F. G. ODELL
I'tatc QfoUegc of Agriculture
At Qlornelt UniaBrHttH
Laying and finishing hardwood floors /
3 1924 003 627 043
The original of tliis book is in
tlie Cornell University Library.
There are no known copyright restrictions in
the United States on the use of the text.
LAYING and FINISHING
FRANK G. ODELL
DAVID WILLIAMS COMPANY, Publishers
14 - 16 Park Place, NEW YORK
-,..- Copyrighted 1906
David Williams Gqmpant.
- f'- ■ ; •
The general demand for finely finished floors of hard
or soft wood in modern residences has given rise to such
a variety of tools and finishes designed for this special
purpose that natural confusion arises as to the best tools,
finishes or methods to en^ploy in this highly important
branch of trade.
Fig, J, — Showing Manner of Scraping Floor.
The growing demand for the conveniences of the city
residence in the homes of the smaller towns and the rural
districts often brings the carpenter and the painter up
against this sort of work, demanding methods of treat-
ment with which they are unfamiliar, and many a good
job of floor has been spoiled or indifferently treated by
otherwise good mechanics, simply because they lacked the
knowledge or experience so essential to success.
It has been the fortune of the writer to have a some-
what extended experience in the better grades of modern
floor finishing, and it is with the hope of affording some
degree of general information to the craft that this dis-
cussion of the topic is undertaken.
For convenience in treatment the subject will be
considered with reference to the following elements :
1. The carpenter.
2. The tools required.
3. The laying of the floor.
4. Preparation of the surface.
5. The painter's work.
6. Different varieties of finish.
7. Relative cost of floors and finishes.
8. Suggestions as to estimating.
Taking up the first phase of the subject, it may be
stated that not every good carpenter can make a success
of finishing floors ; a peculiar degree of skill is required,
of that sort which enables one to finish a surface as
smooth and free from imperfections as fine furniture
and to do this work under trying conditions and with
sufficient rapidity to make it profitable. The hardest work
about a building is to be found on a floor, and three days'
continuous labor of this sort will give lame back, sore
knees and a wire edge temper to any but a saintly char-
This is no place for a man who is lazy or grouchy.
For the average sized room give us two good natured,
active mechanics who can keep tools sharp and hustle,
and they will usually work to a better advantage than a
greater number. The view Fig. i shows a team at work.
If your carpenter cannot sharpen plane or scraper to a
razor edge and cut a clean shaving every time the tool is
put to the floor, better put him at another job. In addi-
tion to these qualifications it is highly important that the
workman be endowed with grace sufficient to keep his
Fig. z.— "Dutch" Plane with a Horn.
temper when freshly sharpened tools hit a grain of
sand. Floor finishing requires a good eye, a delicate
touch and a sense of pride in perfect workmanship.
Often a floor which appears perfect to the eye will be
wavy, and have imperfections which show up badly
through the finish which inevitably magnifies all imper-
Pig. 3.— A Stanley No, 80 Scraper.
fections. These imperfections can be detected often by
lightly passing the finger tips over the surface and may be
quickly scraped out as they are felt. " Feel your floor "
as you work it; when eye and finger tips both approve
you will usually have a. good job.
There is a legal maxim which runs to the effect that
" he who seeks equity must come with clean hands." To
this might be added the maxim that " he who seeks to do
a good job of floor work must come with clean feet."
Many a beautiful piece of scraping has been ruined by
unsightly scratches made by the shoes of thoughtless
workmen, and very often the same workmen who are
doing the work.
Soft slippers or stocking feet are preferable when get-
ting the floor ready for the painter. If you think you
must wear shoes be sure that they are scrupulously clean
and that all nails in heels and soles are filed down smooth
to the leather. Some may think this counsel superfluous :
"Any good mechanic should know that much ; " well, pos-
sibly, but they don't all remember it out this way, and
the hardest task we have is often to keep the floor clean
for the painter after the carpenter' is done.
Keep plenty of good, clean building paper handy, and
use it liberally in covering the finished stretches of your
floor; if likely to be walked over much put two or three
thickness where the travel will be, and if the house be
occupied let the boss carpenter be wise enough to " round
up " the whole family and " shoe them " with a flat file
until every nail is cleaned off which is likely to do damage.
If it is a new house put up the bars and keep all visi-
tors and other workmen off the floors until the painter is
through, else you are likely to have your labor doubled
by the dirty feet of careless visitors.
Above all, be sure that you charge enough for the job,
for the more you charge the more the owner will appre-
ciate the value of your work and the more care he will
take to see that your floor is not abused.
Before leaving this portion of the topic let me refer
in the most kindly spirit to another matter which is a
legitimate subject for caution. A great many carpenters
are unfortunately addicted to the tobacco chewing habit,
and a goodly percentage of this number are careless
about where they expectorate. It is very unpleasant for
the owner of a building, and he usually makes it un-
pleasant for the contractor when his hot air registers are
loaded up with tobacco quids and spittle left by the car-
penter who finishes the floor. It is probable that a few
readers of our readers would be guilty of such an indis-
cretion, but there are a lot of such fellows in Nebraska,
and it is in the hope that this may meet their eye that
this friendly word of caution is dropped.
There have been many tools devised for floor work,
which are intended to reduce the labor to a minimum
and make the job easy. I have never yet seen many of
these which are successful. Of this sort are all long
handled planes, sanders, etc., which are designed to be
operated by the workman while in a standing position.
Just as well understand, boys, that if you are to get a
first-class job on that floor you must get right down next
to it and put in the hard licks, relying on sharp tools and
a willing disposition to get you out of it as speedily as
possible. No intelligent mechanic would think of surfac-
ing a casing or a finishing a table top with a plane at-
tached to a handle 4 feet long ; no more can you finish a
floor with any of these makeshifts. This brings us to a
brief consideration of the tools required.
Jack and smooth planes are indespensable in finishing
pine floors, though most well milled hard wood floors may
be satisfactorily finished with the scraper if the stock has
been well smoothed by the sander before leaving the mill.
Most of the manufacturers of high grade flooring now
give special attention to the surface finish of their prod-
uct, and eome of the material now on the market is a
marvel of perfection, in machine work. None is so perfect,;
however, as to dispense entirely with hand finishing, and
nearly all lumber yard stock requires a lot of hard work
to put it condition. There may be cases in which the
smooth plane and sand paper will do the work, but
plane marks will frequently show up on the surface, and
it is safer to use the scraper freely. As to planes, every
fellow has his favorite. Any plane is good that will do
the work to the satisfaction of the user, but the writer
confesses to a weakness for the old-fashioned Dutch
plane with a " horn " on the front end. A home made
tool of this kind, which is much more effective than hand-
some, is illustrated in Fig. 2.
This creation is the visible expression of a long felt
desire for a plane that will '" hug " the floor, run smooth,
fit the hand and not " chatter " when a bit of hard grain
is struck. In all these particulars it has proven a success.
An ordinary 2-inch wooden jack plane was used to fur-
nish the materials for it.
If partial to iron planes select one with a single cut-
ter or a cutter without the ordinary cap which screws on
to the bit. This precaution saves a deal, of time in taking
apart your plane for sharpening, and that's an operation
which will be frequently necesary. The Siegley plane
is one of the best types of this tool and not expensive.
The scraper must always be the mainstay for floor-
finishing as well as all other fine wood work. This tool
ie of such great variety and form as to deserve more than
a passing notice, ranging from the common cabinet scrap-
er to more complicated tools of every description.
