Matching Old and New Floor Finishes

A floor refinisher struggles with achieving a visual blend between old oil-finished floors and a waterborne refinish job. November 3, 2010

I'm working on a job which is turning out to be a bit of a nightmare. The dilemma is this: The client's upper floors are hardwood (natural finish with high-gloss oil-based poly), done about 30 years ago. On the main living space was carpet, which they wanted ripped out and the red oak that was below, refinished. The main and upper floors are only separated by 5 steps, so they are in close proximity.

The client insisted on WB poly and satin finish. I told them there would be a pretty significant difference between the old and new, not just because of the change from gloss to satin, but from the old floors having turned a honey color from aging.

After 3 coats of poly, the client is very unhappy. The difference is in fact far greater than I had anticipated. I'm sure it wouldn't be such a big issue if the color between the two floors were closer. (I now know that even though the old floor was natural, I still should have stained the new floor to better match the color of the old floor.)

I used Loba WS Viva. It's a very good poly but it's completely anemic and lifeless next to the oil based old flooring. I asked my distributor whether I could add some water based tint to it, but they recommended against it. I'm not sure if the recommendation is coming from experience or they're just being overly cautious. Unfortunately I don't have an area where I can tint some Loba to test it.

Yes, the client understood that the old and new floors wouldn't match perfectly and agreed to move forward. But as a professional who cares about my work, I would like to fix the problem.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor D:
Three coats in is a little late for that kind of tinting.

From the original questioner:
Really? Cause StreetShoe, according to the instructions, is not to be tinted until the last coat or two.

From contributor O:
I doubt you'll do something like this again without getting approved control samples, so there's no need to elaborate much on that strategy.

I think you should look into tinting or refinishing the remaining floor that is adjacent. You should learn more about the chemistry of Street Shoe. If you had tinted the first coat, you may have had a color shift by putting other coats on top of it. It can be difficult to determine what the final color of a tinted WB poly is because when you mix it in the can, you're also seeing the effect of the white-greyish appearance of the emulsion.

You could try a couple of tints and do some samples right on the floor. Ask the client to pick one. Jeff Weiss of Target Coatings makes a toner product which is a waterborne lacquer that is perfectly clear, so you can add color and see something closer to the final result. You could talk to him about it, as Target offers excellent customer service.

I think you'll achieve wonders with the tinting and get yourself out of this mess. If you're mopping a color on the floor, it may be difficult to get an even result in just one coat, so you might want to do two coats where each has half of the concentration of the tint in it. Getting a result on a 24" x 24" patch is one thing. Reproducing that same result over the entire floor is another.

If you do decide to go for two coats, make sure your overall dry mil build doesn't exceed the maximum for the system. If it does, you'll have to sand and cut back some of what is on the floor now. You might be able to spray on a very thin color coat evenly and then topcoat that with clear.

There are many different ways you could apply the color. The important thing is to make sure you develop your sample in a way that you can reproduce over the entire surface.

When I've had things like this happen in the past, I usually come to a point where I decide that the best way out is to change my expectations about the job. I realize that I'm not going to make the money I thought I would, but that I can solve the problem and I'm going to have to learn more about my trade to do so. Perhaps you are at that point.

You may surprise yourself with how easy this is to fix if you spend 5 or 6 hours playing with colors and making some samples. That isn't wasted time - just an investment, because you'll take the new skills to the next job. If you want to know if you can mop the color in one shot, then go ahead and try it. One of the great things about waterbornes is that you can clean it up off the floor in no time by just mopping it back off and washing the floor with water. You can mop on color, clean it off, put a cheap box fan on the wet area and in 5 minutes you're ready to try again. You'll get it!

From contributor C:
I'm of the same belief as contributor D - coloring this floor (oak) after three coats will not achieve the same look as applying stain to wood. Yes, it can be done, but will the resultant finish match a 20 year old floor? Probably not. I understand your frustration and have been in many of the same circumstances - not fun!

Is it possible to sand the floor down again and start over? I would then speak to the client and show samples of your schedule for approval. You may try to get them to compromise and maybe lay down one coat of oil poly to achieve color uniformity and then apply two or three coats of water based after the oil has dried and scuffed.

From contributor B:
I'm not familiar with the brand of waterborne you're using. I use General Finish waterbased finishes. I've adjusted color with GF waterbased stains/dyes many times after multiple coats have been put down. You could test using a waterbased dye right onto the finish. You'd have to check for adhesion/compatibility issues. It seems like it would be much safer on such a big area than toning with a gun or mopping. I'd recommend you use synthetic steel wool (after sanding) with the grain to get a nice even substrate. One problem would be you couldn't mop on the finish over it. It would reactivate the dye and you'd have a real mess on your hands. The key will be compatibility of the dye/stain on to your existing waterbased finish and your ability to evenly apply the dye and finish. General Finish makes a full line of waterbased dyes and Transtint also makes waterbase compatible dye. I would recommend these, as they are metalized (more lightfast).

From contributor O:
I agree with contributor B. My own post was unclear as I also meant by mopping that you would mop the tinted finish.

I also agree that were you to tone and then mop on clear finish, you might run a risk of freeing up some of the dye. Whether or not this would be the case would depend on whether your toner had sufficient resin in it to lock the dye down well and how long you let it dry. You could also add a crosslinker to the tone to help with this. There is also a question of whether rewetting some of the dye would occur to the degree that you were pushing it around. That would depend on your toner and your mop technique.

Another possibility would be to have one person mopping and another walking behind toning at the wet edge. It would be a little tricky, but it could be done.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the replies. I finally got a reply from a Loba rep yesterday as well. Officially the company does not recommend tinting their product, however, he told me that several contractors have successfully tinted it using water dispersed tints.

He also told me about another option - Loba makes an Amberizer which is exactly for that purpose. I got my hands on some today and tried it. It was exactly what I was looking for. That little amber tint was enough to warm up the floors so that the change from one level to the other wasn't jarring.

Again, the objective was not to match the color of the old, but to just make them work together. Lesson learned. Thanks, everyone.

From contributor R:
I've also had good results with General Finishes EnduroVar product. It goes on water clear, but as it cures, it ambers like the oil based urethanes. I have used it in conjunction with an amber shellac sanding sealer and it gives the wood that older look. May or may not be a close match for what you are trying to compare it to, but it is an alternate suggestion. It may save some time if you only have to screen off most of the finish and not sand down to the bare wood.