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How To Refinish Hardwood Floors

Just about anyone who has older hardwood floors in their home or has discovered they have them under their carpet has thought about refinishing them. It is true you could hire someone to do this task, but if you have ever gotten it priced out you were probably surprised by the cost.

It is a very dusty and time consuming process but most rental shops have the equipment for you to rent at a reasonable cost. They will also have the various grit sandpapers you need. Now all you need is the know how and that is where I come in.

Difficulty Level: 5/12

Tools Required

Hardwood Floor Preparation & Sanding

TIP: I think it is worth mentioning that most hardwood floors can generally be finished more than a couple of times in their lifetime but once they become thinner than 1/2" (12mm) I would not recommend it so check the thickness before you decide for sure to continue. You can usually do this by pulling a heat register from the floor opening and see how thick the edge of the flooring is already.

I would start out in a smaller room at first if you are not really sure of your skills and leave the big front room for later once you have gained some experience and practice.

Begin by prepping the room. I would remove everything! This will be a dusty job and the fewer items in the room to work around and clean later will be best. Even removing the baseboard really helps because you do not need to worry about banging it up and also you can get right to the edges of the floor. Make sure you pull out any protruding nails and use the hammer and nailset to sink any that are exposed otherwise they will wreck the sanding products you are using. Also hang some plastic sheeting (poly) at any doorways and tape it closed and even stuff vents w/towels to keep dust from being sucked to the furnace or blown around the house even more. Once you have everything prepped and vacuumed very well it is time to start sanding.

Hardwood floor sander

You will start with 40 grit on the main sander. With this machine you will sand the bulk of the floor moving with the grain of the wood and it may be necessary to change the paper often in the beginning as the old finish will gum up the surface very quickly. Because of the size of this machine you will not be able to get in close to the walls.

TIP: Do some initial sanding in the middle of the room until you get accustomed to the machine and do not stop moving while the machine is working as this will remove to much flooring in those areas and cause a wavy floor that takes even more time to smooth out.

Floor sanding in progress

It is sometimes required to start with even a coarser paper like 25-30 grit but if the 40 grit is doing it that is where I would start. Once you have the main area of the floor sanded to the point that the old finish is removed, then take the edger around the perimeter using the same grit of paper. Repeat this process with both machines using 60 grit followed by 80 grit. Use the vacuum repeatedly to keep the dust under control and out of your way.

Also check for nails as you go they may need to be re set further into the flooring as you sand more off. I generally will check for cracks, holes or damage at this point and use a good wood filler to tough them up. I would not try to fill gaps between the edges of the flooring boards as these spaces will generally change as the seasons change and the floor expands and contracts with humidity changes.

TIP: If your rental shop will let you return unused sanding products take more than you think you will need to save you a trip back down to pick up more if you run out.

Once the imperfections are all filled and the filler has dried completely you then use both machines again with 100 grit paper. Vacuum very well when done. Now use the floor buffer first with a 150 than a 180 grit pad (looks like a huge sos pad you would use to clean dishes) You should be able to do the entire floor with this one machine now, but if it is to large for some areas you could use a hand held random orbital sander. Finally clean out all dust from the room and vacuum floor very well. Keep the floor clean and dry in preparation for applying the finish you want.

This is a huge time consuming dusty project but once you get that out of the way you are over half way done! The floor is ready for finishing now.

Hardwood Floor Finishing

Tools Required: brush, recommended finish applicator for the product you are using, vacuum

So it is time to refinish that freshly sanded hardwood floor that took so long to prepare! Well don't sweat it you are almost done the project all you need now is the products to finish the floor the way you want. Refinishing an oak floor is not that bad, maple on the other hand is a lot more challenging it does not always absorb the finish evenly so it is recommended to first give it a sealer to help even it out.

So begin by talking to your local supply store and explain what you are doing and if possible what type of wood you are dealing with so that person can get you all the right products and advice you need to work with their finishes.

Once you have your finishing products start by vacuuming the room as well as you can. Then start applying the finish you have chosen. Start furthest away from the door and work your way back towards it.If you are using a stain to start it is helpful to have another person so one can apply and one can wipe off excess stain.

TIP: Remember if you are using oil or solvent based products to have adequate ventilation and to dispose of any rags or brushes properly as these products can result in fires. Also it may be wise to remove any ignition sources from the area or house while the products are in use.

Let all products dry completely before applying the next coat, and try to keep dust to a minimum while products are wet. You will probably want to wipe the surface with a tack cloth or damp towel before each coat. This will help to pick up dust and particles from the surface.

I'm sure once you have completed this floor yourself that the finished product will be much worth it and you will have saved some money by doing it yourself. Good luck D.I.Y.er!

Hardwood Floors

We have other related flooring articles. Please check out our New Hardwood Flooring Installation article.