Scratches are one of the most common of problems with wood floors. The deeper the scratch, the more of a problem it is. Surface scratches, where it’s just a scratch in the finish it self, is something that can easily be fixed, sometimes even by the homeowner. Deep scratches, though, scratches where they go below the finish and scratched down through the wood stain, on down into the grain of the wood.
I once had a client who had a large German Shepherd that when you rang the front doorbell, the dog would come bounding down the central stairs, take a flying leap into the foyer, and then bark and scratch furiously at the door and the floor. This was a nice home and very nice oak floor, but the dog gouged that foyer area quite deeply, leaving obvious furrows in the wood. The best thing in this case was simply to restain the area as evenly as possible, recoat the area of for more protection, and then keep a mat at the door.
The worst kind of scratches on wood floors are ones where the scratch is running
across the grain of the wood going directly opposite the direction that the boards are running or some sort of parallel angle. These kind of scratches when they are down deep into the wood are pretty much going to be there unless you sand the wood floor down below the level of the scratch itself.
In most cases it is not worth it to sand your wood floor down below the level of a deep scratch because by doing so you are sanding off almost all of the actual working thickness of the wood floor itself, all for the sake of removing a few scratches.
You can, if you absolutely insist on having the scratches gone, replace those boards, preferably sanding those boards to the thickness of the rest of the floor before you install them so that you don’t once again end up sanding the entire floor just to make everything even out.
In general, the best thing to do is to do cosmetic work on the scratches to make them so that they don’t pop out to the eyes so easily. One of the easiest ways to do this is to figure out a wood stain color that you can apply into the scratch itself that blends in with the wood around the scratch. This does not mean that you use, necessarily, the same color of wood stain that the rest of the floor happens to be stained with. The reason for this is that a deep scratch in wood is an area where the wood grain is literally torn open and is no longer finely sanded within that area. If you looked at it with a magnifying glass it would look like a jagged Valley in the middle of your wood floor. What happens with jagged, raw wood is that the stain that you put into it soaks in a lot more room readily than it does with wood that is finally sanded.
So what happens when someone typically tries to stain a wood floor scratch with the same color as the rest of the wood is that the scratch on the floor turns out looking a lot darker than the rest of the wood around it. Just for an example, if you had a medium brown stained wood floor, and you then put on some medium brown stain trying to make a scratch not show as much, it will turn out looking dark brown instead of medium brown.
So, the thing to do is to ideally start with a stain color that is a few shades lighter than the surrounding wood and try that in just a small area of the scratch, and see how it looks. And then adjust from there.
Then once you apply the stain into the scratch as best as you are able, there still is the matter of applying finish to the scratch. This also was a lot easier said than done, especially if the scratches are running against the grain of the wood. There is a tendency to want to try to “fill” the scratch with wood finish, but in general that is not a good idea. What happens if that is tried is that you end up with a sort of ‘hump’ with the finish spilling out to either side of the scratch making it look even wider. If you insist on putting some finish into the scratch it’s best just to use a very thin brush and apply it just down into the scratch itself and not try to fill up the scratch.
Ideally what you do is keep a good amount of protective finish on your wood floor to keep it from getting scratched in the first place. If you happen to know of a problem that is going to keep occurring, such as a dog that’s scratches at the front door whenever the doorbell rings, then keep a rug or a hard mat there, anything to keep the floor from continually being scratched and gouged out.
So when it comes to scratches in wood floors, its best by-far to prevent the scratches from happening in the first place. Light scratches in the wood can be a fairly easy fix, but deep scratches are problematic at best.