One of the mo.st common and universally used tools
of this type is the scraper plane, in form resembling the
smooth plane and having a scraper blade fixed in the stock
in lieu of the ordinary plane bit. Another widely used
tool is the " Stanley No. 80," illustrated in Fig. 3 of
Both the scraper plane and the " No. 80 " are excellent
tools in their place, but their place is not on the floor.
Every carpenter knows that floor surfaces are more or
less irregular and wavy and that while these irregulari-
ties are not so marked as to render it necessary to level
the whole surface like a piece of plate glass, yet it is
necessary to smooth up the joints and thoroughly clean
the whole surface. The peculiar character of the cutting
edge of the scraper (which will be studied in detail later
Fig. 4.— The Starrett "Universal" Scraper.
on) is such as to require constant change of angle and
position in order to keep the tool cutting at its best with-
out constant sharpening. The very strong "talking point"
of the tools referred to — i.e., the plane surface next to the
floor serve as a guide to the tool and the rigid fasten-
ing of the scraper in the stock — are the two things which
render these tools and all others of their class ineffective
for floor work.
8 Preliminary Work.
True that these tools are made susceptible of adjust-
ment as to position of the cutter by shifting thumb
screws, etc., but this takes too much time and experi-
menting before the proper position is secured to be of
great value. That form of adjustment which is of most
value will be the one which can be made automatically by
the hands while the tool is in use.
Another defect of the tools under consideration is that
they push instead of pull and cannot be worked up close
to a corner or a baseboard.
Fig. 5.— A Good Home Made Scraper.
I beg permission to say at this point that I have no
interest in any tool manufacturing concern and no desire
to give other than fair consideration to any and all tools
offered to the trade for the purposes under consideration.
The objections or criticisms which may appear in this
article are frankly given as they have appeared to me
or to workman in my employ in practical use of the tools
under consideration, all of which have had a fair and
practical test in actual service.
Most veneer planes, etc., are excellent tools for their
special uses in cleaning veneered doors, cabinet work and
general bench work in the shop, but they have no busi-
ness on a floor, and the mechanic who buys them for this
purpose will waste his money and the time of his emyloyer
There is another class of scrapers equally good for
floors or general wood work, which are equipped with a
handle of convenient shape easily detachable from the
scraper blade and adjustable to various angles as the
case may require. These tools are generally designed
to pull toward the operator and so devised that both
hands may find convenient hold of the tool.
The chief criticism to be made on the various tools
of this class now offered to the trade by tool manufac-
turers is that the scraper is generally made of too light
gauge of steel and the handles bear every appearance of
having been designed by some one who never pulled a
scraper across a board.
One of the best and neatest tools of this type is the
" Starrett Universal," shown in Fig. 4.
Fig. 6.— Burnishing or Sharpening Tool,
This tool is a marvel of cheapness when its quality is
considered, and like all Starrett tools is so neat and con-
venient of adjustment that any mechanic should be glad
to have one in his chest. The only criticisms I would
offer against this tool are such as I frankly wrote the
manufacturers some months since — viz. : that they
strengthen the union of the wood handle with the ball
and socket joint, provide a heavier blade and substitute a
ball fastening containing a nut for the thumb screw which
secures the blade to the handle. I understand that the
tool has been modified or improved along the line of the
10 Preliminary Work.
first two suggestions, but the thumb screw is still re-
If the designer for the Starrett factory will spend
thirty minutes on his knees in prayerful consideration of
the needs of the craft and try for that length of time to
use his " Universal Scraper " in actual work cleaning
floors he will agree with me that the guard over the top
however useful as a protection for the hand, is utterly
useless as a hand hold for the left hand, and he will lose
no time in putting on the ball fastener where the left
hand can get firm grip directly on the center line of draft.
This tool could be further improved for floor work if
the manufacturers would furnish a special blade of heavy
steel — say, about 2 inches wide and 3-32 thick, with a
beveled cutting edge. Such a blade would cut faster and
more evenly and not heat quickly.
The need of such a tool as this led the writer some
five years ago to design and make for his own use the
floor scraper illustrated in Fig. 5, together with a con-
venient and easily made burnisher or sharpening tool.
This tool is so obviously simple as to require little ex-
planation or comment. It fits both hands, is easily ad-
justable to any position by a simple and automatic shift-
ing of the position of the hand, will cut anywhere that
any scraper will and some places that no other will, and
can be easily and quickly made by any carpenter at a
cost of but a few minutes' labor. As shown it is equipped
with 1%-inch blade as in actual use on a floor. It will
take any flooring that runs decently even, and in the
hands of a man who is not afraid to work will clean and
finish without the use of a plane or other tool more square
feet of floor than any tool that I have ever seen. While
Preliminary Work. ii
the blade is slotted so as to permit quick removal, not
the least of the advantages of this tool is that it can
be sharpened without removing the blade and the handle
affords a convenient hold for the sharpening process. In
actual use we rarely remove the blade from the handle
unless to substitute another.
The carpenter will find this tool convenient for clean-
ing plaster from the edges of jambs, for cleaning up quar-
ter rounds and for a variety of uses.
That peculiar characteristic of the scraper "edge"
which makes it necessary to frequently change the angle
of cut in order to get the best service and avoid fre-
quent sharpening is something which must be reckoned
with in determining the good qualities of any tool of
the scraper type. Always avoid a tool which demands
some other tool to adjust it. As a general proposition
the simpler the tool the better suited it will be for the
purpose and a greater quantity of work will be the
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
The frequent inquiry regarding the proper method
of sharpening a scraper indicates a dearth of knowledge
on this subject. Without any disposition to assume su-
perior knowledge in this connection I am constrained to
remember that we cannot clean our floor without sharp
tools, and will give our readers the benefit of my experi-
ence along this line.
Fig, 7. — Position of Scraper on Oilstone.
I presume that every reader understands that the
cutting edge of the scraper is formed by turning over
a " burr " or wire edge, which does the cutting when
applied to the wood. This burr is made by rubbing
against the edge of the scraper with a tool called a
burnisher, which may be made of any piece of steel of
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor. 13
convenient form but which must be harder than the
scraper. A common method is to grind a file down until
a perfectly smooth surface is secured with the corners
slightly rounded and the tool set in a convenient handle.
A simpler and much better method is to grind a smooth
Fig. 8. — The Scraper Laid Flat on Oilstone,
point on a discarded nail, set and mount it in a handle,
like the burnisher illustrated. Do not forget to put a
point on it and make it sharp.
Whether the edge of your scraper should be square
or beveled will depend on the class of work you have to
do. If it is fine bench work on very hard wood and
you wish the finest possible finish use a square edge and
turn the burr on your scraper for a light shaving. If
you are on a floor or other work where fast cutting is
required and plenty of sandpaper will follow use a bev-
eled edge and have plenty of steel back of the edge to
hold it firm.
Whether you file or grind your scraper will depend
largely on the temper of your steel and your own dis-
position. In either case you will have to whet the edge
smooth on an oil stone before a satisfactory cutting edge
14 Shakpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
can be obtained. Now don't forget that to have a
scraper cut well it must have an edge as smooth as any
other edged tool used for fine work and this edge can
only be obtained on the oil stone.
If your are using the common cabinet scraper and
the class of work will permit the square edge will be
desirable, inasmuch as you can secure eight cutting edges
and avoid frequent sharpening.
Let us suppose that we have ground or filed a straight
and smooth edge on our scraper, and then put it on the
Fig. 5. — Tatning the Edge.
