The Best Worst Idea Ever

Well, we finally reached the point where we couldn’t avoid it any longer. I was not going to have a house floored with OSB, and especially not grubby, ugly OSB with expandable foam insulation smooging out of every seam. The inevitable had arrived. It was time.

We considered a regular hardwood floor, since salvaged lumber is our material of choice; but for one, we didn’t want to overindulge in Mike’s generosity, and for two, we didn’t want the whole house to look like one big barn fest. We needed something to break up all the long, narrow planks and dark patina. I insisted that this was very important to keep our house from looking dark and cramped, and John has given me the power of the Final Decision on all matters of aesthetics.

…we wound up using wood anyway. Of course.

Because, you see, there was this one time that I saw a thing on Pinterest (a bad idea) and showed it casually to my husband (an even worse idea) as one of those ideas that, you know, we might try someday in the quasi-distant future. I should have known that John would say to me, “Why wait? We should totally do this now. Our house is all one big experiment, anyway, and this looks FREAKING SWEET.”

Hello. Welcome to our rational, thoughtful decision making process. We are adults, I promise.

hardwood 1


hardwood 2(source)

These are the examples I showed him to introduce the concept of end grain wood tiles. We had already spent several months discussing the possibility of cordwood construction for future sustainable building projects, and we knew we liked that look for flooring, too; but we’d never considered using square cuts and arranging them like regular tile. It also just so happens that since the New York barn back in October, the shop has been saddled with a truckload of 4×6 beams that tend to rot faster than we can use them.

The internet offered surprisingly little information on how best to grout wood tiles, by the way, so like everything else, we blazed our own trail into the wilderness and made a metric butt-ton of mistakes.

Mistake #1: I had the bright idea that we should drywall all the way down to the subfloor before we put in the floors, because I figured that if the grout met up directly with the walls, then I could work neatly enough to create a seam between the wall and floor that did not require trim or baseboard. This was a reasonably successful idea. The less brilliant part of my plan was to get ahead of myself and paint, too, because there’s nothing like half an inch of floor sanding debris to make a beautifully painted interior look like the Arabian Desert threw up in your house.

Mistake #2: Do you ever do that thing where you get so caught up in one detail that you let it rule all of the other details, and it’s not until you’re almost to the end that you realize the first detail was not that important and actually made everything a lot more complicated than it needed to be? Yeah, that thing. John got so hung up on the size of the space under the front door that he was convinced the tiles needed to be well over an inch thick. Our floors could have been much lighter and required a lot less grout, but we learned a valuable lesson there, too.

Anyway, back at the beginning of March, we were so naive and optimistic – you know, like we always are right before we get in over our heads. We estimated that the flooring process would take a week or so. John spent a few evenings chopping beams, and then I stuck them to the subfloor with construction adhesive over the course of two days.



John took on the terrible task of sanding the entire floor and applying the first generous coat of polyurethane to all the tiles.


We were already a week into it by the time we even got around to grouting. Some totally reliable source on the internet (yes, that is sarcasm) recommended polyurethane mixed with fine sawdust as an alternative to regular grout, and if there’s one thing the shop has in abundance, it’s sawdust! Though, unsurprisingly, the coarse kind doesn’t work quite the same way.

Also, John discovered that one-size-fits-all latex gloves are a lie.


We started mixing our coarse sawdust with the remnants of a year-old five-gallon bucket of poly. What could possibly go wrong with our plan?


The answer is “everything”. It sucked.


The mixture was noxious and impossible to poke into the gaps between tiles, and we were burning through the polyurethane so fast that this method was already on track to cost us several hundred more dollars than anticipated. It was also going to make sanding a nightmare. I suggested that we could fill the gaps with dry sawdust first and pour the poly over it, which we did by hand for maybe fifteen minutes before John demanded that I give in to my barbaric side and dump the sawdust on the floor all at once.


I’m sorry, you want me to do what?


I have to admit that it was actually a really good idea, and broom sweeping the sawdust throughout the whole house took a grand total of three minutes. Even if there is something really wrong with making the biggest mess ever on purpose.

After that, I modified one of my furniture finishing hacks to help apply the polyurethane. We invested in 79 cents’ worth of diner-style mustard squeeze bottles, which did an excellent job filling in all the cracks as cleanly as possible. John was a trooper; he does not love fine detail work the way that I do.


I wish I could say that that was the end of the story, but it definitely wasn’t. I went through this process twice with polyurethane and then twice more with fiberglass resin. The sanding and filling and re-sanding took us close to four weeks, and I could probably describe the grain on any given tile in our house at the drop of a hat.

It wasn’t until two days ago that I finally applied the last coat of finish, almost seven weeks after we started.

Our mistakes cost us a whole lot of extra moolah in the grouting department. What we saved in free lumber, we made up for in filler. Like I said before, we learned a tremendous lesson on this one; but holy smokes, does that floor look amazing! The grain on each unique tile stands out beautifully, and you can see big, fat flecks of sawdust through the translucent amber grout. It’s really neat.


I can’t share a photo of the whole floor, though, because that would spoil the big reveal on its way this week…

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3 thoughts on “The Best Worst Idea Ever

  1. Jerry McCoy says:

    Loved the post, love the floor (a whole lot!) and love the progress!!

  2. John and Nikki, I love your creativity, your stamina, your ability to see the wonder in what you are doing. Good for you!

  3. Kate says:

    I love your writing – witty and just fun! And the floor is spectacular!

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