If you’re bound and determined, as I was, to refinish your own hardwood floors, there are a few things you should know as a project overview:
- Gather all the information you can before you do anything, gather more as you go on the specific steps! Watch many YouTube videos and read testimonials. Different people will do things different ways, but you can learn from all of them.
- Keep the area clean, you can’t sweep vacuum or damp wipe too many times.
- Go slow and steady. My project took 2 weeks total (a lot of that is drying time.)
- Be sure you know what you’re buying, and how to use it (i.e. Is it stain, or stain with sealant in it?)
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions at hardware stores, if you need a second opinion go to a second store or call a contractor for advice. It’ll cost far less to have someone in to look and talk, than to have them do the whole job for you, and you’ll go forward with confidence instead of more questions.
To begin with, if you have carpet, you’ll obviously have to remove it, the underlay, any wood supports as well as the millions of staples you come across. I was lucky to have clean carpet and friends who wanted area rugs out of it. I’d rather repurpose it than contribute to the city dump – this was bit of a blessing.
I’d recommend a magnetic tool, whether it’s a small crow-bar or pliers, for removing the staples. The edgings of wood and metal will take some muscles to get underneath and pull it up. Be thorough in cleaning up the nails, staples and any mess that is made by this extraction process. Anything leftover can hinder the sander.
Luckily for me the wood beneath the underlay was of decent quality, but still sanding posed a challenge. Home Depot rented me a nice square-based sander. If you have the option for a barrel sander, say no. The square ones are better because they fit right into corners, so you don’t need to rent a second smaller machine and do an additional task. Also these square sanders take the wood off evenly, so you don’t get a different colour or look around the edges.
It may have been part of the learning curve, but I had stubborn 46 year old yellowing varnish in the dining room that didn’t want to come off with the sander. After 2 coats of sanding and a trip back to Home Depot for advise, I opted to use the sand paper they sold me specifically for “problem areas.” Next time I’d do a light buff with this first to get all the difficult areas, rather than going back over 2 coats of the whole floor and making sure everything was even.
Between each sanding (from 30 grit, to 60 to 120) my Mother and I made sure to sweep and shop vac and keep the room as clean as possible. That way you can see your progress with the next grit of sandpaper, like in the photo above, where the lighter part has been sanded. Some people say it’s smarter to draw lines with pencil on the floor between sandings to track your progress, but we didn’t feel the need to add that step.
For sanding here are a few hints:
- Always go with the grain (We made the mistake of doing one coat perpendicular to it, and had to make up for it later.)
- Even though you’re trying to keep the dust out of outlets and holes, it’s best to plug the sander directly into the wall. It needs to draw 15amps and not all extension cords are capable of supporting that.
- Use the reset button on the machine if it happens to stall along the way. Chances are it has nothing to do with your home’s electrical breakers.
As a fun little addition to the sanding process, my 150lb sander constantly wanted to go to the right, so you can imagine the muscles required to keep it on track, or even to move it to the left! Once you’ve fully bonded with your sander over 3+ coats of the floor, you’re ready to take it back to the rental place, say good bye and move on to staining. This next step is also riddled with learning curves and possibilities for error. More on that in Part 3.