After you have rubbed down a pretty smooth edge
turn the scraper down flatwise on the stone and take
off the wire edge.
Repeat these operations with every cutting face of
your scraper until you have a corner as smooth and sharp
as you would put on a smooth plane. Having reached
this point we are ready for the burnisher.
Now set your scraper firmly on the bench and hold
it in position with your sinister hand while the dexter
one grips the burnisher and with a stout upward pull
against the corner turn the edge.
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor. 15
Better protect that sinister hand with a bunch of
shavings or something else, for the edge is likely to cut
your hand if. the oil stone has done its duty.
You will now find that there is a little hooked edge
turned over on your scraper if you have made a hard and
steady pull with the burnisher. To make sure that this
edge will be perfectly smooth turn the scraper down on
the bench at an angle and " point out the edge."
Here is where that sharp point comes handy on the
burnisher. Incidentally, it is useful for starting screws,
marking keyholes, in fitting locks, etc., but indispensable
Fig. TO. — Pointing Out the Edge.
as a sharpener for the scraper. Be careful to put the
point exactly in the angle where the little burr turns
over the edge of the scraper and ever so lightly and
carefully draw it along the whole length of the angle
to smooth up the cutting edge of the burr, then more
lightly than at first turn the edge again with a single
stroke of the burnisher.
If you have been happy in following these poor in-
structions you will now have an edge which will cut a
shaving as fine as silk and as fast as you can pull the
tool. Presently it will get dull. This will be largely.
i6 Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
caused by the gathering of fine particles of dust in the
angle of the burr if your wood be free from sand or grit,
so take your burnisher and carefully " point out " again
and turn the edge lightly afterward. You will be sur-
prised, if not familiar with this method, to see how long
the tool holds its edge without sharpening, but don't
forget that everything depends on the oil stone to begin
After this operation has been repeated two or three
times the scraper will really become dull and the point-
ing out process fail to work. Then turn the tool flat
Fig. II.— Rubbing Out the "Burr."
down on the bench and with the burnisher rub the edge
A few brisk strokes of the burnisher will turn back
the burr and the edge will be observed to be more or
less full of imperfections. If not too badly worn and
the steel be of good temper you may return to the oil
stone and again smooth up the edge and repeat the pro-
cesses of turning, pointing out and finally turning the
Having our tools all well in order and possibly a
trifle in advance of the time of need we will proceed to
the preparation and laying of the floor.
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor. 17
Laying the Floor.
In considering this portion of our topic much de-
pends on whether the surface to be covered is in a new
or an old building. If in the latter we must prepare
the surface of the old floor with considerable care, bear-
ing in mind the thickness of our new floor and the fin-
ished results to be attained. Should the new floor be
seven-eights in thickness the treatment will be compara-
tively simple, as inequalities in the surface of the old
floor may be remedied by judicious use of " furring "
strips of various thickness placed not more than 16
inches on centers. A large portion of the work which
comes to experienced floor finishers is of this character
and the old floors are nearly always in a state which
requires considerable preliminary work in leveling up
before the work of laying the new floor can be begun.
In new buildings the general custom is now to lay
a floor lining of common boards when the building is
inclosed, and in any case it is well to carefully level up
the floor lining and cover with building paper before
starting the new floor. Wherever practicable the use
of " furring " strips between the floors is recommended.
In ordinary cases nothing is better for this purpose than
common plastering lath. These can always be used to
advantage where the finish floor is seven-eighths thick,
as the floor lays easier and an air space is preserved
between the floor and lining, adding materially to the
warmth of the finished buildings.
In laying floors in an old building we are frequently
confronted with a floor which is so badly out of level as
to render necessary the taking up of a portion of it and
relaying before a surface can be obtained sufficiently level
to receive the new floor. This is particularly true in
i8 Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
laying the thin sort of hardwood flooring now so popu-
lar. This material i's milled for three-eighths thick and
usually runs about five-sixteenths in thickness, render-
ing it absolutely necessary to have a solid underlining
for the entire new floor to rest upon. It is highly im-
portant that the under surface be sufficiently level and
smooth to prevent creaking of the finished floor. The ap-
parent necessities of the case commend the free use of
building paper, which is inexpensive and serves to cushion
over many little inequalities and render the finishing
much easier of accomplishment.
All these little necessities should be carefully con-
sidered in estimating the job and the owner be given
to understand that the cost of laying a new floor is not
always minimized by the presence of a comparatively
good old floor over which to lay the new one.
Floors in New Buildings.
If the building be new and the rough floor be warped
by the dampness incident to plastering be sure to level
oflf all uneven joints before starting the new floor. Much
of this trouble may be avoided by using a good quality
of shiplap boards for the rough floor and using cement
coated or " box " nails for the nailing. Drive the nails
not more than 3/2 inch from the edge, drawing up the
heads well, and warping will cause little trouble.
Should the necessities of the case require the laying
of the floor before plastering be sure and cover it with
a double thickness of building paper before the plaster-
ers arrive, and charge up in your estimate an addi-
tional 50 per cent, for the extra cost of finishing the
floor because of the sand which will get into the sur-
If there is a large quantity nf floor to be finisheH it
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor. 19
will always pay to lay a '■ough floor for purposes of con-
struction and not bring the finish floor into the building
until all other craftsmen have departed.
The finish floor, whether of pine or hard wood, should
be kiln dried for at least ten days before laying, if a
dry kiln be accessible and not brought into the building
until all plaster is perfectly dry. Nothing is so trying
to a floor as the superheated atmosphere of the modern
residence. Do not allow your lumber dealer to persuade
you that the floor is " dry enough " or that it " was kiln
dried when he bought it." Ordinary shed storage in a
lumber yard for two weeks will put sufficient moisture
in the material to render the results quite unsatisfac-
tory after the heat has been turned on for a while.
Five or ten dollars will cover all additional expense
for drying and hauling for the floors for the average
residence, and any sensible property owner will cheerfully
pay this small additional cost if he understands the
benefits to be derived in superior wearing qualities and
finish. It sometimes happens that a customer wants a
new floor in a hurry, but insist on two weeks' time to dry
your material, for it will pay you and your client.
Experience demonstrates that a newly scraped floor
is liable to damage from careless feet ; that it is advisable
to defer laying the finish floor until all other work is
done so far as possible, finishing a room at a time and
barring all entrance thereto until the painter has com-
pleted his work. If this rule can be adhered to it will
save much grief and expense to the contractor.
It is our custom in finishing floors to put all trim in
place and let the painter finish his work up to the last
coat before laying the floor, leaving the painter in sole
possession and responsible for the care of the floor after
20 Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
the carpenters leave. If this is not done the owner or
some chance visitor may track up your floor and cause
untold trouble and expense. Lock all doors and admit
no visitors if you would save your floors from damage.
Selecting the Flooring.
In selecting flooring do not forget that every pecu-
liarity of the surface will be accentuated by the finish.
What may appear to be comparatively small defects in
the board will be glaring blemishes in the finished floor.
Look out for sap streaks, pitch pockets, knots and de-
fective milling. It frequently happens that careless ma-
chine work will leave the end of the board a little nar-
row. This is particularly common in yellow pine floor-
ing coming from Southern mills. Constant scrutiny is
necessary to prevent the creeping in of such defects.
It should be the business of one man to select and
match up the floor as to grain and color, and this man
should thoroughly understand his business. If there be
nine rooms with a perfect surface and one with a blemish
as big as a dime the owner will find that blemish
and put his finger on it to your discomfort before he
sees any of the nine perfect rooms. The moral of this
is that the way to avoid criticism is to make criticism
impossible from any reasonable point of view.
