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Sanding Hardwood Floors


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Initial post: Oct 11, 2007 4:34:20 PM PDT
Jason Ross says:
The fir floors in my 1903 house need sanding and refinishing. I've never done this type of project before, but I don't want to shell out $5000 to have the work done. What tools do I need? What's the best sander to buy?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 15, 2007 10:38:10 AM PDT
Don't buy one at all-- rent the Varathane unit instead. I did three rooms of oak a couple of years ago with it and was much impressed. It controls dust well, is relatively speedy, and avoided the problems inexperienced operators have with drum-style floor sanders. Our 1950s floors even had linoleum or carpet glued down in some rooms but this unit did a fine job after scraping.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 16, 2007 12:56:22 PM PDT
Jason Ross says:
Thanks for the advice. And what about finishing the floors? I've heard some of the finishes are pretty toxic.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2007 4:36:03 AM PDT
OldAmazonian says:
You're darn right some of them are toxic. Few bother to read the weasel-worded lawyer blurbs on the product labels, but they universally understate the toxicity of finishing products. Powered ventilation with outside air is essential while sanding, applying chemicals and during the first few days or even weeks of drying for both filler and finish application. It's best done in dry temperate weather. That may make October inadvisable depending on your location.
Green Guy is absolutely right about drum sanders and edgers. Using them properly requires some skill beyond common sense, and rental firms sometimes rent out machines with obvious mechanical defects like stripped retainer threads and severly worn backing pads that can irretrievably ruin expensive flooring or make the job far more time-consuming than it ought to be..

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 31, 2007 5:40:59 AM PDT
There are low VOC finishes out there - do some research to find out the best ones. I think "This Old House" magazine did a feature on them a few years ago; also check out organic oriented websites. Not only are they toxic, the smell is unbearable. A neighbor in my condo building redid her floors and they reeked for three days! Of course, she was staying elsewhere so I was the one to suffer!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 31, 2007 9:21:18 AM PDT
Brian MacKay says:
I agree with the other posts here:
- Rent don't buy a sander (Home depot had units in very good shape)
- Stay away from the drum sander. Much less forgiving.
- Varathane makes a latex varethane that is much less smelly and easy to work with. Can't speak to the toxicity though.
- I re-finished 500-600 sq ft of 60 year old maple last winter. It can be done during this season, but I suggest cranking up the humidifier (also available to rent). After sanding leave your floors 'open' for 2-3 days with the humidifier at 80-90% before finishing.
- Buy a cheap hand sander to get into the corners and sand the edges of your room.
- Take before and after photos, I usually forget this step on my projects and regret it.

Good luck!
-b

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2007 9:15:22 AM PST
David Dailey says:
Go to www.finehomebuilding,com. Lots of info on just this topic. buy Don Bollinger's wood flooring book. He is the definitive USA expert. Use Daly's two-part water based crystal fin. -green- product. I used it on a recent cherry floor job. Excellent. Also Osmo hardwax finish is good. also other oil based Daly's products. I do floors. Best sander for a DIY- get a Festool 150 random orbital hand sander. It will last a lifetime and you can use it for nearly ANYTHING.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2007 8:29:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2007 8:32:22 PM PST
Cherokeed says:
As a Hardwood floor installer with 30 years experience I really have to question the advice regarding use of a humidifier. Generally you want the humidity and temperature of the workspace to be the same as when occupied. This is true whether refinishing or installing a new wood floor.
Typical humidity levels inside a home will range between 45-70%. This will be further effected by seasonal changes as well as heating/cooling season and the type of system used. Gas fired furnaces, wood burning stoves and other high temperature systems can severely decrease indoor humidity levels. Increasing the humidity of the workspace to 80-90% will not only cause the wood to swell as it takes on moisture but will also slow the drying of sealer and finish products due to the high moisture content of the wood as well as the ambient humidity. Additionally, if you follow Brians suggestions, after completion of the job when the humidity stabilizes to a lower level you will over time notice that small separations will develop between the boards. In some cases these gaps will become wide enough to compromise not only the appearance of the floors but the integrity of the finish and it's ability to hold out moisture and other contaminants. Wood flooring is typically kiln dried down to 6-7% moisture content and should not be allowed to exceed 9% whether installing or sanding it. ALWAYS use an electronic moisture meter to determine the actual content. The biggest issue with a DIY wood floor refinish lies in the removal of material. Professionals use drum sanders for a reason, they remove alot of material very quickly as compared to other machines. The big random orbit machines and buffers are really meant more for finish sanding than material removal. Removal of material is important to take the surface down far enough to insure there are no contaminants remaining from the original or subsequent applications of sealers, finish, waxes, oils etc. Any of these types of contaminants left in the wood can act as a release agent preventing a good bond of the new sealer/stain and finish. It's difficult to look at a floor that's been sanded and determine if the old products have been completely removed especially if you lack the trained eye of a professional. If you don't remove all contaminants from the wood and then finish over it you'll know when the debonding occurs. The signs are easy to spot, it will typically look similar to a sunburn that has begun to peel. Unfortunately the only remedy is to again sand the floor back down to bare wood and start over. Fir floors are particularly difficult to sand as the products used on them typically penetrate to a greater depth than, say, an Oak floor. In my experience I have observed that typical refinishing yields between 10-15 lbs of dust per 100 square feet, (or the average 10 x 10 room), depending on wood species/density. While this may sound like alot it is a small amount when you consider that 100 sq ft of 3/4" Red Oak flooring weighs about 260 lbs. Removal of just 1/32", (uniformly), from a 100 sq ft room equals about 11 lbs. This doesn't include the removal of the remaining finish, just the weight of the wood dust. Fir weighs much less than Oak but by the time you remove enough material you may approach the same weight. Fir is also highly photo-sensitive and will "sun stain" as in the case of area rugs. The exposed areas will darken while covered areas will remain relatively light. These two tone floors can be difficult to return to a uniform look as the sun stains can penetrate deeply.

