Refinishing Wood Floors

Transform a room with dirty, dark and stained hardwood floors by refinishing them with a fresh new finish. Here's what's to consider with this messy but amazing transformation.

By Gene And Katie Hamilton

Refinishing Wood Floors

Even the worst looking hardwood floor can be a Cinderella story when the dark, stained surface is sanded away revealing a new layer of the natural wood. When found in an older home, the floor is often a hidden treasure awaiting transformation. After sanding, a sealer is applied to protect the wood surface.

There are penetrating and surface sealers, each with their own distinct characteristics. A penetrating sealer soaks into the wood and hardens to a satin finish. Usually the sealer is covered with a wax topcoat for added protection. While a penetrating sealer is applied by hand with a rag or lamb's wool applicator, a surface sealer goes on with a paint roller and a brush to cut in around the edges of the room. Usually you'll get the best results with a second coating of either type of sealer after the first application has dried and the floor has been sanded.

A surface sealer forms a protective shell on top of the floor to withstand the hard knocks of continued traffic and scrapes from dining table chair legs. A surface sealer is either oil- or water-based and produces either a low or high gloss finish. The most popular surface sealer is oil-base polyurethane that creates a tough, durable finish for a wood floor.

How to Prepare for Refinishing a Floor

Preparing a room's floor for sanding may take longer than the actual process of grinding off the old finish and applying a new one. That's because everything in the room must be removed. Plan the job by moving out all the furniture, wall coverings, clothing, and other items and store them nearby. It's a good time to get rid of unwanted items.

The sanding machine grinds off the top layer of finish causing a tremendous cloud of dust that can penetrate throughout a house so be sure the room is properly sealed off with masking tape and plastic sheeting. This includes all doorways and heating/cooling duct registers.

Ask the floor refinisher about the side effects of some of these finishes. Some can be dangerous to inhale so it's necessary for the room to be well ventilated during application. Others produce fumes and can cause skin or eye irritation and can be flammable. If anyone in the household has these sensitivities, schedule the work when they're out of the house.

What's Involved

Before the sanding machine begins, the floor sander takes a few preliminary steps. First, the crew removes the base shoe trim around the perimeter of the room. Anything in the floor, like a heating grates or radiator trim ring is removed. They do a careful swipe over by hand looking for any nail heads or carpet staples in the floor. Anything raised above the floor surface can damage the sandpaper belts and machine. They tap down any raised nail heads and remove staples so the wood floor surface is smooth and free of any obstructions.

The sander begins with the upright unit (that resembles a heavy-duty vacuum) sanding the floor strips following the grain of the wood. The edging sander is a small hand-held tool used to reach into tight corners and on stairs. First, a course grade of sandpaper is used, then another pass of the floor is made with a fine grit sandpaper. They use a vacuum to remove grit and dust and then it's ready for a penetrating or surface sealer that takes 24 hours to dry. Then the sander returns to lightly sand the floor again and apply a final second finish coat. Allow for another 24 hours drying time before returning furniture and daily traffic.

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