In selecting Southern pine flooring (and nothing is
more beautiful and durable if properly handled) choose
the quarter sawed stock, giving preference to the harder
boards with narrow and even grain. Soft boards or flat
grain do not finish as smoothly or wear as well. A most
beautiful variety of color and grain can be secured in
the Southern pines and a pleasing contrast is secured by
using this floor in looms finished in darker woods.
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor. 21
It should not be necessary to caution the carpenter
about two elementary things, viz., . avoid, hammer marks
on the edge of the floor and use up your pieces as you go
along. Yet these two points require constant watchful-
ness. Pieces may be easily used up, as they are made
and prevent wasteful accumulation without detriment to
the finished results. If the rough floor be stripped with
lath the board may be' cut full length regardless of the
location of the joist and a bit of lath slipped under the
joint, the piece left at the end being carried back to start
the next run of boards. By pursuing this plan all joints
except the final one may be cut as the boards lie on saw
horses, greatly expediting the work, and there will be
no pieces left to go into the scrap pile when the floor
These suggestions may appear unimportant or su-
perfluous, but it will be found that due heed to " short
cuts " of this sort makes a material difference in the
percentage of profit.
Nearly all hardwood flooring is now end matched,
making it possible to use up short lengths with great
economy of labor, and it is also bored for nailing. The
boring, which goes about a fourth of the way through
the board on the tongue edge, greatly expedites the nail-
ing, and in the harder woods avoids the damage caused
by bending nails or splitting of the board.
A spedal .flooring naiil is now made in gauge of wire
about the weight of an 8d. common and in length and
style of head like a lod. casing, and with numerous small
transverse corrugations, or crimps^^hich serve to give it
a firm grip " a:nd considerable drawing tension when
driven up. In appearance it is about like the lod. casing
but of a heavier gauge of wire. This nail can be pur-
22 Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
Fig. 12. — Partial Plan: Showing Method of Joining Floors in
Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor. 23
chased in quantity at about the same price as the or-
dinary nail, and will be found very serviceable for its
In laying thin floor use Ij4-inch No. 16 wire brads,
face nailing both edges every 12 inches and sinking the
nail heads with a fine nail set. Ordinary blind nailing
will not keep thin floor from warping or creaking. If the
filler is properly applied the small holes made by the
nail heads will be filled up.
Difficulty is often experienced in making the floor
in two or more adjacent rooms line up properly through
connecting doorways, but this difficulty may be avoided
by pursuing the following simple plan. Referring to
Fig. 12, which represents a partial plan of the main floor
of a dwelling, the floor may be started at any conveni-
ent point, as A, where the largest possible surface can be
laid in a given direction. Continue in regular manner
through the connecting openings into the adjacent rooms,
being careful to keep the boards lined straight. The un-
filled back portion may then be laid by inserting a loose
tongue made of a thin strip as at B and C and laying
the remainder of the floor in the opposite direction. The
joining should be well face nailed and if the floor be laid
on strips the joining should be underlaid with a strip
placed lengthwise to reinforce the loose tongue.
It will be observed that in the plan. Fig. 12, the
larger portion of the floor in the entire house can be laid
in the same direction. A little careful planning will en-
able one to get out of troubles of this kind easily. I
have occasionally seen attempts to start at relative points
in the adjacent rooms, as at A. D. and E, laying the floor
in the same direction and trusting to good measurement
and good luck to line up properly at B and C. The nat-
24 Sharpening a Scraper and Laying the Floor.
ural variation in driving up the boards and difference
in width will generally give quite unsatisfactory results
when this plan is followed, to say nothing of the addi-
tional time consumed, all of which, may be obviated by
the use of the method indicated.
The only apology for the suggestion of these very
simple and elementary methods is that they tend to in-
crease the element of profit and to counteracc in some
degree the apparently natural tendency on the part of
many good mechanics to take the longest and most diffi-
cult way to accomplish a given end.
Finishing the Floor.
The floor being laid and due care exercised to pro-
tect it from injury, we are now ready for the final work of
the carpenter. This is where we lock the doors, deny our-
selves the privilege of visitors and settle down to the real
business which has involved so many painstaking pre-
liminaries. Just a friendly caution here; you are not
ready to finish the floor until everything else is done which
is possible. See that all mantels are set and tile hearths
laid; all plumbers and furnace men out of the way; all
doors and windows hung and hardware screwed in place ;
shelves, closet hooks, cupboard fittings and all the nu-
merous odds and ends which consume time and cause run-
ning about the house safely out of the way; all inside
work on and finished, up to the last coat of varnish, the
shoe for baseboards fitted and ready to nail in place ; all
holes for hot and cold air registers cut to exact size ; all
picture rholdings up; in fine, everything done so com-
pletely that you can turn the keys over to the painter with
the certainty that the carpenter will not have to return.
In such a case you are ready to finish floors, and in most
cases the painter will have sufficient pride in his work to
properly care for the good job you have left for him.
Preliminary to Finishing.
It is immaterial where you begin if a good exit is
assured. There will be a work bench, tool chests and a
few hundred scraps to move as you reach the last room ;
be sure that you can get them out of the house to stay,
without tracking over the floor already finished. Sweep
26 Finishing the Floor.
everything clean and provide plenty of sharp tools. If
the floors have been traveled over to any extent there will
be particles of sand and other rubbish ground into the
surface which do not tend to sharpen tools. Go after them
with a common cabinet scraper drawn quartering across
the boards. When you hear something say " click," stop
and get it out of the way. If you don't get them this way
you are certain to get them with a sharp plane or scraper,
to your discomfort. The sand being removed, and care-
fully swept out of the room (use a lo-cent whisk broom
and a sheet of sandpaper for a dust pan) , we are ready for
the plane and scraper.
Don't forget at this precise juncture to round up the
" gang" again and get all shoes cleaned up both as to
nails and dirt. Gymnasium slippers or soft shoes of some
sort are very desirable, as ordinary leather is very likely
to leave dirty streaks after the wearer.
Of course, it costs money to buy shoes, but it will
pay the " boss " to give the boys a little bonus in the
way of extra pay if they will provide clean soft shoes
when they work on the floor. When the comfort of wear-
ing something of this sort is experienced it will not be
necessary to suggest it on future jobs. Most of our
workmen have gymnasiurh shoes in their chests ready for
any special job requiring clean feet, and consider the
dollar as well spent as if used for any other necessary
If the job is properly specified it will be necessary
to put a cabinet finish on the floor. This means that
every evidence of machine work must be removed and an
entire new surface left for the painter. No machine has
yet come under our observation which will do work equal
to hand finish. If the floor be well milled- and evenly
Finishing the Floor. 27
laid the scraper will do most of the work. Use- a scraper
with a handle and get one that " pulls " rather than one
that " pushes." Ordinary cabinet scrapers heat quickly
and blister the hands, besides being of too light steel to
be serviceable on the floor and exceedingly difficult to
which to fit a handle.
It is about at this stage of the proceedings that the
" boss " begins to lose money. The average workman has
not had sufficient practice in what the Salvation Army
terms " knee drill " to take kindly to exercise of this
sort and gets tired early in the game. Herein lies the
value of having about two men to the room, as there is a
smaller number to visit when resting time comes and it
comes frequently in this kind of work. It is possible,
however, to mitigate the hardships of toil by frequent
changes of position which rest the knees and back. We
are not partial to knee pads, cushions, etc., calculated to
soften the floor for the toiler. The writer is not too
old or too prosperous to get on the floor with " the
' boys," and it is the result of our observation that the
man who is filled with the proper spirit of hustle is too
busy to be dragging around a sack of shavings as a
cushion for the southern end of his anatomy.
