8 Tips You Should Know Before Refinishing Hardwood Floors
Lets talk about hardwood floors. When they’re well taken care of, they’re beautiful. But if they haven’t been protected or refinished in their 100 year existence, well...
The floors in my house are/were in terrible shape. Water stains that go all the way to the wood? Check. Warped wood that has created noticeable bumps in the floor? Check. Weird gray spots where the finish has completely rubbed away? Check. Someone was going to have to refinish these floors, and since I am philosophically opposed to hiring people, it was going to have to be me.
I decided to do things room by room, because I have furniture and no real place to move all of the furniture at once. Plus, refinishing the floors of my entire house seemed incredibly intimidating, and this project was scary enough as it was. I started with the sunroom/future office, which was nice and small and achievable. Also, the majority of the floor was going to be covered by a nice rug, so if I screwed up too badly, I probably wouldn’t have to look at it.
I learned a couple things along the way, and fully expect that the next chunk (the living and dining rooms, to be completed in a couple months) will go much smoother. I thought I’d share a couple tips I’d learned along the way!
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1. Keep Moving
No matter what. Shoe fall off? Keep moving. Trip over the cord? Keep moving. An important looking screw falls out of the sander? Keep moving. You can’t ruin your floors too badly if you follow this one single rule.
The biggest danger in sanding your own floors is to stop moving and accidentally sand a hole/divot into your floor. The drum sander is super powerful, and it will do that in seconds. Thus, if the sander is on, you are moving. Embrace this fact, and everything will turn out okay.
2. Watch Out For the Cord
The cord is large, long, and unwieldy. It is your biggest barrier to following tip (or really, necessity) #1. Pretty sure I tripped over it at least 5 times, and had to keep moving. Have a plan for keeping it out of the way.
3. Sand With the Grain
The drum sander will sand marks into the floor. No matter how many grits you use or how high you go, the marks are inevitable. They will be almost invisible if you sand in the direction of the grain, as the grain will disguise any leftover marks. But if you sand perpendicular to the grain they will be super, super obvious if you add any stain.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a table I refinished. I sanded all the paint off with a belt sander, and wasn’t super discriminatory about which direction I sanded.
See all those little lines?? That was from the belt sander. Now imagine that on your floor. Not cool.
Sand with the grain.
4. Weird Floor Pattern? Don't Stain.
Take a look at my floor:
Cool pattern, right? It’s the first thing everybody comments on when they walk into the house. All my hardwood floors make this cool square pattern, and it’s definitely a conversation piece. But it makes refinishing the floors much more difficult, since the grain pattern isn’t always facing the same direction. Because of this, I can’t always be sanding with the grain.
As mentioned in #3, this will result in a bunch of small marks from the drum sander appearing on my floor. And since sanding in a square shape seems super difficult, I’m going to have to deal with it.
The solution?? Don’t apply stain. Any stain on my floor will highlight the marks. Since I wanted a bit more color on my floors than the pale oak it was after sanding, I opted for an oil polyurethane with a “traditional autumn tone.” So far, no obvious marks!
5. Bad Sander? Here's How to Deal With It.
The sander I rented from Menards had definitely seen some wear and tear- only half of the drum actually contacted/sanded the floor. I wrote a whole post about how I dealt with it; go take a look if you’re worried it might happen to you!
6. Get a Friend
The drum sander is heavy. Like, 95 pounds heavy claims the manual. There was absolutely no way I could have lifted it into the car myself; I actually ended up building a ramp and rolling the sander up it into the car, which was not that much fun either. I highly recommend finding a friend, if for no other reason than getting the sander in and out of your car.
7. Buy Extra Sandpaper
While there are published guidelines on how much sandpaper to buy (1 sheet lasts about 250 square feet,) if your sander is a little more worn down, or you have a particularly thick/sticky finish, you may run through it faster. Instead of having to run back to the store mid-sanding, purchase more than you think you need, especially of the lower grits. Then, if you don’t use it, you can return the sandpaper to the store when you’re returning the sander.
8. Refrigerate Your Flooring Finish Applicator
I suppose if you’re using water-based polyurethane, it’s not that big of a deal to wash out your applicator after each coat. But if you’re using oil-based polyurethane, that stuff is tricky to clean. It must be washed using mineral spirits, which are expensive, plus it feels super wasteful to basically be pouring them down the drain.
One way around this is to put your applicator in a gallon sized baggie, and then into the fridge. This keeps the applicator from drying out, and then allows you to reuse it (without washing!) multiple hours later for your next coat.
If you’re considering refinishing your own floors, don’t be scared! Keep moving, and you’ll be okay. Hopefully the rest of the tips will help make things easier. If you end up refinishing your floors, I’d love to see a before and after! Let me know how it goes!