The Story of a Floor•
Posted on June 06 2023
When a client enquired about an oak floor for their beautiful seaside home in Bronte, Sydney, Giles Whittle-Herbert (Managing Director of Whittle Waxes) saw the potential to create something unique. Using oak beams from a demolished warehouse in France, he created a 1m2 sample to show how the floor might look. The client saw the sample and loved it! That was the easy part – now came the challenge: to create a bespoke floor for a 460m2 home spread over three levels that included a spiral staircase!
To make the floor truly unique, Giles was determined to maintain the timber’s uneven natural character. In other words, they didn’t want to plane all the boards uniform and flat but rather keep the original face of the beams. This meant finding someone with the right equipment to mill the beams in the way they wanted. Eventually, they found the right person in Yandina and the process began.
Among the many jobs required, the beams were put through a jointer to machine a flat edge, then square-edged to make them all a uniform width, and then put through a massive thicknesser (as shown above).
Using a bandsaw, each beam was then split into three boards so that they could preserve the natural face on one side with the other side (the underside) uniform and dressed.
The outside of the cut boards were covered with white paint which had to be removed with a grinder. Also notice the cracks in some boards which presented another big challenge for Giles.
The boards were then delivered on site to Bronte where they spent some time acclimatizing.
A chipboard subfloor was laid over the concrete. Then the oak boards were glued and screwed to the chipboard.
Each screw hole had to be plugged with oak plugs that could only be found in Scotland. The uneven finish on the boards also meant that it was not possible to lay skirting boards. Instead, a beautiful transition between the walls and floor was created with shadowline skirting, which meant the walls had to be finished before the floor went in.
Grinders were used to remove overwood and bring the boards together, and the floor was then sanded using a rotary polisher. However, they obviously didn’t want to lose the natural undulation of the timber so Giles placed a piece of foam between the machine and the sandpaper so that it followed the contours of the floor and didn’t sand it flat.
Two coats of Whittle Waxes Evolution Hardwax Oil Classic were applied with a brush (because of the texture of the timber). The floor was also given a light sanding before the second coat was applied. No stain or colour was applied. The beautiful “honey-chocolate” colour is the natural colour of oak that has been allowed to oxidize over many years.
The spiral staircase proved to be a huge challenge with each tread and riser having to be hand-cut to fit exactly and match the curve of the wall.
As well as the plugs, Giles fixed all the cracks by creating oak dove-tail keys to go across the cracks to prevent them splitting further.
The beauty of this floor is that the natural character of the timber has been preserved and yet the finish is so smooth that you can walk over it with just a pair of socks and not catch on anything.
Needless to say, the client was over the moon with the final outcome. Craftsmanship, attention to detail and many, many hours work produced a truly bespoke floor like no other you are likely to find in Australia or even the southern hemisphere. It was a project that presented many challenges along the way but the final result made it all worth it in the end.
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