Should the floor be very rough, as often happens with
Southern pine, it may be necessary to traverse it with the
jack plane to level the surface, using a quartering stroke
to avoid tearing the grain. A trip once over it with the
smooth plane will then put things in good shape for the
scraper. Traversing is often a time saver and always
results in a much more level surface if it be carefully
The final finish and the amount of labor to be put
on is determined entirely by the character of the job.
28 Finishing the Floor.
Should the room be one to be covered with rugs, leaving
only an exposed border, the task will be an easy one, as
the center can be cleaned quickly with the plane to leave
an even color. Rooms requiring the entire surface ex-
posed should be finished to the smoothness of fine fur-
niture, carefully scraping out all rough places and bear-
ing in mind always that every defect will show up
through the polish. Be especially careful to avoid a
wavy or ridged surface caused by uneven scraping or
" chattering " of the tool, and clean out all plane marks
carefully. I have never yet met the man who could
plane a board as smoothly as the scraper will finish.
Much trouble with the plane may be avoided by slightly
rounding the corners of the bit when sharpening. The
same holds true of the scraper, but on the latter tool the
round should be barely perceptible — just sufficient to
keep the corners from scratching.
The reader will pardon me for talking as if to ama-
teurs or a class of students in a manual training school.
The fact is that some few hundred fairly good mechanics ,
who have come under my personal observation have yet
to learn some of the fundamentals in tool sharpening,
and this may meet the eye of some such, who will take
these elementary suggestions as kindly meant.
The scraper should be invariably worked lengthwise
of the board (except in case of badly cross grained stuff)
and more rapid and satisfactory results will be secured
by pulling the tool slightly quartering. The Starrett
" Universal " is particularly neat of adjustment in this
particular, owing to its ball and socket joint.
The Pinal Smoothing.
For the final smoothing nothing is more rapid and
' effectual than steel wool, followed by No. ij^ sandpaper
Finishing the Floor. 29
for pine, and No. i for the hard woods. Use No. 3 steel
wool and be sure and get the home product, which bears
on the label, " Steel wool No. 3. Made in the United
This particular brand is emphasized because there is
a similar article " made in Germany," which is far in-
ferior and sold at the same price. The American wool
has no equal for smoothing quality. Fifty cents' worth
will smooth 1000 square feet of floor. Take what may
be comfortably held in the hand and rub it with a turn-
ing motion, quartering across the board, finishing with a
lengthwise motion, and look out for splinters, for it is
rare stuff to get into the fingers and hard to get out.
This may be profitably followed with sandpaper if a
specially smooth job is desired, though a good Job, quite
up to the average, may be secured with the steel wool
alone. For cleaning up dirty floors which have been
soiled before the painter reaches them it has no equal,
and it is equally good in cleaning plaster stains and
other dirt off wood work.
Steel wool should be frequently turned over when
using, in order to present a new cutting surface to the
board. It cuts on the same principle as a package of
miniature knives, and when used with discretion will do
its work with wonderful rapidity and leave a fine gloss
on the surface, owing to the smoothness with which it
Because of the fact that steel wool cuts more like a
plane than sandpaper, it is important that it be followed
with a finer grade of sandpaper than would be used
were the finishing to be done with sandpaper alone.
The Painter's Work.
Everything in the way of finishing results depends
30 Finishing the Floor.
on this craftsman. While he cannot produce a satis-
factory job without good carpenter work, he has it in
his power to ruin the entire job by using unsuitable ma-
terials or by careless use of good ones. There are some
few fundamentals in the matter of materials which it is
well to emphasize :
1. Never use a liquid filler on a floor.
2. If a filler be required, always use a paste filler and
give preference to that made by some manufacturer mak-
ing a specialty of floor finishes.
3. Always use the filler in the manner specified on the
original package without change or adulteration ; it is
only fair to the manufacturer to assume that he knows
his material better than you, and it should be used ac-
cording to his directions.
4. If a varnish finish is specified never use an in-
ferior varnish for a first coater, expecting to get satis-
5. If stains are used stick to alcohol stains or " wood
dyes " so called. They are more quickly and smoothly
applied than either oil or water stains and cost little, if
any, more, while the results are more permanent and the
imitation of the desired wood is usually better.
6. Never under any circumstances use shellac on a
floor. (Here's where we get into a row with about 90
per cent, of the painting fraternity, but the reasons will
be given in, due time.)
7. Do not use varnish on kitchen, bathroom and other
floors requiring frequent scrubbing; it will not stand
the racket. No exceptions in favor of anybody's floor
varnish, manufacturers' claims to the contrary, notwith-
standing. Avoid wax on such floors for the same reason.
If recourse is had to hot linseed oil preparations give
Finishing the Floor. 31
ample time to dry hard, for they are the greatest dust
and dirt traps in the world when not thoroughly dry.
Look out for fluid waxes, etc. ; they may be good stuff in
the can, but are risky material for floors.
After this wholesale warning it will be necessary to
specify some finishes which may be used on floors with
safety. We will first take floors requiring only a brush
finish. For floors requiring scrubbing boiled linseed oil
put on hot is an excellent finish, but must be given ample
time to dry hard between coats and must not be exposed
to wear until absolutely dry and hard, for reasons given
above. A better finish for these floors is Johnson's No. i
Floor Finish. This is made especially for floors requir-
ing scrubbing and is the best preparation we have ever
used. It dries quickly with an orange color, and a second
coat can be applied the same day. When dry it is very
hard and its wearing qualities are unsurpassed. It has
the additional advantage of being very fluid and does
not show brush marks readily. I think that a fairly
good job could be made by spreading it with a broom
in the absence of a brush, though I do not recommend
a broom for this particular purpose.
These have their desirable points, chief among which
are the ease of their application and the possibility
of a quick finish when left in the gloss. The preparation
of these finishes has now reached a degree of perfection
so that cracking and showing of heel marks has been
largely obviated. For floors subjected to the minimum of
wear, as bedrooms, etc., they are among the most desira-
ble finishes. They are also specially suitable for tenant
houses, owing to the fact that a yearly renewal of the
surface is usually sufficient to keep a fairly presentable
appearance, while wax requires a more frequent attention.
Finishing the Floor.
The surface being filled with a paste filler, if of a
wood requiring a filler, and all cracks, nail holes, etc.,
carefully puttied, apply the varnish according to manu-
facturer's directions, giving ample time to dry. Two
coats over filler or stain will give a very satisfactory
job, though three coat work is recommended.
The writer gives preference to Pratt & Lambert's No.
6i Floor Finish, or Berry Bros.' Liquid Granite, as the
Fig. 13.— The Weighted Brush.
most satisfactory varnishes within his knowledge.
It should be said with reference to varnish finishes
that no varnish should ever be put on a floor unless
specially made for that purpose, and that liquid fillers
should not be used, for they are not made of the elastic
materials required for the hard wear to which the floor
is subjected. Most makers of floor varnishers explicitly
specify that liquid fillers are not to be used on floors.
Finishing the Floor. 33
A very cogent objection to varnished floors is that
the unusual wear to which they are subjected 'causes the
finish to wear off in spots indicated by the line of general
travel across the room and that when once worn thus
unevenly no amount of labor can restore the surface to
its original state of finish.
