits. My goal here was to seal the face of the wood to make a smooth sealed surface so that when I grouted, the polyurethane from the grout would not absorb into the grain of the wood and dry out the grout.

End Grain Wood Floor



After the tiles and border were set and sealed. I made a mixture of sawdust from my cuttings with polyurethane with a ratio of about 2 parts sawdust to 1 part polyurethane. After the first mix-up test I realized that the bits of sawdust were much too large. So I mixed them with water and 1/2 gallon at a time blended them in my blender until they were smooth. After I had enough (approx 5 gallons and 10 batches) I felt had enough for my project. I strained the sawdust in a cheesecloth, put them into a large roasting pan and baked them in the oven at 300 degrees F for about 2 hours until they were dry. I then mixed that batch with my poly and went to work grouting with a tile grouting float and left this step to dry for 72 hours.

Keep in mind that with this stage, I not only used the grout to seal the gaps but also the small cracks and imperfections in the tiles themselves.

End Grain Wood Floor


Sanding, Sanding & More Sanding

After letting the grout dry for 3 days, figuring that was enough for the 1/8" wide by 1/2" deep channels to fully dry, I went to work on sanding the floor smooth. I used an orbital sander which took 4 hours, I imagine it took much longer than a drum sander would have, but it saved me a step of needing to do the center of the floor and then follow up with an edger. I started with 24 grit, then 60, then 80 then 100 for a smooth finish.

End Grain Wood Floor


 End Grain Wood Floor


Sealing & Polyurethaning 

After the floors were smooth I proceeded to apply the polyurethane. The first coat was to reseal and was thinned with about 40% mineral spirits, my goal here being to close the surface and prepare it for the middle and finishing coats.

2nd & 3rd coats were thinned with 20% mineral spirits and screen sanded between coats with a 100 grit sanding screen. I let each coat coat dry for approximately 12 hours, alternating morning, before work coats with evening before going to sleep coats.

The finally coat, which I wanted to be thick and rich went on unthinned.

 End Grain Wood Floor


This is the polyurethane that I used, it is a little more expensive than some other brands, however it dries quickly, allowing for follow up coats more quickly.

 End Grain Wood Floor

The Finished Product

Below you can see how the oil based polyurethane imparted a rich honey color, which is what I wanted and the reason I decided not to stain the tiles before coating them. 

 End Grain Wood Floor

 End Grain Wood Floor

End Grain Wood Floor

Closeup of the Finished End Grain Wood Floor Surface

End Grain Wood Floor

Project Details

Total Area: 180 Square Feet

Total Cost: Wood $288.00, Adhesive $60.00, Polyurethane: 3 Gallons $120.00

Total Project Cost: $460.00

Total Time Invested: 20 Hours

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