Face Nailed Parquetry Floor Borders
Circa 1885-1920, Brooklyn, NY
This site is for face-nailed floors, sometimes called top-nailed. You see the nails. Parquetry is wood cut into geometrical design, sometimes called inlaid floors. The floors were traditionally 5/16" thick.
Contents to Sections Below:
Old Catalogs and Other Publications
Collection of Pictures
- The 232 floor border pictures are split into 15 major groups, or pages. Then split into sub-groups. 51 sub-groups have thumbnails below.
- All pictures are listed as thumbnails on the Contents and Table of Borders pages.
- On a Google Map picture locations are pinned. See the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where the better houses were being built during these years.
- Spreadsheets that calculate piece sizes are listed on the List of Spreadsheets page.
Putting A Floor Down
- New World woods were used for flooring. Mostly the North American woods: Cherry, Maple, Oak, Dark Oak(?), Black Walnut, and less commonly: White Ash and Holly. The most popular South American wood was Mahogany [today it is all called Honduran Mahogany], and less commonly: Rosewood, Vermilion, PrimaVera. There is some information on the common of these woods in the NWFA Wood Species Guide.
- Honduran Mahogany is expensive. A near wood sold today is Sapele, or African Mahogany. The grain has a less consistent pattern.
- The floor wood needs to acclimate in your home for a month or two before being laid. This is much less a problem if the flooring is quarter-sawn. But it still needs a couple weeks.
- In old (non-Mansion) flooring there are generally only these shapes: right (Isosceles) triangles, squares, rectangles, parallelograms, Isosceles trapezoids, and right trapezoids. Angles are most often 45°/90°. All pieces would have been saw cut. These days not all suppliers saw cut. See next section.
Floor Border Suppliers
- Oshkosh Designs. Numerous wood choices, any thickness from 5/16" to 3/4". The more intricate patterns, circles, etc. are laser cut and the geometric cuts are saw cut. They can make fingerblock parquet in any combination of woods, number of fingers, width of fingers (minimum 1"), and length of fingers. If you order less than 50 SF, there is a $150 set up charge. They can be in any thickness from 5/16" paper-taped up to 3/4" solid. They can also sell random length plainsawn or quartersawn white oak with square edges in any thickness and width. Pushes you to go through local dealers, if there are any in your area.
- Oshkosh dealer in NYC: PID Floors. Dealer sells Oshkosh and also saws by hand the pieces for custom borders in their Brooklyn facility. Also sells flooring strips and fingerblock. All white oak can be quarter-sawn. Your thickness choice. Does not install face nailed floors.
- Rare Earth Hardwoods. Custom millwork. Can do any thickness, or anything you want. Pieces are all saw cut. Straight lines only. Has over 100 species of domestic and exotic hardwoods.
- Czar Floors. Can make to your thickness. All pieces cut on a CNC wood router. Their woods. Mahogany not listed. Can use rift/quarter sawn white oak. Smallest pictured fingerblock parquet is 9". They can do 6 strips in 8-3/4". Minimum order is 100 sq ft. Does not supply strip flooring wood.
- Inlay Product World. Based in Pennsylvannia, uses three different manufacturers (two US based and one in Poland). Different woods at each supplier. Can be any thickness. Uses laser for cutting. Can use quarter-sawn white oak. Doesn't sell flooring. Can provide parquet, though fingerblock not shown. It is very expensive and starts at 12" square. Likes to prefinish.
- USA Inlays. Has wholesale price if architect or builder orders. Probably only laser cuts the pieces. I asked and never got a response. Borders can be any thickness, but other wood they sell is only 5/8" prefinished and 3/4". These are their woods. No mahogany shown, but they can use it.
- Supplier in Romania: Pavex Parquet (also click for previous page). Prices include air shipping and delivery to your door. They only use these seven woods. You could use sycamore for maple, and sapele for mahogany.
- Supplier in Poland: Renaissance Floor In-Lays. Eugene had been doing inlays in the US, but he moved back to his home country. Any thickness you want. Inlays are 1/4" pasted to whatever backing needed to get to your desired thickness. [long lead time]
- Supplier in the Ukraine: Premier Parquet.