While it is true that a fairly good general appearance
may be given to the floor by a coat over the entire sur-
face, it is equally true that it is impossible to patch the
worn places, and nothing short of going over the entire
room will repair the damage done by passing feet.
No technical directions as to rubbing and general pre-
cautions are deemed necessary in the limits of this paper,
for it must be said in justice to the craft that the ma-
jority of painters who have arrived at the dignity of
finishing work are competent and careful workmen.
These possess all the desirable requirements for a
satisfactory floor finish when properly applied. Use the
same ground as for varnish. If a high gloss finish
is desired use a first-class floor varnish for second coater,
leaving ample time for drying and rubbing lightly before
applying the wax. Preference is given to this rather
than to shellac, which is so commonly used and specified
by so many manufacturers and architects, because of
the extreme slipperiness of shellac and the added fact
that it cracks easily. The latter fault alone should be
sufficient to condemn it for floors. When one considers
that much of the commercial shellac is liberally adul-
terated with glue, and other substances not so durable,
sufficient argument will be apparent against its use as a
Some manufacturers now put out a "Floor-Lac," or
substitute for shellac or varnish, as a second coater
which may be used with 'entire satisfaction where the
high gloss effect is desired.
When it is considered, however, that the gloss of a
wax finish deepens with age and constant polishing, it
will be found quite satisfactory to wax directly over the
filler, and many of our finest jobs are now finished in
this manner. The writer recalls a very fine oak floor
which was finished in this manner for one of his most
exacting clients, purely as an experiment, and which has
proven an entirely satisfactory job and is constantly im-
Various Finishes. 35
proving with the occasional renewals of surface which
There is a peculiar degree of cohesion attainable by
the union of wax and paste filler which is not attainable
with any of the highly elastic and glossy second coaters,
adding greatly to the wearing quality and affording a
depth of gloss and mellow reflection which cannot be
afforded by the superficial gloss of the hard undercoating
so often resorted to. This style of finish is unqualifiedly
recommended with the knowledge that it will prove en-
tirely satisfactory to the most exacting.
Considerable natural prejudice exists against waxed
floors in the belief that the finish is one requiring an un-
usually high order of skill to prepare and keep in con-
dition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any
good painter can wax a floor satisfactorily and any house
wife can keep it in condition if possessed of sufficient
bodily strength to manage a weighted brush.
In selecting a wax finish give preference to the paste
preparations, which are rubbed on with a woolen cloth.
The surface should be properly prepared with filler, etc.,
and thoroughly dry, the room warmed to a comfort-
able temperature if possible. The surface is lightly
rubbed with the wax cloth, being careful to spread
the wax evenly and not too thickly. About 30 minutes
should be allowed for the wax to partially dry and then
the surface should be gone over with a weighted brush,
such, for example, as that shown in Fig. 13.
Brush crosswise of the boards first, covering the sur-
face three or four times, and finish lengthwise. This
distributes the wax evenly and lays the foundation for a
iine polish. If the room is to be occupied immediately
a second coat may at once be applied and brushed in the
2,6 Various Finishes.
same manner, using a piece of Brussels carpet under the
brush for the final polishing. The use of the carpet will
give a beautiful gloss, which may be increased by its
frequent use as often as may be desired.
Waxed floors should have a coat of wax at least once
in three months, being careful to remove all dirt and dust
from the floor before the waxing. In the absence of any
specially prepared cleaner a soft cloth slightly dampened
with kerosene will take off soiled spots very quickly,
being careful not to use too much of the oil, as it will
soften the wax. Avoid soap and water, especially hot
water, on waxed floors, although a slightly dampened
cloth may be used without detriment. The general cau-
tion to never wax over oil or to use turpentine as a clean-
er should be observed, but the slight quantity of kerosene
adhering to the surface in cleaning in the manner recom-
mended will speedily evaporate. After cleaning a floor
should never be waxed until entirely dry.
This additional advantage pertains to wax, that worn
spots may be waxed without going over the entire sur-
face and the job will look as good as new. The extreme
slipperiness of wax will be found to be materially reduced
duced if it is done directly over the filler. I am aware
that this method is not generally recommended, but in
.the cases in which it has been followed in my experi-
ence it has proven entirely satisfactory.
The chief and final advantage of wax to which I
shall refer is that it brings out and enhances the natural
beauty of the wood with a soft and mellow depth of
lustre which cannot be attained by any other preparation
with which I am familiar. The beauty of finish, in-
stead of deteriorating, increases with age and subsequent
applications. It is practically proof against heel marks
Various Finishes. 37
or scratches and is easily kept in repair without calHng
in the aid of an expert craftsman.
A word of caution should be given here which may
be well passed on to the family who are to live over the
floor you have finished. No floor which is properly fin-
ished will remain in a satisfactory state long unless care
is taken to prevent excessive wear. Shoes with nails
projecting or covered with dirt are as much out of place
on a polished floor as they would be on the top of the
piano or parlor table. Care should be taken to avoid
dragging or rolling heavy furniture over the floor and
a good cleaner should be placed at the outer door for the
shoes o^ visitors. A floor once mutilated can never be
restored to its first estate, and the one who finishes the
floor owes it to himself and his client to fix these pre-
cautions firmly in their minds.
One of the most unsatisfactory tasks which comes to
the mechanic is to be called on to refinish an old floor
which has been spoiled in the beginning. In such cases
one must be governed entirely by the conditions and the
desires .of his client. If they are willing to pay for a
good job the best thing is to take off all the old finish
with varnish remover and steel wool and have the car-
penter scrape an entirely new surface on the floor. In
this manner a job may be made as good as new, al-
though it generally entails more labor and expense than
to have done a good job in the beginning. Such unde-
sirable tasks are usually due to poor carpenter work or
poor painter's work, or a combination of both, and should
serve as a warning to have nothing but the best in both
labor and materials.
Estimating the Work.
The portion of our topic relating to estimating is ap-
proached with some degree of timidity. There is
probably no business in existence of equal magnitude in
which, there is so manifest lack of system in estimating
as that of the building contractor. Lack of close associa-
tion between builders, coupled with the natural distrust
incident to a business handled in comparatively small in-
dividual contracts, under active competition among a class
of men (pardon me for speaking plainly, the truth de-
mands it) whose limited opportunities for general ..busi-
ness training naturally unfit them for close specialization
even along the lines of their own particular industry, has
left this whole problem in a chaotic state, except for such
chance ray 'of light as is occasionally afforded by some
member of the architectural profession, who gives us an
article or a treatise, upon this subject.
These chance contributions from our friends of the
learned profession referred to, while excellent in their
way, usually lack the very essential element of intimate
personal observation and experience on the part of the
man who really conducts the business — i. e., the builder
himself. It is entirely possible for a group of public
spirited builders in any given community to tabulate the
results of their every day business for a period of, say,
one year, and after a little careful comparison of notes to
establish a fairly accurate basis of estimating for that
given locality. To be sure, if such a reprehensible prac-
Estimating the Work. 39
tice were indulged in and the aforesaid builders were to
thereby establish their business upon a paying basis, it
would to a certain extent eliminate competition, and
possibly result in some of the building craft making an
honest dollar occasionally.
Elevating the Trade.
Certainly it would result in a gradual raising of a
trade to the dignity of a business enterprise, and the sav-
ing to the community in absence of liens, law suits and in-
ferior building, now resulting from the present haphazard
methods would be beyond computation.
But, so far as the writer's knowledge extends, that
locality is yet to be found where the building fraternity
in a spirit of mutual helpfulness and a desire to benefit
their individual condition have undertaken any such sys-
tematic investigation as is here suggested.
