tips on sanding floors

Marian ParsonsDining Room, home improvement, Living Room, My House, Tutorials

This is my second time refinishing floors and I learned a lot through my errors the first go-around.   Since scooting around on diaper boxes to wipe up excess stain (you can read about those antics HERE), I have learned a lot about finishing wood and have done a lot of reading on sanding and finishing floors specifically.  There are so many ways to approach it…everything from sanding an entire room with a palm sander (yes, some people do that), to spending hours getting each piece of wood back to the way it looked the day it was milled.  Our approach?  We wanted the floors to look nice, but weren’t concerned with perfection.  There are already tack marks from carpeting, large holes from old radiators and gas pipes, gouges, scratches, knots, chips and dents, so I didn’t freak out at sanding marks or inconstancies in the wood.   So, take everything I’m sharing with that in mind.

Before I get into the tips, I apologize for not having more pictures of the process.  If you have ever finished floors, or can just imagine finishing floors, you would know that if someone stops sanding to get a camera to take a picture of the process, the camera would be at risk of being chucked out the nearest window by the other person sanding.  We just wanted to get it done and the usual “let me just grab my camera” moments suffered for it.

To prepare for sanding each room, we cleared everything from the room, including the pictures and wall art.  We didn’t have curtains in any of the rooms, but I would definitely remove those, too.   The dust will get everywhere.  Everywhere.  We also stuffed towels down the air ducts.

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I then taped off the vent and put it back into place, only removing it when I needed to sand around it.  Once the dust was cleaned up in each room, I removed the towel and vacuumed up any dust that made it into the duct.  We will also change our air filters.

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For things that needed to stay in the rooms, like chandeliers, I wrapped them in plastic or covered them in trash bags.

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Jeff’s desk couldn’t be removed from his office without taking it apart, so we left it in the room, covered it in plastic and taped it off, which worked great at keeping it clean.

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In the home office, I taped off all of the built-ins.  It was tedious work, but well worth the effort to save hours of dusting.

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We used several tools to sand the floors – I worked on the edges and I used a Porter Cable Belt Sander, DeWalt Orbital Palm Sander and a Dremel Multi-Max.

An orbital sander probably would’ve done the job if the stain wasn’t as dark as ours and we weren’t sanding such a hard wood.  Our floors laughed at the orbital sander as I struggled to remove the finish.  Jeff went out to the hardware store and came back wielding a belt sander.  That bad boy let the floor know who was boss.

I started with a 40 grit sand paper to remove the finish and then back down to 80 and 100.  I was able to get right up to the baseboards with it, but I am going to have to touch up some paint on the quarter round.  (Oh, speaking of…someone asked why we didn’t remove the quarter round.  As I said, this is not our first time refinishing and we’ve replaced much of the quarter round in the house after we removed the carpet.  We weren’t about to rip it up again!)  Anyway, I couldn’t get into the corners with the belt sander, so I used the Multi-Max for that.

I went back over the edges with the orbital sander in a 150 and 220 paper to make it smooth to the touch.

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Jeff worked on the center of the floor with two different types of rented floor sanders.  We started out with a random orbital floor sander with a rectangular base.  Like the orbital hand sander, it just wasn’t aggressive enough for our job, so I drove out to the rental store and picked up a drum floor sander.  That thing was a beast, but it made the job so much faster.

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(That’s the orbital sander pictured.)

We used the drum sander to remove the finish and the orbital to smooth the floor down to 150.

The home office was the hardest floor to sand, because it was new wood.  We installed it about seven years ago over a yellowed linoleum and plywood patchwork floor to match it to the old floors.  That new wood really soaked up the stain and it was a bear to sand.  We got up all of the stain we could, but it is still in some of the grain.

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I’m okay with it, though.  It just adds variation and character.

We sanded the floors in the dining room last and those turned out the best, since we had three other rooms to practice on!

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The entire project ended up taking us a day and a half.  We could have had them all done in one day, but a trip to the rental place and the hardware store slowed us down.

Oh, and during the entire sanding process, we closed the doors to the rooms we were’t working in and stuffed towels underneath to reduce the amount of dust that would get in.  That worked great and we did a pretty good job overall of keeping the dust contained.

Once the sanding was done, we swept up the bulk of the dust, then removed the plastic and vacuumed everything…I mean the floors, walls, windows, trim, everything.  Lastly, we wiped down the floors and trim with barely damp towels to get any remaining fine dust.  (You can use a tack cloth for this part, but we didn’t have any on hand.)

Jeff had one of the most brilliant ideas of all.  When you return the rented sanders, they have to be completely clean or you are charged $20.  Throughout the project, I was eyeing those machines that caused all of that dust…knowing I would have to wipe them all down of the dust they created.  I did not want to do it at all.  Well, Jeff, smart guy that he is, took them outside and cleaned them off using the leaf blower.   It worked so well that I was wondering how it would work at ridding the rooms of dust, but then I imagined a huge dust devil in the living room and knew it wouldn’t really work at all, but it was worth the thought.  It was perfect for the sanders, though.

Several people were surprised I moved the furniture back in.  I did that, because I don’t want to feel rushed into picking a finish.  This was a ton of work and we aren’t doing it again, so I don’t want to put on a finish I’ll regret.  I want to live with them raw for a while and decide what I want.  I have felt pads on almost all of the furniture and I’m not too concerned if we get a stain or scratch here and there.  Like I said in the beginning, these are not pristine floors we’re dealing with, so they are very forgiving.

Since we’re living in the house as I’m refinishing them, I’m looking for the following things in a finish…

  • Relatively easy to apply
  • a fast drying time
  • not stinky
  • durable

I’ve ordered a small can of a product called Osmo, which I’ve heard good things about, and I’m going to test it out in a small area.  I’m looking into a few other products as well and, of course, I’ll let you know.

This was a long post, but to boil it all down, here are my tips for sanding down floors…

  • Contain the dust the very best you can by clearing the room, taping off the area you’re sanding and using towels to block doorways and air vents
  • Make sure you have the right tools and plenty of sand paper in at least three grits (those mid-project trips to the hardware store are a bummer!)
  • Wear protective gear including a respirator (not just a dust mask), ear protection, goggles and work gloves (we wore the gloves on day two.)
  • Go into it knowing it’s messy and tedious work.  Even with belt sanders, it’s a labor of love and those powerful sanders take a lot of muscle to control.  I swear, I got a major workout and I was hurting from it!  (I was a new woman after an epsom salt bath the next day, though!)

In the end, we spent about $375 and that includes the tool rentals, sand paper and purchasing a new belt sander.  We definitely saved enough to make it worth doing ourselves.

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If you’re thinking about tackling your floors, it’s a doable DIY project, but I would put it in the “ambitious intermediate” or “advanced” category.  So, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you start!

tips on sanding floors

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