- Borders can be custom made by Premium Wood Flooring (aka P.C. Hardwood Floors) on 3rd Ave at 31st St. According to the curt guys on the floor, the only border woods available in 5/16": White oak, Peruvian walnut, and Santos Mahogany. They also sell in 5/16" the 2" wide field wood in strips and 12" square parquet blocks (with 2" wide strips). No other field sizes are now available through them. Red oak or white oak only. However, if you get to Michelle, she should be able to order Oshkosh products.
- The couple running Premier Inlays have retired. However, you can still see their borders in the archived website.
Wood Flooring Board Suppliers
- Face nailed floors are 5/16" thick. I had read on the web that they used cut nails. But I see no cut nails in the pictures here. In the Roberts 1903 catalog they state to use 1-1/4-Inch, 15 Gauge Finish Nails. They can go into the air-powered Finish Nailer. Then with a punch, sink each brad 1/16" below the surface of the wood. Here are some Tips for Top-Nailed 5/16-Inch Floors. Don't make the mistake of buying stainless steel nails. Besides being expensive, they won't darken as they should.
- Oshkosh Designs has a General Installation Guide #5 for unfinished parquet floors.
- Non-water based adhesives are necessary for unfinished parquet:
- Use 1/8" × 1/8" × 1/8" Square Notch Trowel. At Home Depot.
- To get off the paper tape that is on the top of the parquet one uses a Drum Floor Sander.
- For flooring work, the Brownstoner blog used to have a forum on flooring. Now all forum posts are in one large stream. Flooring forum participants recommended Jose Zambrano of Better Wood Floors and Carlos Salazar of Carlos Wood Flooring. Not sure how much face nailed flooring they do. The person I found that has done the most of these floors is Stafford Elliot.
- Good places to start:
- The traditional finishes used when our houses were built were:
- Paste wax. It is still used today. It "darkens wood" and gives it a mellow, low-gloss satin sheen. It has a slight amber color and looks like wax. Sometimes done over a penetrating sealer. Needs periodic rewaxing and buffing. Would need to buy a floor machine. Cost of machine would be offset by low initial cost. However, waxed floors can't take water. Not good for a kitchen. An example: DuraSeal. If you want one Stafford Elliot does them in Brooklyn.
- Shellac. Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug. An S.C. Johnson catalog from 1893 argues for using wax and not shellac. Can have wax on top. Popular before 1970. Alcohol spills make shellac susceptible to dissolving. And shellac reacts to alkaline products such as ammonia and some household cleaners. Water can also soften shellac, so standard wood floor care options, like mopped plain water, are unsuitable. There were special solvent-based cleaners available, but apparently no longer. Naturally dries to a high gloss sheen. Not good for a kitchen.
- Varnish. This was used as an undercoat for wax, or a finish in itself complete. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy, but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss sheens by the addition of "flatting" agents. Parquet-Lac was a varnish made from hard fossil gums. It contained no resin. Those who choose varnish today typically appreciate the fact that varnish can be tinted a variety of colors. Tougher to wear or penetrate than shellac, varnish is still not as durable as polyurethanes. Today varnish specifically for floors is only sold in the UK. An example: Ronseal Diamond Hard Floor Varnish in clear gloss.
- Today we have hard wax oil finishes:
- The primary advantage of these finishes is scratches or damages can easily be spot repaired. The area will seamlessly blend in with the rest of the floor. This is because only the open (damaged) wood fibers will take the new oil. The existing finish next to the scratched or damaged area won't accept new oil. No overlapping or additional buildup of finish.
- Rubio Monocoat. Also their Consumer web store. Has "subtle lustre." It is very matte and is a one coat process (leaving a thin finish). Pure is their closest to clear. For an indepth review see: We wanted a zero-VOC floor finish. Another review with pictures. Available locally at PC Wood Floors & Supplies (3rd Ave at 31st St).
- Pallmann Magic Oil. It "provides a velvety, matte finish that repels dirt and water and gives the floor a rich, European hand-rubbed appearance." Compared to Rubio, it has a thicker finish build along with more sheen. If you want even more sheen, buff it a bit more to polish it up. Looks best with a second coat buffed in. It will never be high gloss or even semi-gloss, but if you're after a deep, velvety matte look, then this hardwax oil fits the bill. Neutral is their closest to clear. A review with pictures. There are no local sellers of this. Closest distributor is Horizon Forest Products in Maryland. They will ship to Brooklyn. Only Pallmann's cleaner is for sale at Amazon.
- Other hard waxes: Bona and Woca [subtle matte luster] and Carver and Ciranova.
