The Homeowner’s Guide to Handscraped Hardwood Flooring

Handscraped Hardwood Floor in Exquisite Spanish Style Home
Photo Credit: Bill Wilson

Smooth, shiny flooring might be the norm these days, but it doesn’t suit every home. If you’re looking for something with a little more character, handscraped hardwood flooring has plenty of personality to offer.

Also known as hand-sculpted flooring, handscraped flooring is finished with traditional hand tools to give it a rougher surface and the mark of individual craftsmanship.

How Handscraped Flooring is Different

For the last several decades, glossy and satin finishes have been the most popular choices for hardwood floors. Finishes like these haven’t always been possible, though. Before the advent of electrical equipment that could create a flawless surface, floor makers typically used a draw knife to smooth the surface of each board.

It’s a method that requires mastery, but ultimately, it still produces somewhat imperfect results. The uneven dips, scoops, pits, and scrape marks it leaves give every board a unique pattern. Once the only option, this labor-intensive woodworking method is now a rare art.

Traditional, Rustic Character

Original handscraped hardwood flooring is most often found in homes built before 1800, making them reminiscent of times when traditional craftsmanship flourished. If you own a historical home that doesn’t have one of these floors, installing one will add to the authenticity of the interior.

If your home is newer, but you love the ambiance of antique and handcrafted furnishings, a handscraped floor can help you achieve that feeling. Thanks to their modest appearance, these floors suit almost every room in the house, including bedrooms, dining rooms, and entrances.

As another interesting feature, the exact look of the floor’s uneven surface changes with the level and angle of the light. Your floor might look rough and rugged in bright, direct light, but softer in more diffuse lighting.

Carefree Durability

One of the biggest benefits of handscraped flooring is that it can hide minor damage within the other variations in its surface. While a scratch on a glossy floor will be fairly conspicuous, a handscraped floor easily camouflages sizable scrapes and dings. That makes this floor a practical choice for high-traffic areas such as the entryway, living room or kids’ rooms as well as for families with young children or active pets.

Better yet, if your floor does pick up a scratch that stands out, you can repair it yourself just by covering it with a little matching stain and finish.  

Cleaning can be tricky because the floor’s pits and grooves collect grime that’s sometimes hard to get out. Dry-mopping, sweeping or vacuuming once or twice a week helps keep this problem under control.

For deeper cleaning, wet mop once every one to three months. Many handscraped floors are finished with tung oil or another oil, so use a hardwood floor cleaner designed for oil finishes or a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon warm water.

The biggest threat to this floor is water. It’s somewhat less water resistant than other types of wood flooring and frequent spills or mop water left standing too often can cause permanent damage. It’s something to consider before you install this flooring in your kitchen.

Refinishing the floor is another potential challenge. If the existing finish becomes damaged, you’ll need to find a floor finish product that requires only buffing and a little hand sanding before application.

If you want to change your floor’s color, though, there’s a good chance the floor will have to be sanded, which can smooth out the handscraped features. Too much sanding and the features will disappear entirely, meaning you’ll need to handscrape the floor again or pay someone to do it.

What to Consider When You Buy

The skill and labor involved in making genuine handscraped flooring means these floors don’t come cheap. Because so many people love the look, but don’t have the budget for the real thing, manufacturers have developed other ways to reproduce a handscraped appearance.

Machine scraping is one of these methods. The problem with this method, especially on cheaper products, is that the machines used give each board the same pattern of pits, scrapes, and other features. It might look all right on one or two boards, but fill the whole floor with them and you’ll end up with a repetitive, tile-like effect that looks anything but handcrafted.

If you decide to go for machine-scraped flooring, make sure you know what the boards look like on a large surface before you buy.

Don’t confuse handscraped hardwood flooring with distressed flooring, either. Distressed flooring is made to mimic the look of a floor that’s gone through years of wear and tear. Distressing is done by machine, usually a brush-like device that repeatedly hits the wood with wires to wear it down.

Handscraped floors are made to look new, but with an artisan’s touch. The amount of handscaping features varies from maker to maker. Some have only light scratches, while others deep groves and other prominent marks.

If you’re hiring a craftsperson to handscrape your floors, you’ll need to discuss the look you have in mind.

Getting the Installation Right

If you decide to have handscraped hardwood floors installed in your home, choose a contractor with experience installing these or other artisan flooring materials.

To create an attractive effect, your installer will need to select each board carefully, so the pattern of handscraped features looks natural and similar boards aren’t placed too close together. Doing the job well takes an installer with an eye for aesthetics.
 
No matter how skilled your contractor, though, the leveling of your floor will be slightly uneven because handscraping produces boards of varying thicknesses. It won’t make much practical difference, but you might notice it when positioning small, light pieces of furniture.

After decades of being disregarded for shiny finishes, handscraped hardwood flooring is coming back into its own. If you’re a fan of handcrafted goods or you want to maintain the traditional character of your older home, these floors can give you the look you want.

While the purchase and installation costs can be high, you’ll get the benefit of a floor that can last many years without visible wear even in high-traffic areas.

Posted on Categories Flooring