Do your research, (utilizing reliable resources), before you start and make sure you have plenty of time alotted to complete the job so you don't have to cut corners. You will be looking at the result of your efforts daily, presumably for years to come. When in doubt, always ask someone who makes their daily living performing the task in question. I hope this info has been helpful.

Good Luck!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2007 6:17:37 AM PST
All great information. What product manufacture do would you recommend? And would recommend oil or water based poly?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2007 4:42:31 AM PST
C. Wennet says:
Bona Kemi makes a very high quality water-based 1-part polyurethane called "Mega." It has a very low VOC and also very low/nearly non-existent odor.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2007 3:33:31 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2007 3:35:00 PM PST
I realize this post is nearly two months old, but hopefully I'm not too late to help. The question of which sander you need to sand your floor is dependent upon what kind of finish is on the floor at the moment. As you state the floor is over a hundred years old, it's likely a shalack or a varnish - indicating you will need the big drum-style sander and not the rotary type.

The rotary type causes too much friction between the sander and the finish causing the finish to heat up and in effect 'gum up' your sander. This isnt a problem with a poly or no finish at all, but if you have a schalack or a varnish, you'll go through waaaayyy to much sand paper, if you're even able to finish the job.

The drum-style sanders are so heavy duty that they sand away the finish before it has time to heat up.

Hope that was helpful...

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2007 11:07:31 AM PST
S. Tefft says:
Do you have any sage advice for refinishing white pine flooring? I have heard horror stories about sanding such a soft wood. I have a lot of experience refinishing furniture, but I've never done floors and I want to avoid gouges in the floorboards

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 12, 2007 6:56:03 AM PST
Jim says:
Great post !!!
I have oak floors that were installed and finished during hot, humid weather. The following winter when the air became dry, the floor boards separated with spaces as wide as 1/16 inch. Eventually, I want to refinsh the floors. I suppose I will need to fill the cracks with wood filler.
I agree the drum sander sounds like the best tool. As long as you keep the sander moving, it should remove material evenly.
I also agree that the oil and urethane based stains and finishes really stink up the whole house, but my experience with water based products is bad. The water raises the grain of the wood. So. my plan is wait until the weather is moderate, and keep the windows open for several days.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2007 10:25:29 AM PST
Watch the Wood filler. If you fill the cracks with a hard filler, come winter when the humidity goes back up, the wood fibers will be compressed, and come summer the cracks will be back anyway.

To prevent the wood grain raising, (and having to sand the finish to get it flat again), wet the wood before finishing to raise the grain, and a last finish sand. That should solve the probelm.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2007 9:46:49 AM PST
Jim says:
In my climate, humity is highest in the summer and lowest in the winter. The wood fillers I have seen are soft when applied and harden as they cure.
Your wood grain solution also sounds backwards, but I must admit I have not ever tried wetting the wood before applying a stain. So, I can't say from experience that it won't work.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2007 10:29:32 AM PST
OldAmazonian says:
Wiping the wood with a damp rag or sponge to raise and open the grain before a light final finish sanding to knock off the "fuzz" is good practice. It also lets filler and finish bond to the wood better. Just be SURE you wet, dry and lightly sand the WHOLE floor, especially if you're staining with a color much different from the natural wood. If you miss areas, you'll sometimes get extreme color variations.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2007 11:56:45 AM PST
Johni says:
The CherokeeArtist seems to be very knowledgeable and experienced wood floor refinishing. I have about 500 sq ft of hardwood floor that I need to refinish. Will you be able to give me an estimate and refinish the floor for me? Or give me recommendations of other knowledgeable installers?
Thank you!
Johni

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2007 9:11:43 PM PST
When I did my floors I used a water base finish called trex.low smell and you can put down two coats in a day.It is about 70.00 per gallon.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2007 3:34:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 31, 2007 3:44:35 PM PST
PaddleFaster says:
I am taking the time to reply to this post because I spent the better part of twenty years operating hardwood floor refinishing businesses and have personally refinished floors in well over 1000 homes in the NYC area.

