Refinishing Wood Floors: 3 Things To Do When You Get a Bad Sander

Who here is terrified of the idea of refinishing their own wood floors? *Raises hand.* Me!!! Everyone talks about how harsh a drum sander is, how it can quickly and easy sand waves into your floor, and if the drum sander you rent is bad, it’s almost impossible to get even floors. Real reassuring, there.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but people say these things for a reason. I was one of those people who got a bad drum sander. I didn’t know what to do, and I definitely stood in the room panicking multiple times. But I kept going and figured it out. Here’s how I made it work.

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How to Know if Your Sander is Bad
1) It Only Sands Half the Floor
Refinishing your wood floors not going well? Same. Come see how I made a bad sander work! #diy #diyprojects #HomeImprovement #WoodFloors #AButterflyHouse

I noticed almost immediately that my sander wasn’t sanding the entire length of the drum. When I finished the first row, it was quite apparent that the sanded portion was considerably less than the width of the drum.

2) There Are Dents, Tears and Unevenness in the Sanding Drum

I did not inspect my drum before starting, but even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the damage. If you look at the drum of the sander and see that it is clearly damaged, that’s a pretty bad sign.

3) The Screws Are Loose Or Falling Out

While this doesn’t speak to the condition of the drum itself, it’s a strong sign that this sander has been worked hard. A screw I couldn’t identify fell out mid-sanding. More concerning was when the bolt holding the lift/lower level (the handle that lifts and lowers the drum off the floor) fell out completely, making it impossible for me to lift the drum off the floor. This could have led to a severely dented area, but I turned off the sander and kept moving until the drum had come to a complete stop.

4) The Sandpaper is Clogging In One Space Only
Refinishing your wood floors not going well? Same. Come see how I made a bad sander work! #diy #diyprojects #HomeImprovement #WoodFloors #AButterflyHouse

Very quickly after I started sanding my 36 grit sandpaper became clogged on one side. The fact that the sandpaper wasn’t uniformly clogged was indicative that only half the sandpaper was touching the floor.

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What To Do With Your Bad Sander
1) Don't Rent It

If you were lucky/skilled enough to identify a damaged drum before leaving the rental center, gold stars for you! Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but don’t rent it. See if the store has another one, or go to another store in the area.

2) Go Slowly

If you’re like most of us and didn’t realize your sander was bad until you started sanding, that’s okay. Go slowly. Give the sander multiple opportunities to sand the same area. When I finished a row, and moved over to start the next row, I only moved over about two inches. I wanted the sander to overlap where it had just sanded, and since I knew my sander was only partially sanding the floor, I didn’t move as much as I would have if I’d had a fully working sander.

3) Get Extra Sandpaper

If your sander is only partially sanding the floor, you’re going to need more sandpaper. Since your sandpaper is being heavily used on one half, and not used at all on the other half, you will clog the used half of the sandpaper much faster. 

Special Tip: If your sander is only using half the sandpaper, flip it around after one half gets clogged! That way, you get to save a little money by using the other half of the sandpaper.

Refinishing your wood floors not going well? Same. Come see how I made a bad sander work! #diy #diyprojects #HomeImprovement #WoodFloors #AButterflyHouse

I clogged the left side of the sandpaper, then flipped it around and used the right half!

I recommend doing your research in advance, and purchase sandpaper online that matches the machine you will be renting. It will be cheaper, and you’ll therefore be less inclined to skimp on the sandpaper. Alternatively, you could pay store prices and purchase significantly more than you think you need, then return any unused sandpaper when you return the machine.

Breathe... It's Going to Be Okay

If you’re reading this with a half-sanded floor in the other room, know that it will be okay. Go slowly, get lots of sandpaper, and breathe. It will be okay. If you need a little reassurance, here’s what my floors looked like mid-first coat, when I was absolutely panicking:

Refinishing your wood floors not going well? Same. Come see how I made a bad sander work! #diy #diyprojects #HomeImprovement #WoodFloors #AButterflyHouse

The sander clearly wasn't sanding evenly, and the sandpaper was so clogged that it was leaving marks on my floor. I was terrified!

And here’s what they looked like when I was done:

Refinishing your wood floors not going well? Same. Come see how I made a bad sander work! #diy #diyprojects #HomeImprovement #WoodFloors #AButterflyHouse

Good luck! And if you need a little more reassurance, go ahead and tell me about your struggles in the comments below!

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