Step By Step Illustrated Guide to Refinishing Wood Floors

Updated on April 6, 2016
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Is Your Floor a Good Candidate For Refinishing?

Refinishing a wood floor is a tedious job but something that can be done by the average home owner. The first step is to figure out exactly what type of wood is on your floors. Most wood floors will be made of a hardwood like oak or maple. Some will be made of heart pine, a soft wood that is found in many old homes, especially in the southern United States. Heart pine and maple are harder to refinish than oak, but they can be done with careful consideration to their unique characteristics.

Some recent floors may be made of an engineered wood, and these cannot be refinished. They have a thin veneer on the top and when sanded it will sand right off. If you pull up a heating grate so that you can see the wood planks from the side you should be able to tell whether your floor is solid wood or veneer, and you should be able to whether or not it is too thin to sand. At least 1/8 inch of wood should remain above the tongue. Sometimes older floors have been refinished many times. Each time it is refinished a layer of wood is removed until there is nothing left to remove. You can also tell by looking at the floor where the tongue and groove fits together. If nail heads are beginning to show then the wood is too thin to sand. There are ways around this, so don't give up your dream for a beautiful floor yet. Check into chemically removing old varnish and proceeding that way.

If your floor is wood and in good condition then you can safely refinish it by sanding.

A 100 year old heart pine floor, restored
A 100 year old heart pine floor, restored | Source
Use an orbital sander like this Bosch on edges and corners
Use an orbital sander like this Bosch on edges and corners

Equipment You Will Need

You will need to rent either a drum sander or a belt sander. If you have a choice choose a belt sander because it is easier to control and the belts are easier to change. If you don't keep a drum sander moving it can make grooves in your floor that cannot be fixed, and the drum sander is heavier. You will also need to get an edge sander so that you can get into the edges and corners of the room that the big sander can't reach.

Besides the drum (or belt) sander and the edge sander you will need the following:

  • buffer
  • orbital/ palm sander
  • putty knife and scraper
  • shop vacuum
  • ear protection, dust masks, safety goggles
  • lamb's wool and natural bristle brush, or foam applicators
  • tack cloths

Talk to the people at your home improvement center and be sure you understand how to run the machines, and how they work. Get enough sandpaper in each grit, you don't want to have to run back and forth to the store every five minutes.

Use a small dowel to fill larger holes. Knock in with a hammer before sanding the floor. Image: David Carmack,ThisOldHouse.com
Use a small dowel to fill larger holes. Knock in with a hammer before sanding the floor. Image: David Carmack,ThisOldHouse.com
You will need to decide whether you want to try to putty any nail holes or accept a "distressed" look.
You will need to decide whether you want to try to putty any nail holes or accept a "distressed" look.

Prepare the Room For Sanding

Go through and remove everything from the room. Take up the heat grates if your home has them on the floor. Pull out carpet staples and old nails that may have been used to tack down carpet or plywood. When we pulled up the carpet at our house we found that the previous owners had driven nails into the floor at about 3 inch intervals! Use a hammer and nailset to sink any exposed flooring nails. If you are not replacing the baseboards then leave them in place. Go through and sweep the floor thoroughly. Go back and dust mop. You want the floor to be as clean as possible before you start.

Just a quick word about repairs. A lot of people use wood putty and such to fix gouges in the floor. The wood putty is a bad idea in soft woods because it will pop out in a matter of a couple of years. Before you decide to fill gouges and cracks read several articles on it. Especially if you have a historic floor you may decide to leave the smaller defects as is. If you have a soft wood floor with deep gouges new planks will have to be laced in. Unless you have lots of experience this is best done by a professional.

Using a drum sander. Image:doityourself.com
Using a drum sander. Image:doityourself.com

First Sanding

Sanding raises a lot of dust. Be sure that you wear the mask to protect your respiratory system. Also hang plastic over doorways and vents to keep the dust out of the rest of the house..

Do a walk through before you begin and carefully look for areas where boards seem to be loose or need repair. If there are old holes from radiators you can plug these with a dowel in the same size as the hole, and then cut it off level with the floor.All of this should be done before sanding.

Be sure to use your safety gear. Sanders are very loud and it is not uncommon for a nail or splinter to fly up in your face unexpectedly. First, fit your drum sander with a 20 to 36 grit course paper. Beginning an area that will be least noticeable so that you can get the hang of the machine .Start the sander with the drum off the floor and slowly lower it onto the wood.

