Grackle & Sun

Paper Floor

So, we had this great idea to inexpensively replace our crap kitchen floor with an awesome paper floor.  We like to do home renovation projects, and since we’ve done everything else in our house ourselves, we figured we could roll up our sleeves and give this a try.  If it worked, great, if not, we were only out a little dosh and a lotta time.  Cue foreshadowing…

We used this really awesome tutorial from Lovely Crafty Home.  She’s taken the time to put together a very helpful guide for doing this technique, and the floors in her house look amazing.  It’s really brilliant.  We followed all the instructions as per the tutorial.

Here is our paper floor journey in pictures:

Removing the crap press-on fake linoleum tiles AND the real linoleum to which they were irrevocably glued.

Seriously jacked up hardwood. :(

First Layer.

Second Layer.

Applying dark walnut stain. Actually, the easiest part of this whole process.

Husband is a rock star.

Look how beautiful!

So freaking excited! Hurry up and DRY, stain!

On with the poly. This is where it all went downhill…

Ok.  So are you with me so far?  Researched and read all the interwebs.  Found awesome tutorial.  Followed all instructions.  Used all the recommended products.  The only divergence at this point is that we did 2 layers of paper, because it was necessary to get a smooth paper layer and not see the wood planks underneath, and we waited longer before polying so that the stain would dry as much as possible.  Until this point, everything went BEAUTIFULLY.  It took approximately 16 hours to do both layers of the floor, and probably another 2 hours to stain, but it all went smoothly and according to plan.

This is where I should have listened to my gut.

Although the tutorial says to put the poly on with a sponge applicator, we never should have put the poly on with the sponge pad applicator.  I know that many people have done many floors in their houses and had great results with this.  I know that it can work.  BUT:  I’ve poly’d a time or two in my day.  I’ve never had a problem applying poly except for the 2 times when I listened to others’ advice on how to do it—once when I was told to rub it on with a rag (am having to completely redo all the woodwork in my dining room because of that bit of advice), and this time when I was told to put it on with a sponge pad.  Never, ever again.  Brush that shit on, people!  I knew we should have brushed it on.  I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.  I cannot kick myself enough times for how dumb I feel for not listening to my gut on this one.  Why?  Because this happened:

See the haze? Unhappy poly.

The sun is also exclaiming it’s disappointment.

One little spot that I managed to clean with denatured alcohol. However, in other areas, the denatured alcohol did absolutely nothing or made the clouding worse.

It’s really, really important to me that you all understand that I am not blaming the tutorial, which is awesome, or saying that the applicator method is wrong.  Clearly it works really well for some people.  What I’m saying is, if in doubt, use a brush.  It’s the best way to totally control the coverage.  This happened within an hour of putting on the first coat of poly.  I think that our particular issue was due to putting the poly on too thin.  The tutorial really stresses putting it on super thin.   I think that’s because usually when people jack up poly, it’s because they put it on too thick.  But too thin can also be a problem, because the poly dries faster than all the moisture can escape it.  There were a few areas where it came out clear, and that’s where it went on with an appropriate thickness. The next day I spent an hour at Home Depot talking with their floor expert guy and also on the phone with the rep for the poly that we used.  Both of them said that they were surprised the method worked at all because we used a water-based glue + an oil stain + a water-based poly.  All big no-no’s apparently.  They also agreed that the ashy haze was probably due to it being too thin and that using a brush would have worked better.  Neither of them liked the applicator pads.  Again, clearly it can work, because it has done so beautifully for many people.  However, for those of you for whom this technique did not work, it’s not a total surprise.

The sad part is that there was nothing to do to fix it.  I read through all the comments on both the tutorial and everywhere on the internet that I could.  Others have had this problem.  Some tried sanding it off.  I tried, but it just tore at the paper.  One woman who had the same “too thin” problem, was able to successfully remove the entire thing with denatured alcohol.  I tried, but it only helped in a couple spots and made others worse.  Everyone else just had to re-lay the whole floor from scratch.

