This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
The primary trouble with floors is that people walk on them. If they did not, there would be no trouble at all. Four coats of varnish, or even paint, having an aggregate thickness of less than one onehundredth of an inch, will not last indefinitely under the wear of nail-shod heels.
Probably the simplest treatment for floors is painting them. The paint should contain a large proportion of a hard oleo-resinous varnish; an ordinary oil paint is not hard enough. If an oil paint is used, it must be heavily charged with dryer, for a floor paint should dry in twelve hours. Good quick-drying floor paints are in the market.
Floors of choice wood, however, are not usually painted; they may be either varnished or waxed. If they are of oak or other open-grained wood, they must be filled with a paste filler; otherwise the varnish is applied directly to the wood. Floor varnish is quicker in drying, and harder than interior finishing varnish, but should not be so hard as to be brittle; rubbing varnish is too hard. If the floor is to be stained, this is done with an oil stain before varnishing; if it is a floor which has previously been varnished, so that the stain will not penetrate the wood, the stain may be mixed with the varnish, although the effect is not then so good.
Floor wax is not made of beeswax, but of a harder vegetable wax, and is sold by all paint dealers. The floor should receive one coat of shellac; then the floor wax maybe rubbed on with a stiff brush, and when it is dry, which will be in a few hours, it may be polished by rubbing with a clean cloth or with a heavy, weighted floor brush made for the purpose. It should receive another coat every week until four or six coats have been applied; after this a little of the floor wax, thinned if necessary with turpentine, should be used in the water with which the floor is washed. A wax finish kept polished with a polishing brush, is the handsomest surface than can be obtained for a floor; but it is so slippery that it is somewhat dangerous. It does not discolor the wood. Interior trim (but not hand-rails) is sometimes waxfinished. This finish requires a good deal of care, as it is likely to catch dust; otherwise it is handsome and durable.
Old floors which require cleaning and revarnishing should have the old varnish or paint removed by a good varnish-remover, one of the modern sort, free from alkali. This is painted over the surface, and, after a short time, removed with a scraper. The last of the varnish-remover is taken out with a rag wet with turpentine or benzine, care being taken that there is no fire of any sort in the room or any neighboring room. This will not only take off the old varnish, but the old filler also; and the floor must be treated like a new floor. Any stains on the floor may be treated with a hot solution of oxalic acid, one part to ten of water; when the stains disappear, wash well with clear water; let the floor dry a day; sandpaper; and it is ready for varnishing again. This treatment - removal of old paint or varnish by a liquid varnish-remover - is applicable to all varnished or painted work. The outside of a house could have the old paint taken off in this way, but burning off is cheaper and quicker. These varnish-removers are mixtures of benzole, acetone, alcohol, and other liquids, and the best of them are patented.