tips on sanding floors

Marian ParsonsDining Room, home improvement, Living Room, My House, Tutorials23 Comments

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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23 Comments on “tips on sanding floors”

  1. I hear ya’, girl!! Have done this myself, plus lugged that sander up some stairs to do my daughters room! That makes a woman feel tough! Great tips! I actually used Curio with about 4 parts water and finished with a water based poly – 4 coats, in my living room. Made the floors pretty dark but very nice. Then ended up using a floor enamel in a white tone for dining room, floors were actually so dry and splintered that I needed something to “glue” them a little. Did the trick, and very cottage-y! And no…I’ll never do floors again 🙂

  2. I usually like wood floor that are super dark and shiny, but I really like the raw look you have right now and it really does brighten up your rooms. I’m sure whatever you wind up choosing will look amazing!

    Hope you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. As I mentioned in your first post, I have refinished wood floors…not sure I would do it again and it was an empty house!!!
    I do have “warm oak” floors in my living room and den. And I installed a dark walnut wood laminate in my master suite this past year.
    Hands down, the lighter floor is best for hiding dirt, animal hair, traffic, etc. The darker floor shows EVERYTHING. I love it, but man, it is a chore to keep it clean…and impossible to ignore like my living room and den.
    As OCD as I am about cleanliness, I do tend to prefer a floor that allows me to go “Oh wow, I haven’t mopped in 2 months!” LOL!
    I think you would be happy with a clear oil finish…it will darken the wood a tad but preserve the “natural” look.
    WARNING…the old oak and the new oak are going to react (and look) differently to any clear finish…the stain may have masked that a tad…but you will notice a tad it if you go with a clear finish!
    If you have any squeeks or creeks now is the time to deal with that as well!

  4. We’ve done this before–it was quite a pain! Our current house is also a Cape Cod built in 1940, and the floors are too wavy and gapped to be refinished, so so we’re living with lots of “character” right now. I think my husband is actually thrilled we can’t do it…or he was until I told him how much it would be to replace the wood!

    BTW, I love the light finish. We did a light cherry finish in our last house and while it was pretty, anything darker just looked dusty so quickly. Our light orange-y oak might not be trendy, but it hides mess really well!

  5. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! the look of the unfinished floor!!! I don’t really work with staining wood much. I like it painted! 🙂 Do you have to protect with poly or can you just oil them somehow and keep them nice and cleanable/protected? What would you use? Except for a little more wear it can’t be all that different from countertops (which we oil) or regular furniture like the dining room table. We are building next year and using reclaimed wood from the 150 year old house I grew up in to floor. Old and new wood are two different things. The floor guy thinks I’m nuts for wanting to leave it unfinished so I’m really interested in what you think if you have the time…

    1. We are refinishing the floors in the entire downstairs of the original part of the house. The upstairs is in 1940’s pine, so there were already two different woods going on. The kitchen is in tile, which separates it from the engineered hardwood hickory we installed in the family room and master. So, we weren’t too concerned about making everything match. That was a lost cause. 🙂

  6. Your floors are beautiful. Your advice is very helpful. I never would have thought of a trash bag over the light…. nor would I have thought of the blower to clean the sander. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Great tips, especially the leaf blower! I wish I’d heard of Osmo about three months ago…but honestly, I’m pretty sold on the shellac I ended up using upstairs. It’s all those things you said, easy to apply, fast dry time, not stinky, and durable. Plus you can touch it up seamlessly (the new coat “melts” into the old coat for an invisible patch). I won’t keep on and on, but seriously, have you looked into shellac?? (btw, you’ll hear people say it’s not durable…but it’s the topcoat they’ve been using for the last 3,000 years, and some of those floors are still around today!).

    There’s another product out there called Rubio Monocoat; it’s an oil finish that goes on in 1 coat and dries overnight. I didn’t choose it because I wanted to stay true to the house (EVERYthing in this house is shellacked), but it seemed like a pretty good option to me.

  8. We are going to be doing this in our renovation soon.

    Light Scandinavian floors may not be what you are looking for, but this post describes how to achieve the look with the Woca (a Denmark company) products:

    Here is a link to the products:

    You can control how light or dark you want the floors by the type of oil you put on them. The lye takes out the yellow tones first. It gives a very natural, non plasticky look and I think would look fabulous with your furniture.

    Good luck, the hardest part is done!

  9. They look awesome. I love the look of the unfinished floors. I wonder if they can be kept that color and how.

  10. I used osmo on rental house floor because it is easy to repair vs Swedish finish. 3 years later it still looks great. I m sold on it for sure…

  11. We were one of those people that sanded our entire dining room floor with a palm sander! Days and Days and Days of sanding the original 1920’s red oak floor…finally realized it was never going to be perfect and put a dark stain on it and called it good. We love the results!

  12. Hi from Down Under Marian. 🙂
    Great job! I actually really love the bare sanded look too…it makes the room lighter and fresher.
    Could you not just finish it with Hemp Oil to protect and nourish thereby preserving the natural colour? I love that the old stain is still in the grain and cracks too.
    A quick question…the dresser under the painting of Eulalie and the corner unit, are they painted in Eulalie’s Sky? They look more blue than ES but may just be the light. I LOVE that colour whatever it is!

  13. Marian I absolutely LOVE my old floor that we sanded to raw wood and put a clear finish on. It’s my favorite floor in the whole house. The flooring came out of an old school that was being torn down. Hubby says to tell you that if you want the raw wood look with a finish you need to make sure your finish is water based. We love ours. It was easy and quick to apply and has worn well. it’s in my work room and gets a lot of wear in some areas. I’d recommend one more layer than it calls for on high traffic areas.

  14. Thank you for the help. My wife and I live in a little bit of an older house and are hoping to restore the hardwood flooring soon. I would definitely like a finish that is durable, as you mentioned. What type of finish do you think is the most durable?

  15. I appreciate that you explained that we must have the right tools and the right number of sandpaper to this kind of project. I will share this information with my cousin since they plan to start this project during springtime. From what I heard, they will be buying a sanding table as well to effectively do this.

  16. I just happened upon ur post and to be honest nothing beats an oil based poly and the more vocs the better the finish. I’m finishing my 1925 bungalow heart pine floors. We added a master to the house and had reclaimed heart pine for the addition cut to match our existing. I highly recommend poloplaz primero high VOC in satin in top of their fast dry sealer. It is a bit Amber for sure but the satin has a little shine to it and it’s really tough stuff. Their products are used in ALOT of gyms. You do have to order it though or find a real hardwood flooring supply shop. Bona oil is nice too. Waterbourne will never compare in durability to a high quality oil. My 2 cents

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