The good news is this:  It’s a really cool technique and is gorgeous when done right.  If I were to do it again, I would buff the floor with beeswax or butcher’s wax instead of polying it.  I think that would work well.  Also, this floor is in the kitchen of a family with two kids and a big dog.  Even though it has only one half-assed coat of poly, after over a month, it doesn’t have so much as a scratch on it.  It is still perfectly intact.  I’m really impressed with how durable it’s been.  And honestly, before the ruined poly, I thought it was the prettiest floor I’d ever seen—just like burnished antique leather.  So pretty that I’d be tempted to try to redo the whole thing… except that I know I’d be totally heartbroken if it failed again.   For now, I think it’s just going to become the fancy failed underlayment for a new floor.

Total bonus?  Husband and I got to spend a lot of time together.  It was fun, and we learned a lot.  I don’t regret trying this floor at all.  I know that at some point we’ll try it again.  Next time it will work.  :D

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34 thoughts on “Paper Floor

  1. omg, I would have cried after all that work! I do not like poly at all, we used tung oil on our floors and love it. Your floor looked stunning before the clouding.

    • I was too much in a state of disbelief to cry. One moment it was gorgeous, the next not. It just hurts that there was no way to fix it. Thanks for commiserating, lol. :-)

      • You had me at …”Brush that shit on, people! ” I was so engaged in your copy then I came across that line and had to stop because I was laughing so hard. I am about to do my guest bathroom floor first THEN venture into our livingroom. It still looks good though.

      • :D Good luck with your project! I’d love to see pictures, so if you blog it, shoot me a link. We’re actually talking about trying to restain ours. I think enough of the poly has worn off that it might work… Thanks for kind comments.

      • Oh and I did not mean to sound glib about your project. Trust me I too have had my failures and it’s no fun at all. I wish you better luck on your next project.

  2. I wonder what poly is in this part of the world…. (have a bedroom floor with glued on “vinylwithahairybackside” from the 70’s to do)

    • In this case, it is referring to a water-based polyurethane top coat. There is also oil-based polyurethane. It’s the clear, shiny stuff that is painted over the top of a wood floor or woodwork or wood furniture (as opposed to something like tung oil, which is a penetrating oil finish).

      • So laquer, varnish. I wonder if an alcohol based stain would work. Dries quick.

      • Not sure. The tutorial said that people did not have good results with other stain bases. The oil stain worked beautifully. It was just the polyurethane coat that was the problem. It’s not uncommon for poly to not be perfect. But on wood, you just sand and recoat. Couldn’t do that with this floor. Still, before this happened, it was gorgeous. I would totally recommend the technique. Just be more careful than we were with the top coat.

  3. Could it be possible just to add an extra paper coat on top and refinish the whole thing once again? If you used water based glue and water based poly?
    Just a thought.

    • Yes,we could do that, but that is essentially redoing the whole thing over again with no guarantee that it would turn out ok. It is a lot of work!

      • Yea, I know. I do a lot of repair/improvement at home myself and some times it’s a trial and error path that I am taking. But I tend to make a kind of aesthetic effect out of the failure, if any happens, which is not rare, you know! My last huge project was to make a stucco type finish of the walls in my two-storey country house, and make it all versatile with different leaf imprints and stuff. That was challenging! i am telling you. It took me about two and a half month I thought I would have been buried there for it was endless and I was all by myself! So, I understand you all right! But if the floor proves to be durable that’s the most important thing! And also it is great that both of you had a chance to spend a couple of weeks working on the same stuff! Precious time! Thanks! xo

      • Stucco work? You win! That’s impressive. I bet it looks awesome! :D
        I agree with you on rolling with the mistakes. We’ve done that in many other places, and when you’re creative with it, it just adds to the charm. But in this case, it would really require a do-over. We’ll see. I’m tempted just to not feel so defeated, lol.

      • Oh, please, you are not defeated! It’s just the negative experience is aslo a valid experience, or what ever is the better way to put it. There is always the reason why we do things, sometimes it just takes time to see it in perspective. I am sure you’ll be glad you did it! And that’s a great idea to post about home improvement activity! I’ve just started blogging so I missed my chance to post about so many things! xo

  4. It stinks when a project goes wrong but your optimistic attitude is admirable! Good luck with your next project what ever it is!