Be very careful. The drum sander is loud, and heavy and it can gouge or make a swirl mark your floor. Keep your mind on what you are doing. Walk the sander forward, sanding with the grain of the wood. If the floor are warped sand diagonally to the wood grain. Sand from wall to wall making both a forward and a backward pass of each row. Move slowly but deliberately. The first sanding does not resurface the wood, but rather to remove the finish that is on it.. Overlap your path by one plank of flooring each time. Check the sanding belt often for wear and replace it when you need to.

Do not try to sand down to bare wood. When you have removed about 85 per cent, or so, of the finish, you're ready for the next step. Once you have the main part of the floor done, sand the parts of the floor that the sander couldn't reach, such as wall edges and corners it is time to use an edge sander. Install the same grit disc you just used in the edge sander. Start sanding next to the baseboard and work from there out to where you just sanded. Tip the edger back and slowly lower it to the floor. Use a left to right semicircular motion

Dustless Sanding System

Second and Final Sanding

The second sanding removes the scratches left by the previous sanding, and any remaining finish or blemishes left on the wood. Switch to an 80-grit paper and repeat the steps of the previous sanding. Start the machine close to the wall at the opposite end of the room from where you started last time so that you're not starting in the same spot each time. If sanding in the same direction of the grain is not improving the floor finish, you can try smoothing it out by making one passdiagonally across the grain (never directly across) with a medium grit sandpaper. When the floor is completely sanded, use the edge sander with the 80 grit paper to sand near the walls that you couldn't reach with the large machine. At this point the wood should look like freshly milled planks.

The final sanding will remove the scratches left from the previous sanding. Install 100-grit paper and begin in the same place in the room as you started your first sanding. Sand as before but when you get to the edge sanding, add a couple of extra sanding discs under the 100-grit pad. Stacking the discs like this will provide a some cushion and allow the sander to conform to any irregularities in the floor which will help to minimize swirl marks. Sand up to the baseboards and then blend the edges into the main part of the floor.

Buffing

Now you will be moving on to buffing. Put a 100 grit sanding screen on the buffer.. The buffer, moving back and forth across the floor, will help to even out any problem areas or scratches left by the previous grits. Move the buffer slowly and overlap each pass, just as you did with the sander. Don't hurry this step. Keep your feet firmly planted and the buffer moving. You don't want to run the buffer in any one place for too long or you'll create marks .

Consider starting in the center of the room so until you get the hang of it so that you don't bump walls. To finish up, switch to a random-orbit sander with 100-grit paper. Sand up to the baseboards and blend into the main floor.

Decide Which Finish To Use

There are a couple of ways you can finish the floor. The most obvious ways are to use either a water based or oil based polyurethane stain. You can get it in a gloss, semi glass or satin finish. Normally satin is the best because it helps to hide imperfections in the floor. The oil based finish will give your floor the traditional golden glow that is part of the charm of the wood, enhancing the look of the grain, however the fumes are horrid for the environment, and your family, and you have to be really careful with ventilation.

The water based polyurethane will dry clear and resist yellowing and the fumes aren't as toxic.

There are other options. You can leave the wood unstained and go over it tung oil or with a natural finish called Osmo Hard Wax Oil. It is environmentally friendly and an excellent option for historic floors. Because it will not raise the grain when applied you do not need to sand between coats and it is safe for use in children's areas and on kids' furniture. It resists humidity and so is great in bathrooms and kitchens. This would be a more historically true finish for your old wood floor if that is important to you.

Applying the stain. Image: Doityourself.com
Applying the stain. Image: Doityourself.com

Applying the Finish

After you decide what you will be applying it is time to apply the stain. Use a high quality natural bristle brush or foam applicator to cut in along the edges and corners. Be careful about dripping and layers that are too thick. You will want thin, even layers. Begin at the furthest point from the door, you don't want to paint yourself into a corner. Apply an even coat. While the finish is still wet, blend in any brush marks with a lamb's wool or foam applicator.

Working with the wood grain in 5' wide sections down the width of the room, apply an even coat. With the finish wet blend in brush marks that might have been created A lamb's wool or a foam applicator is great for this. Let the finish dry for 24 hours unless using the quicker drying water-based urethane. Check the grain, If the finish raised it you will need to sand between coats. Drag a damp cloth across the floor to pick up dust and then put the last coat on the floor. Allow to dry for at least 24 hours, one week if possible, and do not mop for a couple of weeks.

Can You Just Recoat?

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        MICKEYB 

        6 years ago

        Very informative! I have been in this industry for the last 40 years and this is as concise and helpful as they come!