It was definitely tried once in an association of build-
ers by a committee of which the writer was a member,
but we soon ascertained that there was a general fear
among our brethren that in our individual wisdom some
of us might impart some knowledge peculiar to himself,
which would place an added advantage in the hands of
his competitors, and so the project fell through ; not with-
out some beneficial results, however, for the investiga-
tion of the committee and the general expression of the
contractors in discussing the subject developed the exist-
ence of a state of facts probably not peculiar to the local-
ity in question — viz., that among our particular group
of builders, to whom fell the majority of the business in
a city of 50,000 people, there was not one who had any
system of estimating on which he felt that he could rely
with reasonable confidence. "
40 Estimating the Work.
I have wondered often since if this condition prevails
in the country at large; if one may judge by the differ-
ences of opinion expressed in your correspondence col-
umns the condition exists in epidemic proportions and
heroic treatment is necessary.
The chief problem in the organization of any business
enterprise is the determination of the ratio of expense to
quantity of product. No system of estimating for any
business can be fixed with any certainty until this ratio is
ascertained with approximate correctness. The more
nearly this approximation approaches to a definite and
fixed ratio, strictly dependable, the more certain will be
the element of profit, which will in such a case become a
mere question of percentage in the successful operation
of the business.
The successful contractor of to-day and of the future
must specialize his business to that point where it can
be operated along similar lines. A definite percentage of
profit, though small, if regularly adhered to, affords a
more certain income than the hit and miss sort of calcula-
tion, so comrnon among the building fraternity. Rigid
adherence to system in the organization of a business has
the inevitable tendency to eliminate waste, and profit is
the natural result.
The writer recalls a form of estimating in vogue dur-
ing his " 'prentice " days ; the " boss " would look over
the plans or survey the proposed job and after ruminating
a while " reckon that we can do that 'ere job in so many
day's work." That fixed the labor cost unless Smith and
Brown were figuring. Smith and Brown were proverb-
ially low, and in case they were competitors it was always
necessary to knock off a few dollars to ensure the job.
These preliminaries accomplished, the " boss " would
Estimating the Work. 41
make up the material bills and reckon up the general
contract. Such a thing as a definite relation between
the labor cost and the quantity of material to be handled
did not usually enter into the calculation, unless it might
intuitively creep in during the ruminating over the num-
ber of days' work.
To be perfectly honest, have we not all done similar
estimating in our callow days, when the responsibilities
of having a job of our own loomed large on our horizon?
We are learning better now, but there is still great
lack of definite system in estimating labor cost. The
vast variety of work in these days is further complicated
by the lack of thorough training in the crafts, and the
labor item is the one uncertain factor in the building prob-
lem. The system of estimating used by the individual
contractor must be largely peculiar to himself and based
on his personal experience ; like all experience, it is likely
to be expensive in the acquirement, and he will the more
profit by carefully heeding it. The more accurately it is
checked up with his daily business the more certain will
be his profit on that job, or some future one.
How many contractors are there who can turn to the
record of a given job and tell how much it cost to place
the dimension lumber in the building, put on the sheath-
ing, lay the floor, siding and shingles and put on the trim ?
If he had a record of this sort for a dozen jobs how sim-
ple it would be to figure a similar job with some certainty.
Again, how many builders are there who can tell with
any certainty what particular portion of a given job
they made of lost money ? A grocer who bought eggs for
20 cents a dozen and sold them for 15 cents, expecting to
make back the loss by the sale of sugar or coffee, would
speedily " go broke " if he managed his entire business on
^ Estimating the Work.
such lines. The building trade is no exception to the
general law of business success.
System an Important Factor.
We feel impelled to make these general observations
in taking up the subject of estimating the cost of floors,
believing that system is the one essential for the con-
tractor. The journeyman has his union and his wage
scale ; he knows how many dollars will come to him for
a given number of hours' work; but his employer does
not know with any certainty what quantity of labor he
will get for his money or what will be his percentage of
profit. There is a screw loose here that needs adjusting
badly, and until the intelligent and fairly successful con-
tractor lends his energy to the solving of this problem
he will waste his time complaining about irresponsible
competition from embryo contractors.
It is entirely possible to fix a rule for estimating
" straight work '' i. e., work of a given class done
under normal conditions. The factors entering into the
primary calculation will be:
a. The quantity of materials.
b. Wage scale and number of hours per day.
c. Relative cost of similar work on preceding jobs un-
der parallel conditions.
Should factor " c " not be available the best possible
estimate must be made and record kept until this factor
,can be determined with some certainty.
The foregoing factors being available, it should be
comparatively easy to tabulate a fairly accurate basis of
estimating for work of any given class, composed again of
three factors — viz.:
a. Quantity of materials.
b. Labor cost per unit of quality.
Estimating the Work. 43
c. Percentage of profit.
The unit of quantity may be variable in the case of
different varieties of work, as :
a. The square of 100 square feet for sheathing, rough
floors, siding, etc.
b. The price per 1000 feet board measure, as handHng
common or heavy dimension for any certain type of build-
c. The price per piece or per opening, as doors and
windows, or casing.
d. The price per 1000 for shingling under specified
conditions (all fast men barred).
e. The price per lineal foot, as for cornice work of
given type, baseboards, chair rail and general -work of any
character which cannot be otherwise estimated.
The particular form of calculation is nonessential so
long as the definite relation is sustained between the
quantity of work to be performed and the cost per unit of
quantity, this relation always being based on actual ex-
perience of work performed under normal conditions.
It should be said also that no system of estimating is
worthy of consideration which does not comprehend a
definite percentage of profit, which should be invariably
figured and rigidly adhered to. If some other fellow is
content to work for nothing and board himself, do not
voluntarily place yourself in his class for the sake of
beating him at his own game.
Forms for Estimates.
This matter of estimating involves another important
niatter, that of systematically arranged forms for mak-
ing out estimates. A regular form of printed blank
which takes up in detail the- various items entering into
the construction of a modern building is indispensable.
44 Estimating the Work.
The writer has used such a form in his business for
years and it affords a record of past transactions which
is in valuable for reference. This form subsequently
came into general use in a limited area, and fellow con-
tractors pronounce it a valuable aid in systematizing
In estimating the cost of finished hard wood floors
the initial item of expense is the labor cost. Our ex-
perience has determined a fair price for the labor item
to be 7 cents per square foot for laying and smoothing,
based on 2-inch face floor of good quality in rooms of
average size, with a wage scale of 35 cents per hour and
an eight-hour day. This price will include cutting oft
doors for adjacent openings and nailing do\ifn the quarter
round, but will not justify an unusual amount of lev-
eling up of old under floor; this should invariably be
figured as an extra, or done on a special understanding
by the hour, with a charge of 10 per cent, for the
For this locality the above price has proved correct
and is the basis used for nearly all our leading con-
tractors for several years past, being modified only by
changes in the wage scale. The square foot is the most
convenient unit of calculation and the price indicated
will ordinarily afford a profit of 10 per cent, to the con-
tractor if experienced workmen are put on the job.
The labor item divides about thus ;
Laying the floor, per square foot 2 cents.
Scraping and sanding, per square foot S cents.
Total 7 cents.