  5. I didn’t know you could use paper on the floor! It would be perfect for my sewing room – lightweight, cheap, slick so I can sweep up thread ends. I’m going to look into it – thanks for the link to the tutorial and for your hard-earned helpful hints!

    • I really am impressed with how it’s holding up despite the finish. We’re not easy on floors, and it’s not got a scratch. I think it would make a great sewing room floor. I hope you try it!

  6. I’ve been checking out some of the trackback links to see people’s floors, and I am so sad to read that it didn’t work for you! :( :( You’re right, poly is difficult. I am going to amend my tutorial to reflect what happened here. For the most part the comments I got seemed to indicate that people are heavy handed with the poly, so changed my wording…but that apparently is not the whole picture! I do hope you have some luck with the flooring in the future, you did such a beautiful job!! I know what it’s like to have a major fail though, so I understand being gun shy about trying again. Thank you for trying it, linking back, and sharing your experience!

  7. Thank you for the kind words! The tutorial is awesome, and I really appreciate that you took the time to put it out there for all us DIYers to use. As for the cloudy poly, we live and we learn. No worries. I’m really glad we did it, and it’s definitely given me some ideas for other projects where this would also be gorgeous. And I still haven’t given up on it for a floor… We’ll see.

    We have yet to replace the floor, and I’m totally amazed by how durable it has been. Our kitchen is the main hub of house, and it has the routes through to the back door and laundry room/basement— it gets a lot of traffic and abuse. Despite the one kinda-sorta-coat of poly, it’s still totally fine. And that’s with 2 kids and a 100 lb dog. It’s really impressive. I would absolutely recommend this floor to anyone, and I give it my stamp of approval for kitchens! Thanks again for stopping by!

  8. Janice on said:

    The other biggie is to NOT shake your poly….it just adds air bubbles that add to the haze. Stir slowly to mix if you must, but don’t shake it. My favorite applicator for poly after doing more floors than I can count is a real sheepskin applicator. Nothing beats one! Worth every penny.

  9. Joanne on said:

    I’m doing a paper floor over a plywood and some areas are drying much lighter than others. Should I be concerned? Will the poly even this out?

  10. Saw another post on this technique with a similar clouding problem. The managed to get rid of the clouding by staining on top of it. Might be worth a try in an inconspicuous area.

    • We thought of trying that, too. Life, however, had other plans for us—we’re moving! So, the floor’s on the backburner. I still really want to try the technique again though. It is so pretty when done right. Thanks for the comment!

  11. I. Saw this happen to another blogger and she took a huge risk and stained OVER the poly and let it dry then reapplied the poly. And it worked. The stain actually stained the poly top coat. But they did it within the first few hours of the haze.

  12. This floor was gorgeous before the poly! I feel your pain of a good project that turned bad.
    Maybe all the kid feet and dog paws will wear it down :) Kudos for a wonderful job done, maybe after a bit you will have the energy to redo it your way.

  13. Pingback: Lost on the stairs | ASTITCHMATISM

  14. Diann Kysar on said:

    I used Minwax Poly shades on my cork floor and let it dry 4 days before adding a water based poly. The second coat of satin poly turned cloudy just like your floor. After some research I added two coats of GLOSS poly and now the finish looks clear. I read that if you want a satin finish, begin with several coats of gloss before adding a final coat of satin. Maybe this will help your next project!

  15. Darla on said:

    I just completed my first paper bag floor in my living room over this weekend. It was really going great and looked beautiful until the poly…same cloudy spots. I immediately knew it was from the lambskin applicator I used where the poly wasn’t stretched out. My last attempt to resolve the issue will be to try the denatured alcohol. If that doesn’t work I’m going to relay the entire floor. The floor looked too good not to go for it again!

    Thanks for sharing your experience. You’re the only person I’ve found that experienced the same problem. Yep, I felt the same thing but decided on the lambskin applicator. Brush the poly on!!

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