Wooden floors in the Victorian era saw plain, unfinished planks give way to parquet designs. Restoring these floors goes a long way to sustaining an authentic period look.
Unlike unfinished planks that get their charm from natural wear patterns, shiny strip and parquet floors benefited from new finishing products such as oil, varnishes and shellacs, which added a special look to the boards.
If you're restoring a home of this period, opting for a varnish or shellac is a good way to give your floor that authentic look. Like painting, preparation is more important than application when you're refinishing an old floor.
Many times, if a floor has been properly maintained, it's possible to coat over the existing surface with the same finish. First prep a small test area by hand-sanding it, then add the chosen finish. If it bites and has the right look, it's probably the same finish that's on there.
Dissimilar products won't work on each other, so don't be tempted to shellac a varnished floor--it simply won't hold. (A note of caution if you go with shellac: This historical finish won't tolerate alcohol or water spills, so be sure to consider the room's usage beforehand.)
You can add a coat of wax over either to preserve and protect the finish while adding a bit of luster to the floor. Keep the surface free of dust and dirt with regular dust-mopping. Expect to rewax periodically as this protective coating wears away.
If a previous owner refinished your old floor with a coat of polyurethane, you may decide to strip it off and bring the floor back in a more authentic manner. Though this newer finish is extremely durable and offers a longevity most historical finishes don't, many restorers find it looks plastic and doesn't mesh well in restored homes.
If the floor is badly stained and scratched, its thickness is the indicator you should use to decide whether sanding is feasible.
Extreme care should be taken when working on old parquet floors. Because these boards are only generally about three-eights of an inch thick, there probably is only about one-eighth of an inch to work with until the tongue is reached. As a result, many restorers will recommend stripping the floor by hand, either with a hand scraper or chemicals if the finish must be removed.
Though this obviously can be a very labor-intensive job, it may be the only way to refinish some old parquet without ruining the floor. Because an old strip floor is thicker, many of these floors can be sanded.