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Refinish a Hardwood Floor

Refresh your hardwood floor to create a warm, welcoming look in your home, and you can save money by doing it yourself.

hardwood floors in a living room

Tools & Materials

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Deciding to Refinish Your Floor

First, decide whether the floor needs a total refinishing job:

  • If a drop of water beads or soaks in slowly, you may get by with a good cleaning and polishing.
  • If a drop of water soaks in immediately, the wood fibers may already be exposed and the floor needs refinishing.
  • If the floor is warped, deeply stained, squeaky or otherwise damaged, you'll need to make repairs first, then refinish.

If you choose to refinish, keep these things in mind:

  • Since the sanding process can remove a lot of surface, your floor needs to be at least 3/4" thick.
  • If your floor is thinner than 3/4", you may want hire a pro to avoid accidentally sanding down to the subfloor.
  • A tongue and groove floor cannot be sanded as many times as a plank floor.
  • Some newer floors are as thin as 1/4" and cannot be refinished.
  • If your hardwood floor is underneath another floor covering, the old floor has to be removed.

Preparing to Refinish Your Floor

The key to most successful home improvement projects is preparation and this job is certainly no exception. Take the time to get the surface cleaned and sanded properly. This part is where you'll most need to have patience.

Step 1

Remove everything from the room. Furniture, window treatments and wall hangings all have to go. If the floor extends into a closet, remove all the closet contents.

Step 2

Cover the light fixture(s). A trash bag over the fixture works fine. Secure it with masking tape.

Step 3

Remove shoe moulding. It's not necessary to remove baseboards unless you plan to replace them.  To remove shoe moulding, wedge a pry bar between the moulding and wall. Insert a small block of wood behind the bar to prevent damage and provide leverage.

Step 4

Tape every opening - electrical outlets, light switches and vent ducts especially. Close off the room from the rest of the house by sealing the door with masking tape or hanging plastic sheeting over the door opening.

Step 5

Vacuum the floor before sanding to remove dirt and debris.

Sanding Your Floor

Proper sanding levels the floor and brings back the grain, one of the desirable attributes of a hardwood floor. Several passes with the sanding tools will be required to achieve a smooth finish. Provide ventilation while sanding and staining. An open window with a fan is a good idea, especially since the door is sealed.

The drum sander is the first tool you'll use. It's not a part of most homeowners' tool collections, but is readily available as a rental tool. If you've never used a drum sander, you may be in for some surprises. It's large and rather noisy. It's also very efficient. Drum sanders remove a lot of material very quickly. One of the most common mishaps of do-it-yourself floor refinishing is gouging the wood with the sander. A few seconds is all it takes to do the damage. Here are a few tips for using a drum sander:

  • Start the sander while the machine is tilted back and not in contact with the floor. After it's up to full revolutions, slowly lower it to the floor surface.
  • Start or "practice" in an area that you know will be covered by a large piece of furniture, such as a sofa or bed. That way any beginner sanding errors will be concealed. Even better - practice on a sheet of wood or plywood until you get the feel for the machine.
  • Keep it moving - it's not hard to move forward or backward, just don't let it stand still while running.
  • Work slowly and let the machine do the work.

You are removing dirt and old stain and creating a new level surface, so choose the initial sandpaper accordingly. Remember the smaller the grit number, the rougher the sandpaper and the more material it will remove. Start with a coarse grit and move to finer grits as the floor begins to get smoother with each sanding.

Sanding grit estimates vary according to the condition of your floor. In general, begin with a 20 to 60 grit and end with 120. You may choose to skip the 20 grit pass if the floor is relatively smooth. Always use the same grit progression on all areas, whether drum, edge or hand sanding.

Remember to clean the floor thoroughly after each sanding grit change.

Caution

When sanding, wear hearing and eye protection and use a respirator.

How To Sand Your Floor

Step 1

Begin sanding in the center of the room. Sand with the grain from one end of the room to the other, overlapping passes by an inch or two. Repeat the procedure on the other half of the room. Sand the entire center portion of the floor.

Step 2

After the main portion of the floor has been sanded with the drum sander, hand-sand or use an edge sander to sand areas where the drum sander did not reach. Use the same grit sandpaper you used with the drum sander. You may need to hand-sand or use a detail sander to reach the corners.

Step 3

When the entire floor is finished, vacuum and repeat the entire process using smaller grit (larger number) sandpaper with each pass.

Step 4

Finish by sanding the entire floor with 120 grit sandpaper.

Step 5

After the last sanding, vacuum once more and wipe with a dry cloth or tack cloth.

Staining Your Floor

You can apply a clear sealer to your newly refinished floor or apply a stain, water- or oil-based. Follow the directions on the sealer or stain you select - each product will have its own instructions. Like paint, a stain often looks different at the store than it does in your home, so try to test a small area before doing the whole floor.

Some stains require more than one coat with a sanding between. Check the label for the drying time. It's important not to begin moving furniture back in before the floor is completely dry. After the floor is dry, reinstall the shoe moulding. To get the best finish, buff the floor after staining or sealing.

Removing Other Flooring

If you've decided it's time to peel back the shag carpet and enjoy the wood floor underneath, remember a few important things:

  • Some carpet pads can be a pain to clean up. Use an adhesive remover to remove the carpet adhesive. Make sure you remove the carpet tack strips around the perimeter of the room. If the resulting holes won't be covered by moulding, fill them with a wood filler putty prior to sanding.
  • Carefully remove any staples or nails to prevent damage to tools and the floor itself. If nails can't be pulled, use a nailset to sink them below the floor surface.
  • Even a resilient floor can be removed, although it may be difficult. Pull up as much as possible. Use adhesive remover to remove the flooring adhesive. If scraping is necessary (it probably will be) take care not to gouge the wood with the scraper.
Caution

Older resilient floors (up to the 1970s and 1980s) made from vinyl or linoleum may also contain asbestos. If you are unsure, DO NOT SAND. Contact an asbestos removal company.