I think it is important to say that, in that time I have never come across a single "do it yourself" floor refinishing job that was done correctly. Yes, there we some individuals that did acceptable jobs from a "clean-up" perspective, but to simply do the job an experienced, professional, REPUTABLE, (very hard to find) floor scraper would do, that just never happens.

It takes years of experience to get a 200 pound, 2 to 3HP, floor drum- sanding machine, to glide over a floor and feather sanding-marks with the grain properly. It takes years to develop the muscles necessary to control an edger and blend its orbital sanding pattern with the rest of the sanding job.

If the job your doing is over 400 square ft, forget about doing it any other way.

Then there is the shoulder burning procedure of pulling the corners of the room, as well as other areas, with a razor sharp hand paint-scraper.

Also, learning the tricks on proper directional sanding and blending cross-sanding in small areas and foyers with areas that were sanded in the proper linear direction. . .applying finish so there are no "misses" or "lap" marks. . .

Doing such things are skills developed only by experience . . .

There are long time professionals nowadays that don't even know how to the job correctly because very few were taught by craftsman to begin with, never-mind a first timer attempting the job.

3 1/2 grit paper . . . to 50 grit . . . then to 80 grit . . .

Changing the paper on the machine at the exact required moments so that the grit pattern is even throughout the job . . . followed by a screening of the floor with 120 grit screens between each coat of finish. . . One sandable sealer . . two top coats . . . More or less steps added or detracted depending on floor condition and finishing materials used.

Sweeping, vacuuming, rag hand-wiping all areas of the floor on your hands and knees before each coat of finish. . .

Water-based finishes do not wear as well as standard polyurethane. Not even close.

Standard polyurethane does not last anywhere near as long as moisture-cure polyurethanes which are virtually indestructible but as toxic as toxic can be.

All of these finishes and others take a learned "finesse" to work with and require different atmospheric conditions to be used properly.

All solvent based urethanes are extremely dangerous and require excellent ventilation and an "empty house" free of family and pets.

The point I am trying to make is, that no matter how many posts you read that state, " I redid my floors and they look great." that are filled with do-it-yourself tips, you are usually going to end up with more wrong information and incorrect information than good information.

If you have a small 8X8 room you want to "clean up before putting down carpet" or a room that appearance really doesn't matter and you would like to try floor sanding adventure, it truly can be a great learning experience. . .

If one thinks they are going to sand and refinish 600sq ft or 1000 sq ft and have it come out the way it should, it is just not going to happen.

I have had furniture refinishers and cabinet makers over the years call me in to correct their mistakes more times than I can even count.

Take as much time as you have. Research and look at the work of as many local pros as you can.
Truly invest in your floors what needs to be invested because in the end, if the floors are done correctly it's a once in a lifetime project.

If you want to clean the floors up to have a clean surface under a carpet you are going to install on top go to town and do whatever you want. But if you are going to showcase your floors, by doing it yourself, on a large scale you are only going to be showcasing "flaws".

Any realtor will tell you. Properly installed and finished hardwood floors can mean as much to a houses value as an updated kitchen or bath.

Due to the cumulative destructive nature of the business on a craftsman's body, I myself had to retire from the industry a few years back. I am not posting this information simply because it was my trade. I am posting it because it is the one thing I have a great deal of experience in and feel I should voice my opinion about, even though what I am writing is just another opinion.

Personally, I feel a more realistic topic to discuss would be, "What questions and proceedures should one ask about when trying to hire the right individual to refinish my homes floors."

Otherwise you might as well be asking the following . . .

"I have a 65' Vette I want to repaint. What tools do I need to do it and how should I do it if I have never painted a car before."

