The maple flooring of the historic Williams Arena, AKA “The Barn,” was given a new look by Athletic Performance Solutions over the summer. (Photos courtesy of Michael Blexrud)

Earlier this year, Mike Blexrud of Oak Park Heights, Minn.-based Athletic Performance Solutions (APS) got a call he’d been waiting three years for: The University of Minnesota wanted to refinish its Williams Arena basketball court.

APS had replaced the court’s 1928 maple flooring in 2009, and Blexrud, who entered the wood flooring industry in 2012, had been performing routine maintenance coats on the court since joining APS.

“I’d been looking forward to it for a few years,” says Blexrud of refinishing the flooring. “The old oil-based just had a little more of an amber look to it, so it’s kind of nice to do the water-based, just to give it a fresh, new look.”

The historic arena, considered one of the oldest college basketball venues in the country, is nicknamed “The Barn,” a term of endearment the university wanted to highlight in its maple floors with a “barn board, whitewashed look,” Blexrud says.

Bona

 

APS and the university consulted with Bona on the rustic design, and the parties settled on employing aggressive sanding techniques to achieve a “distressed” look on the court.

Blexrud began by sanding the court with 24-grit on his two Clarke American 12-inch drum sanders, which he linked parallel in front of his rider. He then hit the floor with 36 before moving on to 60 and 100.

“When I do my fine sanding, I start with a 60-grit on both of my sanders, then I’ll put 100-grit on my tailing sander,” he explains. “So then as my 60-grit is going across, my 100-grit is getting those scratches out.” Blexrud sanded the court with 24-, 36-, 60- and 100-grit paper.A close shot of the wood floor shows the rustic details, achieved with aggressive buffing techniques. Blexrud completed the central "M" by hand, filling in the tape border shown here with gold paint.

The stains that adorn the hardwood were decided on through trial and error.

“We just kind of started mixing different grays,” says Blexrud. “The more we did samples, the more it was easier to manipulate the wood if you just buffed aggressively, and you could always buff it again to show a little bit more natural wood.”

Blexrud used a T-bar to apply the first coat, which was a mixture of gray paint and Bona sealer. Once it was dry, the intense buffing with 150-grit screens commenced.

“I buffed the floor pretty aggressively, wanting to burn through that color in just random spots to show some of the natural wood,” Blexrud says.

Four days later, APS repeated the process with a white paint mixture.

“Doing wood floors, you’re always wanting everything to be so perfect,” Blexrud says. “But all the little imperfections kind of gave this floor the look it was going to need.” 

With the distressed look achieved, the crew started on the lettering, beginning with the maroon “M” at the center of the court. While they used stencils for the majority of the letters on the court, Blexrud decided to do the giant “M” by hand.

“Time-wise, I thought I could do it faster than doing a stencil,” Blexrud says, noting that a stencil would have likely required 10-12 pieces to be laid down and cut out. “I was confident in myself I could do the ‘M’ by hand.”

He started by finding the true center of the court, then mapped out where all of the angles of the letter were going to be, and began connecting the tape, which he adhered with a roller to prevent bleed lines.

“Then you go in and you just kind of cut open the tape where it overlaps so you have that color continuous throughout the inside,” Blexrud says. “Then with the gold border, I just figured out how wide I wanted it to be to match their logo.” 

It took the crew three days to complete the painting, after which they applied two coats of Bona SuperCourt HD.

“I gave it two extra coats of finishes to give the playing surface a perfect smooth surface,” says Blexrud, noting that, despite the smooth surface, the “imperfections” looked as if one could reach out and feel them up close.

“But you couldn’t actually feel them,” he says. “You could just see them, which was just kind of a neat effect.” 

As college basketball season begins, Blexrud hopes the university’s marketing team is able to get some close-up shots of the court to highlight all the unique details, which he says were worth the wait to get to work on.

“I thought it turned out really, really awesome,” he says.

Suppliers:

Abrasives: Norton | Sander: American Sanders | Finish: Bona


Ryan Kushner signed on as assistant editor at Wood Floor Business in February 2018 after a year and a half as a staff writer at The Smithfield Times in Southern Virginia. He grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated with a degree in English and Communication from Mercyhurst University. He is constantly in search of wood floor stories and terrible puns and wood love to hear suggestions floor either.