Cottage Project How To's

Encapsulating Cutback – Tar Like Adhesive

If you are a handyman, renovator, or DIY’er, you have probably encountered a black, tar like, adhesive used for vinyl tile in the past. This stuff appears pretty nasty and probably is.  In cases where I am removing something that might contain asbestos or nasty chemicals that are no longer legal, I use quite a bit of caution.

Tile over cutback adhesive

The black adhesive is referred to as “cut back”.  I wasn’t sure what it was when I encountered it so I reached out to the forums at   If you have a flooring or tile question, there is NO better site than the forums at  The number of experts and experienced flooring people is astonishing.  Ask a question in the forums and you are most certain to be provided an answer.

Side note: When asking a question in a forum (of any kind), don’t just ask how to do something.  People are very willing to help, provided you have tried to help yourself first. Explain the steps you have already taken and what you are thinking about doing and I guarantee you will get a response.

I encountered this tar-like flooring adhesive in a 1930-1940’s cottage.  I searched the web and found people that would try to strip this product to be able to uncover the hardwood below. However, the nasty stripper that you will need to use might just preclude you from getting a finish on the wood, so consider that. Others wanted to sand the product. DON”T SAND CUTBACK. Again, this gets back to the nasty chemicals.  The number of carcinogens that were used (not known then) is very high in many of these older products. Sanding cutback will be dangerous and probably harmful.

The best answer to dealing with this was to encapsulate the product. I will be going over it with a vinyl tile product (VCT) so encapsulation is my best bet. I could have skined the floor with a 1/4″ sub-floor (luan or plywood) but I didn’t want 1/4″ added to a transition close to an entry door.  Because of that I decided to use a cement like product to encapsulate.  The product is called feather finish and is from a company called Ardex.  I had to located a dealer since it isn’t a product carried in my local home centers.  It was only about $13 for a bag that covers about 100 sq ft.

I know that many will say that I shouldn’t be using VCT over the existing wood plank floor, but the prior tile lasted 70 years over that floor. In addition to that, the area is about 30 sq ft and it if all pops it will be an easy job to repair/replace.

The picture above shows the floor with 1 coat of Feather Finish.  I will do a second coat just to be on the safe side (as recommended by a local commercial flooring pro).

If you have a flooring problem, head to the John Bridge forums and ask away.

By WNY Handyman

WNY Handyman has been renovating property since the mid 1990's. We have done a number of renovation projects over the years and often share our experiences or renovation techniques. We have been in the business of flipping for fun and profit and provide advice based on our experiences.
Our site is geared toward the weekend warrior and the DIY'er. However, it is our experience that many "professional" contractors could use a little advice now and then.

5 replies on “Encapsulating Cutback – Tar Like Adhesive”


The middle photo is of the cutback after it was covered using a product called “feather finish” from Ardex:

We never scraped off the cutback. That was a big part of why we posted about this. We wanted to demonstrate that you can encapsulate the cutback rather than scraping it off (potentially dangerous).

The middle picture is the cutback after 1 thin coat of the feather finish. We did add a second coat since we had a small space and plenty of material.

Good luck.


VCT cuts really well with a simple jigsaw. I would recommend that you undercut the jamb first so that the tile slides under it. Here is an example of a contractor doing it with ceramic. Same concept. Put the tile down and cut. You can get an oscillating tool much more than you expect and you can get them for about $29 at Amazon (,aps,155&sr=8-4&linkCode=sl1&tag=wnyhandyman-20&linkId=b8c52b3c3c879e13e4f7016d4c778ebe&language=en_US).

The undercutting gives you a lot of “fudge factor” on your cut. Since the tile will be under your door jamb (as it should be), it will hide an imperfect cut.

Here is the jigsaw blade that I use to cut VCT: It is a wood blade, but the depth of the blade makes it a cinch to work a shape with.

Hope this helps. Feel free to ask anything else.

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