- Eko Flooring and Woodwork in East Williamsburg can apply them. But after they learned that the room I wanted the finish on was only 11 × 12 feet, they blew me off. The job wasn't big enough for them. I do not recommend them, unless you are dead set on having a hard wax oil finish.
- Other alternatives:
- Three coats of Duraseal Oil-modified urethane. Abraded between coats. It "ambers with age and comes in different sheen levels" [Satin, Semi-Gloss and Gloss]. Some don't like the ugly old orange look that you can get after a couple of years. Especially when exposed to bright sunlight. Can buy locally at PC Wood Floors & Supplies (3rd Ave at 31st St). At Amazon. This is what I ended up putting down, with a semi-gloss sheen. I used Stafford Elliot.
- Penetrating sealers and penetrating oil sealers. You spread it on. What doesn't soak in you wipe off. Problem is the floors need constant upkeep and re-oiling to keep their protection intact.
- Water-based polyurethane. Totally clear, never yellows. Like a layer of plastic over your floor. Makes new white oak look cold.
- I visit Open Houses, mostly on Sundays. I have two main sources for listings. I go through the room pictures looking for borders.
- New York Times Real Estate Search. Neighborhoods selected: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park, Midwood, Park Slope, Park Slope South, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park South. [No year built filter, so can't filter out new buildings.]
- StreetEasy Search. Neighborhoods selected: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park, Midwood, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park South.
- Zillow Open House Search. Click on pins in locations known for floors. Tedious. But there will be some lesser places here that are not on the other two.
- House Tours to see Floors:
- Fort Greene [1st Sunday in May] [neighborhood is too old for parquet borders]
- Clinton Hill (biannual in even years, 1st Sunday in May) [only refloors, neighborhood is too old]
- Park Slope [3rd Sunday in May] [you are prohibited from even asking to take a floor picture]
- Prospect Lefferts Gardens [1st Sunday in June, unless five Sundays in May, then 4th Sunday in May] [the best floors]
- Victorian Flatbush [2nd Sunday in June, unless five Sundays in May, then 1st Sunday in June] [the best floors]
- Crown Heights North [had been 1st Saturday in October? no longer listed on website] [floors should be good]
- Prospect Heights [had been biannually in the Fall (2nd or 3rd Sunday in October). last held in 2009] [neighborhood is old for borders]
- Bedford-Stuyvesant [3rd Saturday in October]
Finding House Years
- If the house is in a landmark district, the year and more information is usually available in the district's report. Put address into search at Designation Reports (but it doesn't always work). For an overview: Brooklyn Historic District Maps.
- Newer houses will have the build date in the Department of Buildings's Building Information System. To get their number the easiest is to go to StreetEasy and search on the address. DOB does provide years for all houses, but for houses before around 1925 the years are near guesses and are not used here.
- Researching year from NYC Property Records:
- Find Block and Lot. Lot numbers weren't in use back then, so you need to also add up from the plat map the distance from the side streets. It will usually be the shorter one used. Also note the lot size as shown on the map. Using Google Streets it might be helpful to have addresses of matching houses built at the same time.
- You can then visit DOB at 210 Joralemon Street, 2nd Fl. The problem is a few years ago all the books were sent to the NYC Dept of Finance's Queens Business Center in Jamaica, Queens. The microfilms left behind make the task a hard fishing expedition. And only Queens has the WPA books, which is where you want to start. A trip to Queens is recommended. It is 10 miles each way by bicycle from Park Slope. Department is City Register.
- N.B. You often find in the early years they didn't even record the distance to the side street. What you have to do is to find an entry for the house in a later year (from WPA page), then knowing the grantor you go back in time looking for when the grantor was a grantee. To get the earliest entries possible.
- My 1892 John Magilligan house in Park Slope only has the parlor with a hardwood face-nailed floor. The room has the common knotted corner. The first owner of this house chose to carpet the house with broadloom instead, leaving me with pine sub-floors. Back then wool broadloom carpet was new (introduced in 1877) and more expensive. The wood floor sellers called this unremovable carpet unhygenic. Powered vacuum cleaners didn't get started in the United States until 1908. Wooden push-pull floor sweepers would have been used.
I had been admiring what I didn't have. I wanted to install a face nailed floor with a border in my new kitchen. I needed some examples to pick from. And learn how to do it in an authentic way. No centralized information existed online. I keep my notes in basic HTML and this website ensued. I picked #23.