      • profile image

        skiller99 

        6 years ago

        Nice Hub! It looks really good.

      • profile image

        tectonicfloors 

        6 years ago

        Great information. I just finished redoing my floors, and the results are well worth the effort. Thanks for the detailed info. Timber flooring and decking are long term investments and with a small amount of care and maintenance optimum performance and enjoyment is ensured. Thanks for sharing...

        Engineered timber flooring melbourne

      • profile image

        Manny 

        7 years ago

        Nice methodology and ideas. i love it. The details are quite good.

      • profile image

        generators 

        7 years ago

        it is very useful , some times i do not know what it is

      • profile image

        Ceasuri Casio 

        7 years ago

        You've done such a great job with this article on the details of refinishing wood floors.

      • profile image

        Bunny Tee 

        7 years ago

        Me and the wife just purchase a new home with hard wood floors and your information is a must read for any that want to gain some knowlege on how to take care of their floors.

      • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

        Marye Audet 

        7 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

        Thank you

      • sparklycrown profile image

        sparklycrown 

        7 years ago

        this is good.

        its reallly long so i know thatt it toook u a while,huh

        (:

      • profile image

        Lena  

        7 years ago

        Wish i wrote like this! ;P

      • adrienne2 profile image

        Adrienne F Manson 

        7 years ago from Atlanta

        Marye,can I say wow! Awesome hub, and a wonderful well written guide on refinishing floors.

      • Eastern Rainbow profile image

        Eastern Rainbow 

        7 years ago

        very nice place. so beautiful.

      • profile image

        jocuri 

        7 years ago

        Just wanted to say that it's a well written article, high-quality. Definetly worth the time spent for this one.

      • KrisAtPuroClean profile image

        KrisAtPuroClean 

        7 years ago from Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey

        Well done! Beautifully constructed hub with lots of information and resources. Thank you for posting!

      • ccdursina profile image

        Carolina Dursina 

        7 years ago from Spring Green WI

        You've done such a great job with this article; thank you!

      • profile image

        Amtur 

        7 years ago

        Thank you, it is a very useful hub.

      • profile image

        michalk 

        7 years ago

        very nice article. I really enjoyed learning from it

      • profile image

        Church 

        7 years ago

        Wow..! amazing post! good information... i love that you combined pictures as well.. keep it up!

      • surreylawncare profile image

        surreylawncare 

        7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada.

        This is a great example of a professional hub page. Thank you for this post. I am impressed by how many hubs you have. Sticking on topic, we actually had hardwood in our home. It was a piano finish. Beautiful but hard to keep from our kids making footprints. :

      • shopbapemall profile image

        shopbapemall 

        7 years ago

        very good way. i often refinish floors once one year

      • Ask_DJ_Lyons profile image

        Ask_DJ_Lyons 

        7 years ago from Mosheim, Tennessee

        I love hardwood floors! In fact, I am getting my floor re-done in my home office. Thanks!

      • profile image

        Ben Brinneman 

        7 years ago

        I like this post, I will be posting a similar post on how to troubleshoot a copy machine here in a week or so.

      • profile image

        Kara Kelsey 

        7 years ago

        Excellent post! Thank you and Happy New Year!

      • bill nicolas profile image

        bill nicolas 

        7 years ago from us

        very nice

      • World-Traveler profile image

        World-Traveler 

        7 years ago from USA

        Very, very good guide on wood floor refinishing. Our family used to have a cabin in the Sierras near South Lake Tahoe. The wooden floor was unfinished when the cabin was purchased. I sanded the floor down and applied several applications of wood varnish. The floor looked beautiful.

      • msms profile image

        msms 

        7 years ago

        Wooden floors - great interior, and great Hub

      • angelaglancy profile image

        angelaglancy 

        8 years ago from Seattle

        Hi Marye --- Great information. I just finished redoing my floors, and the results are well worth the effort. Thanks for the detailed info. Nice hub.

      • profile image

        T Frey 

        8 years ago

        Great article on the details of refinishing wood floors.

      • profile image

        GirlsRock10 

        9 years ago

        i dont have a hard wood floor but love them

      • seamus profile image

        seamus 

        10 years ago

        Very nice hub. Not only is this useful as I consider whether to attempt this one my own, but this is an example of a hub that includes a LOT of detailed explanation. Thanks!

      • coolbreeze profile image

        Rik Rodriguez 

        10 years ago from Hawaii

        Very nice I own a hardwood floor site

        http://www.hardwood-floor-care.info/

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://dengarden.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)