How to Refinish a Wood Floor

Natural wood floors are beautiful and last the lifetime of the house with proper care and occasional refinishing. A professional appearing job requires the proper equipment and supplies.

The tools you will need are:
• Nail set and hammer
• Pin punch
• Drum sander
• Edging machine
• Floor polisher
• Paint scrapers
• Paintbrushes
• Lambs wool applicator
• Putty knife
• Goggles, ear protection, dust mask, rubber gloves

Materials you will need are:
• Sandpaper 20, 36, 50, 80 and 100 grit
• Wood bleach
• Vinegar
• Soft (tack) cloth
• Lint free rags
• Floor sealer
• Urethane floor finish
• Steel wool or synthetic abrasive pads
• Tinted wood putty

Some wood floors have been varnished or painted and restoring the natural beauty of the wood cannot be started until all of the discoloration and old finish is totally removed. The first step in the process is to completely clear your working area. Take all the furniture out of the room. Take down the drapes and remove the floor registers; you need total unfettered access to the floor. Cover the floor vents with plastic to prevent stuff going down the ducting.

Walk the floor from edge to edge, back and forth until you cover the entire floor listening for squeaks and creaks. Repair any loose boards and set nails that have worked up over time. Replace damaged board. Remove the quarter round from the baseboard by punching the nails on through with a tiny punch. Make sure the punch is no bigger than the head of the finishing nails in the shoe molding.

If your floor is thin laminate it may be too thin to sand. In this case remove old finish with chemical strippers. Be sure to provide adequate ventilation and wear an appropriate mask. On the standard (thicker) boards sanding is the best method to remove the old finish. Rent a drum sander with a tilt up lever that lifts the sanding drum from the floor as it is still spinning. Do not try to do this job on your hands and knees with a hand held sander; it takes too long. It will require several sandings with gradually finer grit sandpaper to achieve the proper finish. Rough, deeply scratched or painted floors need a good sanding with 20 grit sandpaper first. The next step is 36 grit sandpaper, followed in progression by 50 grit and finally 80 grit. Parquet floors should then be sanded with 100 grit. If the floor has been varnished or shellacked you may be able to start with the 36 grit if there are no deep scratches and the underlying wood is smooth to begin with.

Remove any stains by hand sanding or bleaching. Wood bleach is available at hardware stores. Follow the directions on the container. Apply bleach to the center of the stain and feather the bleaching process to blend the edges with the rest of the floor. Rinse treated area with vinegar and wipe dry with a soft cloth. Allow to completely dry before proceeding.

To apply a two step glaze that protects the wood and allows the beauty of the grain to show apply a sealer. Sealers come in both clear and natural wood colors. After the sealer is dry apply a glaze of urethane floor finish. Urethane protects because it becomes very tough as it hardens.

Sealers and finishes come in both oil and water base. Oil based products work better to stain the floor because they provide richer deeper color than water based products. Water based products are easier to apply, are safer to handle and dry faster.
Using a drum style floor sander.

• Sanding kicks a tremendous amount of very flammable dust into the air. Seal all openings into the rest of the house and open a window. Place a large box type fan in the window with the intake side to the room and tape a furnace filter over the intake side to catch the sanding residue so it will not just blow into the neighborhood.
• Tuck the end of a sheet of sandpaper into the loading slot, turn the drum carefully by hand one full turn and tuck the other end of the sandpaper into the slot.
• Tighten up the clamp by turning the bolts at the ends of the drum. The place where you rented the sander may provide end wrenches for this purpose.
• Stand about three feet from a wall facing in the direction of the wood grain in the floor; start the sander with the drum in the lifted position, wait until it is at full speed and gently ease it into contact with the floor. The sander will pull you forward; steady the speed and direction but do not allow the sander to spin in one spot as it will cause a hollow in the floor.
• When you have crossed the room and are approaching the next wall raise the spinning drum from the floor, reach back and flick the cord away from your path and lower the drum again as you pull the sander straight back over your sanded area.
• Back at wall one, raise the drum up again and move the machine into position for the next pass. Overlap your sanding passes by about 3 inches and continue this pattern until the floor is finished.
• Pause once in a while to empty the dust bag but remember to have the spinning drum in the up position anytime you pause. If you do not keep the running sander in motion it will dent or ripple the floor.

Use the edger with a course grit sandpaper to sand the edges of the floor next to the walls. With both the drum sander and the edger complete the full area before moving to the next finer grit of sandpaper. In areas that you cannot reach with the sanders, such as around radiator pipes you can remove the old finish with a paint scraper. Do not push the scraper as it can bite into the wood and cause chipping and splintering. Always pull it toward you while pushing down firmly to get a good smooth thorough job.

Sealer: Sealers have toxic fumes. You must ventilate the room and make sure there are no sources of flame.
Vacuum the floor and wipe with a tack cloth. Start in the corner on the opposite side from the door. Use a lint free rag and with smooth sweeping motions apply liberal amounts of sealer in about an 18 inch wide swath along the grain of the wood. Continue in strips until finished. Allow the sealer to dry as specified on the container.

Use the floor polisher with a fine abrasive pad to polish the floor. This will smooth tiny bumps and bubbles of the sealer. Do the corners and edges by hand. When finished vacuum the floor and wipe with a tack cloth or damp rag….(check the recommendation of the sealer manufacturer).

Finish: You are now ready to put down the finish. If you are using an oil based finish you will use the lamb’s wool applicator. If you are using water base finish, you will use a wide paint brush. Apply evenly along the direction of the grain and stroke only in one direction. This stuff will get ugly if you go back over it after it starts to dry so do not touch it after it starts to set. Complete the first coat and allow it to completely dry. Use the floor polisher and smooth the floor, be patient and polish out all irregularities. Use a small abrasive pad to finish the corners and edges by hand as needed.

Vacuum the floor again and use the tack cloth or damp rag to pick up any residual dust. Check for cracks, defects and nail holes and use the tinted wood putty to fill them at this time.

Apply the second coat of finish, allow to dry, repeat the polishing and vacuuming steps, and then apply the third and final coat of finish.

Allow the whole thing to cure at least 24 hours before replacing the quarter round shoe moldings, heat register covers, and bringing back furniture and drapes.

When you have completed the job its time for pizza and beer and congratulatory backslapping; with regular maintenance you will not have to do the complete strip and refinish job again for many years.

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