Let me be specific from the get-go about what type of flooring repair the "Dutchman" method best addresses. The Dutchman works best on specific spots of structural damage or aging issues with the wood. Splitting, checks and splintering are some of the best examples. I’m not talking about animal urine stains, long indentations or watermarks. Those fall into a different category.
The traditional method of handling the repairs I’m talking about usually involve ripping out at least one or more boards just to address the damaged spot. When you install the replacement wood, you often have to trim off the tongue and groove in order to get the piece to fit. Like it or not, this creates a weak spot because you’ve compromised the holding power of the tongue, groove and nail (or staple) holding it all in place. If the repair takes place before sanding, matching isn’t a problem. But what about doing repair work after the finish work is done? Sanding and matching that to the surrounding floor pretty much sucks all the fun out of refinishing a wood floor.
Properly executed, the Dutchman offers the following options:
• You only repair the damaged spot and don’t remove whole boards.
• It may be done before sanding, during sanding or after sanding and finishing the floors.
• Since you’re not removing any whole pieces of flooring, the structural integrity remains intact. You’re not cutting through nails or staples with a circular saw. This is a huge plus.
• If you like, you can select repair pieces that offer similar grain to help them blend in better.
• Color matching is less of a problem, as that is done before you drop in the repair piece.
• Matching the finish is easier since you’re only matching the finish on one specific piece and not trying to deal with sanding after the fact.
Anatomy of a Dutchman Repair
These are photos from a house built in 1788 with the original pine floors that had never been sanded and the restoration was not going to involve sanding. In the photos, you see wood that has split for a variety of reasons.
In the photo on the left, the old finish has been removed and the wood is waiting to be oiled. On the right, the old finish has been removed and the floor is oiled, so we are well into the finish process.
Using a router, the damaged wood has been removed to a depth of about 3/8”. The router was attached to a shop vac and fine dust was kept to a minimum. The router bit was a ¾” carbide tipped bit in the event one of the case hard nails got in the way. The bit gives a nice uniform opening that is cleaned up with chisels and scrapes. When the spot has been properly prepped, it gives you a very clean, uniform opening. The original nails holding the wood down are still in place, so the structural integrity has not been disturbed. All that’s left is to cut a piece of replacement wood to fit.
The replacement wood comes from a prepared stock that has been prepped by square-cutting the edges and planing it to a specific thickness. The planing was done on the backside and the topside has been finished the same as the finish on the floors. If any additional wood needs to be removed, it will come off the backside as opposed to the side that has been oiled, stained or had finish applied. As you can see, we had a nice batch of replacement wood to choose from, so this allowed us to get much closer to the graining of the original pieces. This approach gives you several other options that traditional repair does not.
Once the wood was cut to fit, it was glued in place. No nails were used, mainly because nails of any size may split older and more brittle pieces of wood. In the repair to the left, the damage had been over the groove section of the board. By routing out the damaged piece, we got down to solid wood to use a bed to glue the replacement wood to. This provides a much more stable surface for that particular piece as well as those around it as opposed to installing wood with a partial tongue and groove system. I should point out that repairs were made underneath the floor to help eliminate the flexing that caused the original damage. As I said earlier, the removal of the damaged wood is what initiated the repair, but what is equally important is that the structural integrity of that section was improved to prevent future problems.
Treat Yourself to a Dutchman
Not all damage to a wood floor will require a Dutchman, but if it is an option, I’d strongly advise you to consider it. I don’t have the skill set required for this work but I do know those do and I plan it out well in advance. Prior to starting the repairs, I make sure the replacement stock is ready to go. It can go in raw if there’s sanding afterward or completely finished if the job has been completed. With good planning and coordination, my repair guy is able to knock out six to eight a day, and we rarely need that much repair. This is a tremendous option to have and really gives me more flexibility on my projects. Let me leave you with a few other shots of Dutchman repairs on other projects.