Toning While Refinishing a Floor

Finishers discuss various ways to add toner over an existing floor finish, without stripping first. August 30, 2005

I was wondering if anyone has tried toning varnish to add a little color to the existing varnished floor without sanding off the old varnish? Is this possible?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
I wouldn’t recommend it. To do it right is very time consuming and may not be cost effective. If time isn’t an issue then this is how I would do it. If the floor is in good shape and doesn’t need stripping and sanding , then I would seal the floor (after a good cleaning and get it dry). Add the desired color by spraying it on in a toned pre-catalyzed lacquer. Then seal that color in with another layer of sealer. Lastly apply your first topcoat of polyurethane. After 24 hours, scuff sand with 320 grit, and then apply the last coat of polyurethane.

From contributor J:
By the way, if you just try a toned finish, then what will happen is you will begin to notice trailing where there is heavy foot traffic because the topcoat that has color in it will start to fade because of wear and tear. It’s the same effect as you see on carpet after it begins to show traffic.

From the original questioner:
What if I tone the varnish and then apply two coats of poly? Will that work?

From contributor J:
How are you planning to tone the varnish?

From the original questioner:
I was thinking either by adding a little oil based stain or an aniline dye. What do you think?

From contributor J:
Well, you could do it this way. Do not use a dye because of the fading that will occur. Use a pigment such as a universal tinting color dissolved in lacquer thinner and then added to your pre-cat lacquer. Since you are top-coating with polyurethane, and it isn’t compatible with lacquer, you will have to use a sealer and a good one at that.

I would suggest that you use a vinyl sealer. I suppose you could mix the universal tinting color with paint thinner and add to the poly, but I have never attempted that route before. Try a schedule on some scrap flooring and see what you get. Remember to scuff sand between each coat of poly with 320 grit or you will have adhesion problems.

From contributor C:
Sure it is quite doable. I have done it many times. I use utc's or artist's oil colors to tint my polyurethane. Ideally it is best to finish up with a clear coat or one that has only a very slight tint (to allow for wear without color loss) however, because polyurethane is so durable, it is not unreasonable to skip this step when it is too expensive or scheduling will not allow for it. Some universal tinters require the addition of Naptha or lacquer thinner to help with efficient dispersal. Be sure to clean and de-wax before you re-coat and scuff sanding is a very good idea too.

From contributor M:
I would suggest that you do all your color mixing in a separate container not directly into the Poly. The Lacquer Thinner will break down colorant faster, as Naptha evaporates in four minutes, and Mineral Spirits in fifty, in this case the Mineral Spirits might be a better choice to use to mix the coloring and coating together. You must keep mixing to keep the pigments suspender and in solution. If not, you will not get a uniform color.