Applying Traditional Finishes

In this case study, Jon McCure (Heritage Builder) describes the process of applying traditional finishes to timber flooring.

This case study supports the development of heritage trade skills in Tasmania. It is part of a broader set of support materials that have been developed by the Tasmanian Building and Construction Industry Training Board (TBCITB).

Special thanks to Jon McCure, Brad Williams, the Centre for Heritage at Oatlands and the Southern Midlands Council.

Want to learn this heritage trade skill?

If you are interested in learning how to apply traditional finishes to timber flooring, contact the TBCITB to register your interest in a training course.


Jon is applying tar (for colour), linseed oil and beeswax polish to floorboards he has reinstated at a small cottage (circa 1870s) on the Oatlands Commissariat Site.

Hand polishing floor

Applying beeswax polish to timber flooring

Man polishing floor with wax

Checking the renewed surface


There are a few key advantages of applying traditional finishes to timber flooring:

  • It preserves the floor.
  • It provides a renewable and repairable surface (all you need to do is apply more beeswax polish).
  • It looks great!
Polished floor

Traditional finish

Timber floor with beeswax polish

Beeswax polish


There are a number of challenges associated with applying traditional finishes to timber flooring in heritage properties:

  • Replicating original textures in reinstated floorboards.
  • Future-proofing floors.
  • Matching original finishes.
Replicating original textures

Replicating original textures

Replicating original textures

Replicating original textures


There are a few handy 'tricks of the trade' when applying traditional finishes to timber flooring in heritage properties:

  • If flooring needs to be reinstated and the original boards were rough sawn, leave saw marks in the upper face.
  • Incorporate a man-hole to allow access to services under the floor.
  • Use finishing materials that were commonly available in the dated period of the property (e.g. tar, linseed oil, beeswax).
  • Use pale boiled linseed oil for faster drying times.

Timber floor

Timber floor finishing

timber floorboards

Timber floor finishing

Steps Involved

Step 1

Step 1 - Planning

  • Indentifying flooring characteristics (e.g. type, size, thickness and height).
  • Photograph flooring in its original state for future reference.
  • Research any regulatory requirements and guidelines.
  • Confirm any specific project requirements from the client.
  • Obtain historical data, including finishes used in similar properties.
  • Determine an appropriate surface finish.
Image for Step 1 - Planning

Identifying flooring characteristics

Step 2

Step 2 - Preparing floorboards

  • Select tools for floorboard preparation, including a hammer, hand plane, hand saw, nail punch, power drill, ruler, sandpaper, scraper and spirit level.
  • Check boards for faults and repair in preparation for finishing.
  • If boards need to be reinstated, match like for like (i.e. ensure the new boards are prepared to the original thickness and height).
  • Lightly sand or plane to remove splinters and sharp edges.
Image for Step 2 - Preparing floorboards

Preparing the floorboards

Step 3

Step 3 - Preparing finishing materials

  • Cover surfaces with appropriate protections.
  • Wear protective clothing and gloves.
  • Select tools for finishing, including paintbrushes, rollers and rags.
  • Select finishing materials, including ormonoid (tar), mineral turpentine, linseed oil, gum turpentine and beeswax.
  • Prepare beeswax polish by melting beeswax and diluting with gum turpentine (approximately 50:50 ratio).
  • Dilute ormanoid with mineral turpentine to obtain required stain colour and milk-like consistency.
  • Apply trial application of ormanoid to check consistency and colour.
Image for Step 3 - Preparing finishing materials

Applying a trial application of tar

Step 4

Step 4 - Applying finishing materials

  • Apply diluted ormonoid to boards with a paintbrush or roller.
  • Work into all cracks and crevices to ensure a consistent stain.
  • Wipe off excess and allow to dry (between one and two days).
  • Apply linseed oil to boards quickly and evenly with a rag.
  • Allow to dry (at least two days) to ensure a hard surface is formed.
  • Apply beeswax polish to boards with a rag.
  • Allow to dry (at least two days).
  • Photograph flooring in finished state for future reference.
Image for Step 4 - Applying finishing materials

Photographing the floor for future reference


  • All details and imperfections in the flooring must be highlighted.
  • The original texture and lustre of the flooring must be replicated.
  • The flooring must maintain the authenticity, character, integrity and heritage value of the building.
  • The flooring must be fit for purpose.
Wooden floor with nails


Wooden floor