Before we go into my second installment in my Wood Floor Mystery series (also see Wood Floor Mystery #1: The Spreading Black Spots), I’d like to do a short exercise with you. Repeat after me and then answer the question as quickly as you can: Toast. Toast! Toast. Toast! Roast. Roast! Roast. Roast! Toast. Toast! Roast. Roast! Quick: What do you put in a toaster?!

You’ll understand why we just did that after you read about Wood Floor Mystery #2. This case is a newly finished red oak floor that reported to be “chipping” and “peeling” by a flooring contractor who had a résumé longer than a Kardashian prenup. What he presented to me was puzzling … at first.

This was a few years ago, so my details may not be exact, but the information will be adequate for your assignment. My customer installed several hundred square feet of unfinished red oak flooring and then sanded and finished the project. The first coat was an oil-based fast-drying sealer. The second and third coats were a 550-VOC oil-modified polyurethane of professional quality from a reputable brand.

The first cut was with a 40-grit belt sander. The edging was 60-grit, then the field was cut again with 60-grit to match the edging. The final cuts were 80-grit and 100-grit on both field and edges, then it was screened with 120 on the entire floor. The floor was vacuumed and tacked, and then the aforementioned sealer was applied. Keep in mind that all equipment and material was of professional quality, too. The contractor had used this system and these products many times.

Sound cool so far? Works for me. I think we can all agree it’s a simple “poly job.” And, things looked great! After the sealer the other contractors had access to finish their wiring, trim work, etc. It was a reasonable amount of time later that the final coat was applied. The heat and humidity were perfect. The final coat was applied … but it “looked funny.” It appeared to pull and separate, kind of like water on the hood of a freshly washed car. The next day they found the finish dry enough to screen again, but it was definitely pocked and unacceptable. They screened with 80, 100 and 120, then used 180 strips on a maroon (320) pad and found they had removed anything suspect enough to try to do another “final” coat. That coat did, in fact, chip and peel again, but it was clearly between the final coat and the previous coat.

This contractor was smart. He and his crew knew everything they had done up until this point was fine. The contractor came to my shop and purchased everything single thing new for the final coat: screens, poly, thinner, tack cloth, brushes, lambswool applicators. Keep this list in mind (hint!). We discussed the problem, and I provided them all the materials and information I could to get the final coat straight.

That “final” coat? A massive failure … just like the one prior.

I pose this to our readers: What could have gone wrong? We did find it. We did fix it.

Give me your best ONE-WORD answer as to the general problem at hand. Then, throw me what you think caused this and how you would fix it, which should not take more than a sentence or two (another hint!). But I warn you: Nothing is exactly as it appears. Bring it!

P.S. Remember our “toast and roast” exercise at the start? Did you answer “toast?” BZZZZZZ! Wrong! What do you put into a toaster? Bread! Things are not always as they appear.

[See the answer to what was wrong with this floor in the next post.]


Stephen Diggins works for Wood Pro Inc. in their Salem, N.H., branch as manager and training director. He has many years of installation, sanding, finishing, gymnasium design and technical consulting experience, which he uses to assist his flooring customers on a regular basis. With almost 30 years in the flooring industry, he has been a freelance columnist for magazine, newsprint and online medias and has conducted product seminars ranging from wood flooring to luxury vinyl tile.