To this amount add the cost of the material, in-
cluding the necessary amount for matching and waste,
Estimating the Work. 45
which will require one-third for 2 inch and one-fourth
for 4-inch floor. This method of calculation may be best
illustrated by a simple problem : " Figure the cost of
furnishing, laying and finishing 2-inch quarter sawed
yellow pine floor for a room 10x10 feet, the price of floor-
ing being $40 per thousand feet :"
100 square feet floor plus one-third for matching equals
133 1-3 square feet, at 4 cents, or $S-33
Laying and -scraping 100 square feet, at 7 cents 7.00
Filler and two coats varnish or wax, at s'A cents per
square foot 5-SO
Price per square foot, laid and finished complete, 18
We usually figure such a floor from 18 to 25 cents
per square foot, according to conditions of the job, re-
serving the privilege of superintending the painter's
work in order to ensure a good job. The Master Paint-
ers' shop scale for work of this character in this locality
is 50 cents per square yard, being based on a wage scale
of 35 cents per hour and a nine-hour day.
Efficiency of Workmen.
As a matter of fact, more depends on the efficiency of
the individual workman than on wage scale or hours of
labor, and a little careful accounting on work under
progress will enable the contractor to fix a satisfactory
price. We prefer the square foot as the unit of calcula-
tion, as it affords an easy and rapid method of computa-
tion and it enables the contractor to give an estimate at
once when called in on the job. It is essential of course
that a definite table of prices be fixed beforehand, based
on prices of materials and quality of work which prevail
in the given locality.
46 Estimating the Work.
The above prices for carpenter's and painter's work
are ample for first-class work and will include the neces-
sary materials for the painter's work. The figures
above given are based on my personal observation and
records of perhaps 50 different jobs covering a period of
some five years, and compare closely with the experience
of fellow contractors who have done business under the
same conditions. I think they will be found sufficiently
accurate for general use where similar conditions pre-
vail. The proportions may be easily changed to suit any
change in price of materials or labor.
A few further illustrations may serve to make this
form of estimating clear to the reader.
Present prices at Missouri River points for hard wood
flooring are as follows :
4-inch clear y. p., per 1000 feet $40.00
3-inch or 4-inch v. g., y. p., per 1000 feet 45.00
^ plain oak, 2-inch face, per 1000 feet 60.00
^ q. s. oak, 2-inch face, per 1000 feet 80.00
i^ selected maple, 2-inch face, per 1000 feet 75-00
On the basis of these prices the calculation for fur-
nishing 100 square feet of each variety of floor would
be as follows :
4-inch y. p., at $40 per 1000 feet :
100 square feet (add %), 125 feet, at 4 cents $5.00
Carpenter's labor,' at 7 cents 7.00
Painter's labor, at S^ cents 5.50
Total, lOo square feet $17-50
Price per square foot, complete, 175^ cents.
3-inch y. p., at $45 per 1000 feet:
100 square feet (add 1-3), 133 1-3 feet, at 4.5 cents $6.00
Total, 100 square feet $18.50
Price per square foot, l8l4 cents.
Estimating the Work. 47
Plain oak, 2-inch face, at $60 per 1000 feet:
100 square feet (add 1-3), 133 1-3 feet, at 6 cents $8.00
Total, 100 square feet $20.50
Price per square foot, 20j4 cents.
Quarter sawed oak, 2-inch face, at $80 per 1000 feet i
100 square feet (add 1-3), 133 1-3 feet, at 8 cents $10.67
Total, 100 square feet $23.17
Price per square foot, 23.17 cents.
Maple, 2-inch face, at $75 per 1000 feet :
100 square feet (add 1-3), 133 1-3 feet, at 7.5 cents $10.00
Total, 100 square feet $22.50
Price per square foot, 22^ cents.
The average customer will pay more in proportion for
oak or maple than for pine and feel better satisfied, and
the contractor will be fully justified in adding 10 per
cent, to the estimated price for the 2-inch face thin floor-
ing, inasmuch as it requires special care and considerable
extra face nailing. The foregoing examples give a suffi-
cient guide to the novice in estimating, so that individual
calculations may be made, based upon any change in
prices of materials and the work undertaken, with a
reasonable expectation of profit.
Rough or Lining Floors.
The estimates indicated above are based on the laying
of the finished floor only and do not comprehend the
laying of any under floor. If under floors or paper
48 Estimating the Work.
lining between floors are required the additional cost
should be computed and added to the estimate. We
usually figure $1.50 per 1000 feet for laying rough floors
of common lumber or shiplap in a new building. If
in an old building one must be governed entirely by the
specific conditions, as no two cases are alike ; as pre-
viously suggested, the safest practice is to do such work
by the hour as an extra, charging 10 per cent, for the
Floors Finished After Plaster.
Should specifications require finishing floors after
plastering add cost of two thicknesses of building paper
to protect the floor and 50 per cent, extra to the car-,
penter labor in cleaning the floor. It is a fairly safe"
calculation to figure 10 cents per square foot for laying,
protecting and finishing such floors, and at this ap-
parently exorbitant price the contractor will not fare as
well as on ordinary work. A fair example of this sort of
work would be as follows :
" Compute cost, laid, protected with building paper, and fin-
ished after plaster of 4-inch y. p. floor at $35 per 1000 feet, for
a building 26 x 30 feet."
26 X 30 = 780 square feet (add J4). 97S feet, at 3.5 cents. $34.12
Carpenter, 780 feet at 10 cents 78.00
Total cost $112.12
Price per square foot, 14J4 cents.
To this must be added nails and painters' labor and
materials. The price for the latter will vary somewhat,
as a cheaper finish is customarily used on floors of this
character. It will be seen, however, that wherever it is
desired to have a finished floor it will pay to lay a
Estimating the Work. 49
lining of common boards and not bring the finish floor
into the building until plasterers are gone.
Parquetry, or inlaid floors, sometimes called wood
carpet, are the highest type of art in wood work. They
are made in great variety of patterns, usually composed of
geometrical figures which adapt themselves readily to ex-
pression by means of straight lines, and a beautiful effect
is secured by the joining of different colored woods.
These floors are now made in large factories spe-
cially equipped for the purpose, and their designers are
among the highest paid class of art workers. The cost
is determined by the intricacies of the pattern and the
variety and rarity of the woods used. Inasmuch as the
beauty of parquetry is dependent on color, it is not prac-
tical to illustrate it in the limits of this article. The
reader who is interested in this style of work will do
well to send for the manufacturers' catalogues.
The cost of laying parquetry floors is fixed largely
by the character of the pattern and the shape of the
room. The better plan is to furnish the factory with a
plan of the room, drawn to scale and showing all angles,
chimney projections at the floor line, etc., in order that
the pattern may be made up to fit the outline of the room.
Parquetry is usually made up of a fancy border of
parti-colored woods and a center, called " the field," com-
posed of alternate strips about ij^ inches wide of con-
trasting varieties of wood. The sort in most common
use is the thin variety, which is face nailed directly
to the under floors with brads. The borders are glued to
a soft wood backing and built up in squares so that they
may be easily joined by any good mechanic.
Ordinary parquetry floor should bring twice as much
for the labor of laying as plain hard wood floor, inas-
50 Estimating the Work.
much as the small pieces composing the pattern require
more frequent nailing and the exercise of unusual care
for the entire job. Detailed instructions for laying are
sent out with the stock from the factory, and no diffi-
culty will be experienced by the workman if care is
The cost of finished parquetry is about the same as
the more expensive grades of fine carpeting for the same
space. The number of people of good taste who are
giving preference to parquetry over carpets is constantly
increasing, and an opening exists in every good sized
town for the building up of a profitable specialty, in lay-
ing and finishing this beautiful flooring material.