Refinish your hardwood floors

Sanding is the key to refinishing your hardwood floors successfully

By Gary Rudy

wood floor

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Refinishing your home’s hardwood floors can be a big job, but if you do it well the final results will be very rewarding. In fact, its resilience is one the great features of hardwood. Even when the floor is badly scratched and worn, hardwood can be usually be restored with a couple of days’ work.

In recent years some hardwood floors have actually been made from engineered wood. You can identify these floors by the slight chamfer on each board edge. Don’t try to sand this type of floor: the veneer is too thin.

To see what kind of flooring you have, pull up a heating grate from the floor or look at an edge by removing a threshold from a doorway. If it’s solid hardwood, you’re in business. But if less than 1/8″ remains above the tongue, the floor is too thin to sand and will have to be left “as is” or replaced.

What to rent

The rental shop will have either a drum-sanding machine or a belt-sanding machine (or both). Choose a belt-sanding machine if you can: it’s easier to control and won’t chatter the surface of your floor the way a drum sander can. The belts are also easier to change.

You’ll also need an edge sander to get into areas that the big machine can’t reach. And you’ll need a floor buffer for finishing. Before you leave the store, be sure to ask for tips on how to operate each machine.

Room preparation basics

– Remove all furniture from the room and anything hanging on the walls.
– Tape up plastic sheets to close off all the doorways leading into the room.
– Tape plastic around all the heating vents and transitions to other floor surfaces in adjoining rooms.
– Set any nails that are exposed and remove any metal grates or grilles from the floor.

Remove the old finish

The first sanding is not actually intended to resurface the wood, but rather to remove the existing finish. Install a 36-grit belt in the sander and start by moving forward toward the far wall, then turn and retrace the same path back, walking in the same direction as the wood grain. Keep the sander moving. If you rest the machine in one spot for too long, you’ll sand a groove in the floor. Sand another row, overlapping your path by one plank of flooring. Check the sanding belt for wear and replace it as needed. Don’t try to sand down to completely bare wood. Once you’ve removed about 85 per cent of the finish, you’re ready for Step 2.

Once the main portion of the floor is done, sand the parts of the floor that you couldn’t reach against the walls. Start back about two feet from the wall, then sand as close to the wall as you can. As you approach the wall, lift the sander to avoid grooving the floor at the wall.

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Nov. 21, 2011

4:34 am

The existing broadloom in the principle rooms of our 1928 home have had their day and are due for replacement or to be stripped to reserect the oak hardwood floors below. The hardwood floors are scratched and worn but since they have never been previously refinished, they should be prime condidates for refinishing now Add the fact that beautiful finished hardwood is more reveared today than new carpet.

I am still wrestling with the decision whether to refinish the existing hardwood or to lay new hardwood or a resilient engineered hardwood floor over the existing oak.

When refinishing the existing floors, i'd have to clear all furnishings to the bare walls for the fiver rooms to be refinished. This probably means moving EVERYTHING to the basement. To refinish, you have to do all the rooms at once. No point in conducting the multi step process more than once.

Engineered floors allow a room to be cleared to one side while that section is installed, then furniture moved to the newly finished floor while the other half is installed.

LIving with the dust of sanding and the weeks of wiping that follow the job is less than appealing. I've never seen a floor sander that captured all the dust in the collection bag, there's always films of dust to deal with. Anyone suffering from allergies faces a real challenge when floors are sanded.

Let's not forget the additional steps to floor refinishing. Constant vacuuming, cleaning and tack clothing the surfaces between sanding. Nails have to be set below the surface and a good stainable filler used for nail holes and any cracks and nicks. Hand sanding is best after the filler is applied. If you want a change from the natural blonde oak of older hardwood floors, you'll need to stain before applying the urethane top coat finishes.

A refinished floor requires multiple coats of the final clear finish. Water based finishes dry withing about 4 hours between each coat. Oil/urethane finishes require 24 hours between each coat. Odours from water based finishes are minimal, the pretoleum based urethanes will rip your eyes and lungs out. I've never seen a water based urethane finishe that compares to a pretroleum based urtheane finish for hardness, the visual depth of grain, the high gloss shine or the honey hue that develops over time. Both finishes should be hand sanded with a fine grit between each coat after the second coat. Most refinishing jobs require a minimum of three coats of clear urethane, but most manufactured/engineered floors have seven to nine factory applied coats to board surfaces.

Finally, the cost -- the weekend refinisher will need to rent a large drum or belt sander and a second "edger" unit to get close to the walls (there will usually be some nooks and crannies that take a lot of hand sanding). Add the purchase cost of at least three decending grits of abrasives for each machine. Any differences in surface sanding preparation will show when a stain is applied as patches and uneven colour. Add the tack cloths and varsol or turpentine for wiping between urethane coats. Add the filler and stain costs. Add the polysheets and painters tape to create barriers at doors and opennings. Add the cost of urethane for how ever many coats you can stand to apply. Add the cost of painting supplies, brushes, tape, wiping cloths...etc. Add the latex gloves and face masks to protect yourself from dust and contaminants.

Add the cost to send the rest of the family away from the house for a few days if they can't stand the dust and smells.


Maybe sanding and refinishing is no longer the preferred method to make beautiful wood floors.

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