To make bare boards look effective, a little trouble must be expended before the stain is applied. The first thing is to find out if any of the planks are loose; having noted the loose places, a few cut nails are driven through to the joists. Next give an eye to the level of the floor. Probably nail heads stand up here and there. Drive all these flush with the surface of the boards, and if one plank does not lie flush with the edge of the next, run over all the upstanding edges with a small plane. A third step is to examine the joins between the boards. Owing to the use of unseasoned wood, planks often show gaps where they should touch. All these spaces must be filled, and there is no better way of doing this than by using paper pulp. Tear up a good many newspapers into shreds, place in an old saucepan with a little hot water and boil. A considerable amount of the pulp will be required, seeing that the spaces to be filled will usually prove far more capacious than might be expected. When the pulp is ready, melt some glue, and make it very thin and hot. Take convenient quantities of the pulpy substance, mix with a little glue, and force tightly into the cracks with a trowel or wide-bladed knife. Do not mix up all the paper with the glue, or it may harden before it can be used. When a strip has been filled, level it as much as possible, so that on becoming dry and hard a very little rubbing with glass paper will make the surface perfectly smooth.
Whilst using the glass paper, give an eye to the surface of the boards. They, too, may prove all the better for a slight rub, but be careful to rub always in the direction of the grain. If a circular motion be applied, the stain will penetrate unevenly, and look patchy.
A water stain cannot be applied to wood that has been varnished, unless the varnish is first removed by scraping and finishing off with glass paper. Wood that has been polished with wax can be re-stained after washing the floor with hot water. Always dust the floor before staining and varnishing, and when the latter is applied, the room should not be used; it is best to have no fire alight, and the windows and doors shut.
Permanganate of potash, dissolved in hot water, is probably the cheapest stain there is. Use it strong and hot to get a good dark tint; it dries lighter than when viewed wet. Apply with a broad, clean brush, and work in the direction of the grain of the wood. Such a surface can be varnished, and will then require no treatment except dusting. If wax polished, the surface must be rubbed over every week.
Japan black, thinned with about twice its bulk of methylated spirit, gives a good imitation of Jacobean oak. The slight shine does away with the need of a coat of varnish, and the surface only calls for dusting occasionally.
A mahogany stain can be made by mixing powdered burnt sienna (obtained from the oilshop) in water, to which has been added an equal quantity of stale beer. This surface should be varnished for preference.
Bichromate of potash, dissolved in plain water, will produce almost the same colour as the above. Be careful to keep the solution from touching the fingers, as it is, with many people, a powerful irritant.
Many varnish stains are put up in bottles ready for use. They stain and varnish the wood at the same time, and so provide the amateur with the quickest means of getting the job done. The surface is liable to chip in time, and this is a great drawback.
The fancy coloured dyes, as sold for dyeing fabrics, are useful where a dainty effect is desired. The floor can be made to harmonize with the hangings, but these dyes can only be applied to fresh wood.