Sure you can do the job yourself. But in the end, the chances of you doing it correctly and getting the most value out of your investment are slim to none.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2007 3:45:01 PM PST
Jim says:
As you pointed out, it is hard to find a "professional" who can do it right.
I have tried many do it yourself projects over the years, and yes I have made many mistakes. But I find it much earsier (and cheaper) to fix the mistake myself than to try to get the "professional" guy back out to fix his misdeeds. (I have taken three days off work to meet the "pro" who never shows up or even calls!).
So what have I go to lose. Worse case is, I instal carpets over the hardwood that doesn't come out perfect.
That being said, thank you for your advice.
Jim the Tool Man.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 9:11:10 PM PST
cherokeeartist is the right guy to listen too.i too am an artisian of hardwood floors,i work for the largest company in portland,oregon and i would agree with almost everything he said.i use a hummel drum sander 8inch,unfortunatly you cant rent them very easy but there are other options out there.the most important thing with a drum sander is keep it moving when you drop the drum and dont bump anything with it or you will dig a hole deeper than the 1/32 inch you will take off.always use your edger with the grain not side to side or you will not get the floor flat and keep the paper fresh dont try to be cheap with edger paper or you will burnish the wood and your stain will have a halo effect around the paremiter of the room,and for the record water bourne finishes have come along way in the last 5 years and i would use it over any oil base (glitsa,synteko,etc.)i am using it on a 1.5million dollar house boat over stain right now,as a testamonial i coated 2 stages for the beaverton school district with our water bourne this summer and they show no sign of wear with hundreds of children a day walking on them,no home will suffer that kind of traffic so trust the water bourne.it also dries within 3 hours leaving little time for debris to get in the wet finish unlike the oil which takes a minimum of 8 hours to dry.also grain raise is a good thing! it means your floor has taken all the finish it can and should be buffed off after the seal coat so the next 2 coats are free of debris,never coat over debris or it will be a part of your top coat,another perk with water bourne is you can buff the seal coat lightly after sitting for a day to fully raise the grain,then you can stack your 2 final coats on the same day and only have to buff once.hope that helps

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 9:26:25 PM PST
wetting the floor before staining is the best way to avoid blotchy stain,its called popping the grain and is very important when staining a floor.if you sand with multiple grits of sand paper say 100 grit on your drum sander and 120 grit on your edger you have closed the grain more where you edged and will have a halo or also known as picture frameing on the perameter of the room if you dont pop the grain with water,it also gives the stain a more rich color and will not pull the stain when you seal the floor.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 8:13:26 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2008 8:14:31 PM PST
Any do-it-yourself-er thinking of sanding & finishing their own floors should read Kabu Kai's post. Then, follow his advice.

I've renovated and fixed-up more houses than I can count, but ALWAYS hire a professional to sand the floors. Had a neighbor many years ago try to do the job himself, just to save a few bucks, and he ruined ALL of the hardwood floors in his house. His floors, after sanding, were about as smooth and level as a sandy beach. Dips and valleys everywhere so bad you could actually trip on them; some were 3/8" deep. He wound up hiring someone to REMOVE all of the oak flooring in his house and replace it. Cost him 10 times as much as just hiring someone to refinish is his old floors.

I've hired several different contractors, and all did a fine job on the sanding part. Do multiple reference checks before picking someone. As Mr. Kai said, learning how to properly run one of those big sanders well, takes years of practice.

I did fire one contractor, even after he did a fine sanding job on our home's floors. He was supposed to apply 4 coats of oil-based polyurethane, lightly screening and cleaning between coats. When he claimed he was done, he had only put on 2 coats of varnish and hadn't screened (lightly sand, necessary due to the grain rising). I could tell he didn't screen or clean, because the finish felt like there was sawdust under it. I used a dry-wall screening tool with 220 grit to smooth the floor; then cleaned the dust off the floors with paint thinner. Then, did the 3rd coat, repeated the screening/cleaning, and then, the 4th coat (gloss varnish). That job was 10 years ago, and the floors still look terrific. We still get compliments on our "new" floors.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2008 12:11:03 PM PST
S. Johns says:
I too have cracks in my oak flooring . between the board gaps about 1/16 to 1/8 in wide. What is the best way to fill these . I am also going to have someone refinish the floors at the same time or shortly thereafeter.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2008 6:07:55 PM PST
sml1950 says:
First, let me 2nd..3rd..and 4th the idea that any DIYer should(could) refinish their hardwood floors. I have been involved in remodeling/woodworking since the 70's and if there is one thing I've learned, it's that this is not a "once in a while" type job.

When you first start the drum sander (don't even bother with the vibration type except sanding between coats of finisher) it sounds and feels like you have a jet engine on the other end of the handle. Getting the circular sanding marks out from the edger is time consumming and using the screener can be like dancing with a whirling dervish. Not one aspect of the process is easy. If you're proficient enough to get thru these prosesses, DON'T just start with the stain or finish. Put some water on it and look at it under good light from different angles to make sure the sanding marks are gone, then finish sand again(with screener/vibrator).

I have a floor guy who will just do the sanding, and I do the staining/finishing, which also have plenty of caveats, but ones I can handle myself.

As for the question of spaces between planks in the flooring, I have used a jute/hemp roping. Since boards tend to expand/contract seasonally, putting anything in which hardens will eventually work loose. The roping can be pressed into the different size openings,stained and sealed to match the existing flooring.
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Discussion in:  Home Improvement forum
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Initial post:  Oct 11, 2007
Latest post:  Feb 14, 2008

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