Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Refinish a Hardwood Floor.

To regular readers who stop by for food and restaurant updates: this post has nothing to do with food, except that you get very hungry if you refinish a hardware floor. The purpose of this post is to assist anyone who is attempting the devilish project called "refinish a hardwood floor."  If you are here from a web search you will have seen plenty of links and articles and ads. It is hard to pick through them but I did get some good advice. I have added a section at the end that details what I learned by doing it that I didn't read through a web search.

First an abbreviated sequence or steps to completion.
1. Start with the idea: "Hey, I can refinish my hardwood floor myself."
2. Grab hammer, extend finger, hit finger with hammer. That is the equivalent pain to the project you are about to begin.
3. Accept pain or call a professional.
4. If you call a professional you can stop reading, if you accept the pain, begin:
5. Remove carpet, nails, tack, staples, fill holes, remove baseboards. For me that took about 24 man-hours. Here is were you have to take time and make sure you are ready to sand before renting the machine.
6. Drum sander first pass with 36 grit.
7. Sweep or blow away sawdust
8. Drum sand with 80 grit.
9. Sweep or blow away sawdust.
10. Use edging sander along floor's edge. Sweep or blow away dust.
11. Conclude that it this is too much work and call a professional, or:
12. Attach a sanding attachment to an everyday electric drill and finish the edges. The tornado edger doesn't get all the way to the edge, which makes you wonder why they call it an edger. They should call it an almost edger.
13. Use vibrating sander in corners.
14. Sweep, blow and remove all sawdust. Do it again. Rub your hand on the floor. See any dust on your hand? When you don't you can start the finish work.
15. First application of polyurethane
16. Lightly sand
17. Second application of polyurethane
18. Lightly sand if doing a third application.

A. Here is a list of the necessary equipment for rental or purchase.
I looked at three different rental places. Home Depot, Lowes, and an independent renter. Home Depot was by far the most helpful and had the newest equipment. Also, Home Depot made renting and returning a seamless process.

1. If the floor is carpeted you will need a couple of good pry bars to get up the carpet tack. And several pair of screw drivers and pliers for pulling nails and staples. My floor had hundreds of staples and hundreds of nails that needed to be pried and pulled. Get the right tools for it, it's worth it.
2. Brooms. Push and kitchen type.
3. Yard leaf blower (I'll tell you why later)
4. Drum sander -- rent -- not too hard to operate
5. Edging sander -- rent -- a hellish beast
6. Vibrating sander -- purchase
7. Drill attachment sander -- purchase
8. 36/80/100 Grit sand papers -- I did about 1400 square feet and used a total of 20 rolls of sandpaper for the drum sander and 20 sheets for the Edging sander
9. Leather gloves. I suggest wearing gloves when pulling up the tack, it'll save your knuckles and decrease the number of nail punctures in your hands.

B. What most information websites WILL tell you.

1. They are serious when they say the drum sander starts the minute you release the drum to the floor. Don't do this unless you are ready to start moving. You have to coordinate the release of the drum to the floor and moving while you are letting the drum down. It's as difficult as juggling but it does take some coordination.
2. Sand WITH the grain of the wood. Very important, especially on the first pass with the 36 grain paper.
3. The 36 grain takes off the old polyurethane and gets you to the wood. The finer grain papers are for the wood itself.
4. Overlap rows with drum sander and start at a different point for each row. This keeps a pattern from developing that you will notice when you first drop the drum down to the floor. Eventually, I got to where I would slowly and gradually release the drum so as not to have that drop down line.
5. Lightly sand after each application of polyurethane.
6. Apply the polyurethane in long even strokes. Not as easy as I thought it would be.


Additional lessons I learned "from doing" or from the boys at Home Depot.
1. The drum can be calibrated so as to sand evenly. When the drum cylinder touches the floor you want each edge to touch with the same pressure. That needed to be reset on my sander, which I did myself. Test in a closet or area no one will notice.
2. When you notice the sandpaper becoming less effective on the drum sander, take it off and put it back on the opposite way. It still has some life in it if it is rotated.
3. Using the edge sander is like holding a tornado. It will move on its own, so get ready. That is real work.
4. Oil based polyurethane will stain the floor. Water based will leave a truer original color.
5. Use the lambswool applicator not the synthetic kind.
6. Get all the nails and staples pulled. They spark when you go over them with the sander and they degrade the sand paper quickly.
7. If you have to sand against the grain do so with a high number paper and not perpendicular to the grain but at an angle.
8. Sweep floor before sanding and after each sand -- otherwise you are sanding sawdust from the previous pass.
9. Stage your starting points. Start 18 inches in on one row, 24 inches the next and so on.10. Getting all the dust off the floor is difficult but necessary before applying polyurethane.
11. Do not use water on a sanded floor but you can once it has a coat of polyurethane on it.
12. I can't describe the use of the tornado like edge sander. I suggest trying it in a closet first. I hated that thing.
13. Before applying polyurethane the floor must be dust free. That is difficult to accomplish since you will have sawdust everywhere. I swept and swept and the floor looked good but when I ran my hand over the floor I still had a lot of sawdust and bits of sand from the sand paper. Eventually, I got my leaf blower and worked the room with that several times over several days and got the floor dust-free. Do not use a damp cloth on sanded wood. I was told after I had completed my floor that mineral water works well. I did not test it.
14. I rented the drum sander for a week. One day before the drum sander week was up I rented the edge sander for a week. My total cost: sanders, tools, sandpaper, and polyurethane was about $800. Total floor area: about 1400 square feet. Time: about 2.5 weeks, including several days of pulling carpet, nails and staples.

Seriously, if you have the time and you want to do the job properlyI think the average guy can do this job. I have contracted the task several times and the pro's do it much faster and their machinery is better than the rental machinery. But -- the hardwood floor professional makes money by getting in and out fast and if there is a lot of prepping to do before sanding, you will pay extra. If your time is better spent doing something else, by all means contract it out, it is time consuming. But if you like paying attention to detail and don't mind some heavy-duty effort, looking at the floor after it is all done is very satisfying.

Finished Floor


Axxman said...

There's a new tool on Amazon for pulling staples. It is called the Nail Hunter and you will thank me. It is just being discovered for all wood floor rehabs. Check the video.

Francis Shivone said...

Axxman. I will say this. My hand is still recovering from the screw driver twisting action and I would have gladly purchased the tool based on the video.