It was two weeks after the project that Park Rapids, Minn.-based Park Rapids Hardwood Flooring Owner Nate Sitz’s sanding machines suddenly started acting up.
Then it hit him—the salt. It was back to haunt him.
Two weeks prior Sitz had completed a refinish on 600 square feet of Douglas fir flooring that had been submerged beneath Great Salt Lake for 50-odd years before being reclaimed. The wood had been part of the Lucin Cutoff railroad line's 12-mile train trestle across Great Salt Lake. The trestle was built in 1904 and shut down in the 1950s. Sitz quickly learned that although you can take the wood out of the salt lake, you can’t always take the salt lake out of the wood—the flooring was 20% salt by weight.
"Everybody in the northern states has seen salt around entry doors and stuff … But nothing where the entire floor was covered in it,” Sitz says. “Definitely an odd thing.”
The floors had been in the client’s home for 15 years when Sitz was tapped for the refinishing. He approached the sanding as he would a normal floor, starting with 50-grit. The sanding process was normal enough if you didn’t count the smell.
"It kind of had a wet dog musty smell,” Sitz says of sanding the salty floors. “Fir's already got a distinct smell, and this was definitely not a pleasant odor."
After wrapping up the sanding with his Trio, Sitz applied one coat of oil-based sealer and two coats of oil-based satin finish.
He had originally planned to use a two-component water-based finish over the flooring, but that changed when he learned about the salt content.
“The salt will dissolve into the water-based finish, and it will turn it cloudy and turn it white,” Sitz says. He was aware of a method of using a universal sealer with a topcoat of water-based finish for areas with heavy salt traffic, but ultimately he decided it wasn’t worth the risk in this case.
“I didn't want to mess with it because it [the flooring] was expensive material and I didn't want to take the life away from it,” he says. “I think they paid $15 a square foot just for the material."
As it turned out, the oil-based finish accentuated the naturally gorgeous, and somewhat pickled, flooring.
"Fir normally doesn't have those grays and blue color,” Sitz says. “It had a lot of color variation."
Sitz completed the refinish in four days, but flash forward two weeks, and the project wasn’t quite done with his equipment.
“I had rust all over my equipment that I used” due to the salt, he says. He took the sanders apart and rubbed 3-In-One oil on any rust he spotted and greased all the pivot points.
"I guess it was kind of a mixed blessing because I was due to do some maintenance anyway,” he says. “I would have preferred to do it in the slow season, not when I was swamped, but ... it's a fun Friday night activity."
Sitz says it’s unlikely he’ll ever come across a uniquely salty flooring project like this again, but if he does, he’s not just going to cross that trestle bridge when he comes to it.
"If I end up doing something like that again, I'm probably going to charge a little more because I know that my machines are going to have to be gone through afterward,” he says.