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HARDWOOD 








F. G. ODELL 



I'tatc QfoUegc of Agriculture 
At Qlornelt UniaBrHttH 

ffiibrarg 



TH 2521.02™"""'"""'''-"'"'^ 



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. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924003627043 



LAYING and FINISHING 



HARDWOOD FLOORS 



By 
FRANK G. ODELL 






DAVID WILLIAMS COMPANY, Publishers 
14 - 16 Park Place, NEW YORK 



1906 



-,..- Copyrighted 1906 

David Williams Gqmpant. 

- f'- ■ ; • 



CHAPTER I. 
Preliminary Work. 

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 



Preliminary Work. 



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- 
acter. 

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 



Preliminary Work. 



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. 



Preliminary Work. 



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 



Preliminary Work. 



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 



Preliminary Work. 



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 



Preliminary Work. 



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 
the engravings. 

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 



Preliminary Work. 



purpose will waste his money and the time of his emyloyer 
subsequently. 

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- 
tained. 

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. 
Fig. 6. 

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 
result. 



CHAPTER II. 

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 
oil stone. 




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 
with. 

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 
smooth. 

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 
cutting edge. 

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- 
face. 

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 
is laid. 

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 
Adjacent Rooms. 



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 
special use. 

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. 



CHAPTER III. 
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 
tool. 

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 
done. 

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 
States." 

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 
cuts. 

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- 
factory results. 

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. 



32 



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. 



CHAPTER IV. 

Various Finishes. 

Wax Finishes. 

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 
floor coating. 

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- 

34 



Various Finishes. 35 

proving with the occasional renewals of surface which 
it receives. 

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. 



CHAPTER V. 
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- 
38 



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- 
ing. 

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 
their business. 

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 
service. 

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 

Total $17-83 

Price per square foot, laid and finished complete, 18 
cents. 

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 

Carpenter 7.00 

Painter S-50 

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 

Carpenter 7.00 

Painter 5.50 

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 

Carpenter 7.00 

Painter S.Sa 

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 

Carpenter 7.00 

Painter 5.50 

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 
service. 

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 
exercised. 

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.