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Refinishing Hardwood Floors

By on March 14, 2010
Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Refinishing hardwood floors can be a dusty, time consuming chore, but can produce great returns on the sweat equity for “DIY”ers.  Here is how you go about boosting that equity.

Prep the Room

Like painting, a huge percentage of the time it takes to refinish hardwood floors is preparing the room.  Start by removing all of the furniture.  Next, remove any shoe molding that runs along the baseboard trim, but first, remove any door stops that are in the way.  If you’ve pulled up carpeting to refinish the floor underneath, then you’re probably one step ahead and don’t have any shoe molding to remove.  Run a utility knife along any painted surface that is in contact with the base molding.  Gently pry shoe molding off with a hammer and pry bar.  “Gently” being the operative word, because you will want to replace the shoe molding once the floor is refinished.  Protect the base molding from the pry bar with a wood shim or some plastic laminate to avoid denting the base molding.  Be sure to keep track of where you pulled each piece of shoe molding from by numbering their backsides.

You should replace any floor boards that are severely damaged with excessive splits or cracking.  I once had to replace whole sections of flooring due to staining from the previous owner’s pets. Set your circular saw to the same depth as the flooring (usually 3/4 inches) and run it down the center of the damaged board.  Pry the board out with a hammer and chisel.  To replace the board, cut a new piece to the same length.  Use a table saw to remove the bottom lip from the groove side of the board.  This way the tongue side of the replacement piece will fit into exposed groove of the existing flooring, and the other side of the new piece will rest on the tongue of the exposed floor board.  Use a couple beads of floor adhesive on the new board when installing and face nail it with some finish nails (drill pilot holes first so you don’t split your new board).  After replacing damaged boards, check the floor for any exposed nail heads and countersink them so they won’t tear up the sandpaper when you start sanding.  You’ll need to re-check for nail heads between each sanding.


Sanding the floor will create a lot of dust so you’ll want to minimize clean-up by covering doorways with plastic sheets.  You should cover wall vents so dust doesn’t cycle back to your furnace.  You will also need to remove the floor grills for your heat registers.  Keep the room ventilated by placing a fan in a window that is blowing to the outdoors.

Floor sanders are noisy so in addition to a dust mask you may want to consider ear plugs.  The majority of the sanding should be done with a drum sander.  You can rent one from most rental centers.  Get a good lesson on how to operate the drum sander from the rental agency.  Have them help you with the quantity of sandpaper you’ll need, then buy a little extra.  You can return what you don’t use.  The objective is to get your floor sanded down to the raw wood.  This means removing all of the old finish, any scratches or dents, and if necessary, leveling any cupping.  The biggest mistake first timers make is letting the sander set idle in one place.  It is imperative to keep a steady even pace so as to avoid leaving divots in your floor.  If you have deep scratches or dents then start with 20 grit paper.  If you just need to remove the old finish then you can start with 32 grit.

Start in a corner with a coarse grade of paper and work backwards half way across the floor.  Pull the sander along the wall, running with the grain of the wood.  Again, if you have to stop, be sure to lift the drum off the floor.  Complete the first half of the room overlapping rows by 3 or 4 inches.  Complete the other half of the room by starting in the opposite corner.  If the floor has extreme cupping or raised boards, do the first coarse sanding diagonal to the grain.  Repeat the whole process with medium (80) grit paper and then again with fine (100) grit.  Because the drum sander is circular it will not be able to get flush to a couple of the walls.  Finish along these walls and other tight areas like stairs and closets with an “edger” which you can also rent along with the drum sander.

Vacuum up as much dust as possible then use a tack cloth to clean up the finest dust.  This way your finished floor will be super smooth and free of any dust particles.  You will have to get down on your hands and knees with the tack cloth.  Be sure to protect your hands, it’s an easy way to get a serious splinter.

Stain and Finish

If the floor has any small cracks or, if you replaced boards with face nailing you can fill the holes with equal parts epoxy and wood dust from the sanding.  This will give you an excellent color match.  Staining the floor is optional and a personal preference.  Use a rag, brush, or roller to apply the stain.  Apply generously, wait a bit and then wipe excess with a clean rag.  The longer it sets the darker it gets.  If the floor is a softwood, like pine, you may want to apply a coat of wood seal before staining.  Softwoods have a tendency to stain unevenly.

Apply the clear coat, either tung oil or urethane, using a lamb’s wool applicator and a paint tray.  Follow the grain and apply at least three coats allowing several hours dry time between.  Read the manufacturers directions on the can for specifics.  The final step is to replace the shoe molding onto the baseboard.  Let the finish coat completely cure before walking on it or replacing furniture.  Be patient, it could be up to a week.  Again, refer to the manufacturers directions.

Congratulations, your friends and family are going to be amazed at the room’s transformation.

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