SandFree began simply enough……Mr Johnson, (of Johnson and Johnson) a renowned sculptor who developed the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. In your city, if you see a lifelike human, or child, in a pose of everyday life – ie. carrying an umbrella, holding a child on a knee, calling a taxi, it might have been created at The Grounds for Sculpture. He added a 5 star restaurant – RATS! (named for a Dickens character). He was told by his floor sander that he needed to close the restaurant for 3 weeks to have the floors refinished. The designer he was working with knew we had been sanding floors since the 70s and introduced us to Mr. Johnson. There were problems with the floor finish and Mr. Johnson wanted the floors refinished without closing the restaurant. He didn’t want to deal with any dust. The fact that he said – “No Dust” – eliminated all of the so-called dust control systems or low dust systems. No dust is no dust. And if you’re going to refinish a floor with no dust, it will only be done with out sanding. This was a common complaint we had heard for decades, so the quest for a “sandless” floor refinishing system began.
The real problem is this – how can you get urethane to adhere to urethane without screening the existing urethane to create a roughed up surface to create a mechanical profile. Any loose urethane, or dirt will create a project that would fail. Therefore, the first part of the problem was to get rid of the loose, old urethane. The second part was to get rid of the dirt. The third problem was to come up with a way to get the new urethane to adhere to the old urethane without any kind of sanding. The final problem was to find a urethane that would dry quickly, with no odor, no flammability issues, and be durable. Frankly, the previous three sentences represented months of work., but as I heard said before, “Finding the answers is easy. Figuring our what the questions are is what takes all of the time.”
To resolve the first problem – removing the loose urethane – we found a butyl-based conditioner, that wasn’t that strong, but softened the existing finish to prepare it to receive another coat of urethane. Remember, our goal in Phase I isn’t to remove all of the finish, the goal was to make sure the old finish wouldn’t further deteriorate after the new finish was applied. Once we applied a new finish, if the old finish was securely bonded to the wood, the floor will have that much more protection. If there is urethane that is securely bonded to the wood, we can remove any cloudiness that might be visible from improper cleaning techniques and it can serve as a good base to which a new coat of urethane can be applied.
After a little trial and error, and a few costly failures, because each failure meant we had to sand the floor, at our cost, we found that Phase I really involved 2 parts. We needed to put the conditioner on the floor, and then we had to get it completely removed from the floor or the new urethane won’t adhere in some spots. We switched products a couple of times and found a product that is water-soluble. This means that we can rinse the floor and remove any trace of the Phase I agent. That took care of the first problem.
The next problem was the dirt. The conditioner softened the urethane, but it didn’t do much with the grease. The rinsing helped with the dirt, but it wasn’t enough. For the second problem we found an alcohol-based cleaner. This worked well and in fact is what should be used to clean the floors in the long term as a maintenance item.
Now we had a clean floor – mostly covered by urethane, but with some raw wood showing. To resolve the new urethane to old urethane adherence problem we came up with a novel product. Urethane is a form of plastic. That meant that we needed an agent that would bond plastic to plastic – like super glue! We need to diverge here. If you look closely at your credit cards you’ll see that each credit card is really 3 pieces of plastic bonded together. There is a type of “super-glue” that bonds those three pieces of plastic together. Our problem was simpler – we only had to bond 2 “pieces of plastic” together – the old urethane to the new urethane and that is the manufacturer who solved our third problem. We use a derivative of that product that bonds all of your credit cards together to get our old urethane to bond to our new urethane.
The final problem was to find a urethane that would perform well, have no odor, no flammability, and dry quickly. Of course you know exactly who we went to for that product, Brunswick. That’s right – the manufacturer of the bowling equipment, and also the manager of thousands of acres of wood floor bowling alleys, that are always in pristine condition. That product was designed for Brunswick to have no odor – alleys are only closed 8 hours a day. There is no flammability – with that much wood a normal urethane would off-gas enough fumes to burn an alley down with a cigarette ash. The urethane cures quickly – so that the alleys can be refinished at 2AM and people can bowl at 9am. And finally, it is very hard to withstand the punishment of 25 pound bowling balls being dropped on the wood thousands of times each day!
At this point, we knew we had a system that would work, and happily we began testing the limits of the process.
Today the system remains essentially the same, it is a 5 phase chemical process with abrasion. The first 3 phases prepare the existing finish to receive a new coat of urethane. The 4th phase is a bonding coat. The 5th phase is the application of the urethane.