How to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors

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How to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors

Years of foot traffic, scratch marks, pet urine, dents, and gouges can leave your once-beautiful hardwood floor looking worn-out and ugly. That’s why, according to flooring experts, you should refinish your hardwood floors at least once per decade. This will remove any old blemish and give the floor a face-lift, but how do you sand and refinish the hardwood floor?

To sand and refinish your hardwood floor, you need to get the necessary tools ready. First prepare the area by removing furniture, and repair the worn-out wood planks. Clean the dust and any debris, sand-buff-stain, and seal the floor yourself. You may opt to skip sanding when refinishing.

In this guide, I`ll take a look at how to sand and refinish hardwood flooring, how to refinish without having to sand the floor, hardwood refinishing costs, and more.

How to Refinish Hardwood Floors

To properly refinish your hardwood floor surface, we recommend following the tips and techniques detailed below:

  1. Choose a DIY-friendly sanding tool– sanding by yourself requires lots of elbow grease. Therefore, to ease the load, hire a heavy-duty sander like an orbital sander or drum sander that simply rolls and can be driven with or against the grain.
  2. Have all the necessary safety gear floor refinishing causes lots of wood specks and wood dust to splatter around. You- therefore- need the proper safety apparel including overalls, goggles, hand gloves, and a respirator.
  3. Don’t forget the edges– while drum sanders are great for fast refinishing, they’re too large to effectively reach edges, corners and close to baseboard moldings. As such, always remember to hire an edger sander and a palm sander as well.

How to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself

You can sand and refinish the hardwood floor yourself if you are a DIY kind of person. You may sand with your hand or get a sander machine to get the job done.

How to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself with sander machine or by hand

Here is a step by step procedure you can follow:

i. Prep the area.

The first step in refinishing involves removing all stuff- including furniture, window drapes, and area rugs- from the room where the floor is to be refinished. This is because sanding generates lots of wood dust, which you don’t want to get onto your precious stuff.

You’ll also want to conceal all ventilation ducts in the room to prevent wood dust from clogging your HVAC system. Meanwhile, installing a plastic sheet underneath the doorway will prevent the dust from dispersing into other rooms.

ii. Repair and clean the floor.

Before refinishing, remember to refasten any loose hardwood planks by nailing or stapling them down. For heavy hardwood damage that includes cracks and holes, you’ll need to patch up the surface using wood filler and a putty knife. Once the wood filler is fully cured, wipe up any excess filler, as well as floor dust and debris using a wet mop.

iii. Sand the hardwood surface.

For DIY refinishing projects, we recommend using simpler, handheld sanding machines; as opposed to heavy-duty sanders like a drum sander which can be difficult to use. Start off by using coarse-grit sandpaper- preferably 40-grit- to get rid of the old floor varnish and scratches.

When sanding, run the sander across the hardwood surface at a slow, constant pace, as stops can result in permanent scratches. You’ll also want to sand along the grain rather than against it.  Additionally, depending on the size of your room, you may need to change your sandpaper once it wears out. A 40-grit sander- for instance- will only last for about 40 square feet before needing replacement.

Remember, some types of sanders won’t get the edges of the room, leaving the floor with uneven coloring along the edges of the walls. To avoid this, switch to an edge sander for the edges. The edger will ensure you have a uniform floor color throughout the hardwood surface. Then, clean the surface of wood dust particles using a vacuum cleaner. The vacuum should be passed through the floor at least twice to ensure every tiny speck of wood dust is removed.

Once done, switch to medium grit (60-grit) sandpaper to further smoothen the surface, as the coarse-grit sanding will have scratched the hardwood surface. You can then switch to 80-grit or 100-grit sandpaper in subsequent passes, and finish off the process with 120-grit (very fine grit) sandpaper.

Every time you switch to a higher-grit sandpaper, you’ll notice the hardwood surface becoming smoother. Also, before changing sandpaper, ensure that you vacuum the floor to remove dust specks, as they can cause marks on the floor during subsequent sander passes.

iv. Buff the hardwood surface.

Buffing is a form of lightly sanding to remove any superficial marks caused by the wood specks from the sanding process, without scratching the wood surface itself. You can easily do this using an industrial floor buffer and a fine grit sanding screen.

v. Prep the hardwood surface for staining and sealing

After buffing the hardwood floor, use a vacuum cleaner and a tack cloth to eliminate any remaining dust particles and debris that might affect the finish. Also, wipe down any wood dust that may have been dispersed to the walls during the sanding stage. Such particles can fall to the floor and affect the quality of your finish after the stain is applied.

Sometimes, staining results in uneven shades on the floor due to differences in grain density. Therefore- to ensure the stain penetrates the wood evenly, a method called water popping is used to raise the wood grains and level out the extent to which the individual planks can accept the stain.

Water popping is done by mixing denatured alcohol with water in a ratio of 1:2. You should then spray the solution on the floor and spread it evenly using a mop. Finally, let the floor dry for at least half an hour.

vi. Stain the hardwood floor.

Staining is a method used to better bring out the natural color of hardwood surfaces. You can apply different types of stains to either give your hardwood floor a dark, traditional feel or a light, airy feel. We recommend using an oil-based stain over a water based stain. This is because the former is more durable, cures at a slower rate for a more uniform finish, and acts as a protective seal against the elements.

Some types of stains emit harmful vapors, which is why you need to put on a respirator mask before embarking on this stage of refinishing. Once you have your PPE gear on, dip a dry piece of clothing or a sponge into the stain and wring it, before staining the floor. You’ll want to start working from the furthest corner of the room to avoid stepping on the floor parts that you’ve already stained.

Avoid staining against the grain – and don’t let pools of stain flood the floor surface. Once done, give the hardwood floor at least a 24-hour curing duration. If you still haven’t achieved the desired shade, you can apply a second coat of stain.

vii. Seal the hardwood surface.

Sealing is usually recommended as the final stage of hardwood floor refinishing, as it protects the floor’s finish against scratches, dents, stains, and scuff marks. You’ll want to use a non-penetrative sealer such as oil-based polyurethane sealer. This sealer sits on the surface of the wood, instead of penetrating into it, thus offering maximum protection against scratches and moisture damage.

Hardwood floor sealers also come in a variety of finishes, so you can choose one that matches your floor or style. To effectively apply a sealer, use a sponge roller and a paint brush, while also applying multiple coats.

How Much to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors

The cost of refinishing your hardwood floor will largely depend on whether sanding is involved or not. Other factors that will also significantly affect the price include your location, the size of the hardwood floor, the type of hardwood surface (some are harder to refinish), and the conditions of the floor.

What’s more, you can either undertake hardwood refinishing as a DIY project or hire a flooring professional. Expect to pay more for the latter option. In several states, floor professionals charge between $1-50- $4.00 per square foot to sand and finish hardwood floors.

Meanwhile, if your hardwood floor is in rather good shape but still needs restoration from superficial blemishes, you can pay for refinishing without sanding. This usually costs an average of one-dollar per square foot.

There are also custom refinishing projects. These are more detailed and entail sanding the top layer to expose bare wood, staining the wood, and sealing the wood with a polyurethane finish. Due to the amount of work involved, such refinishing projects cost more. Expect to part with between $3.75-$5.00 dollars per square foot for such projects.

Different flooring contractors charge different labor costs for sanding and staining- and this is largely influenced by location. For instance, you should expect to pay more to get the hardwood floor in your New York home refinished, compared to what one would pay in Cheyenne or Omaha. Always make sure to compare quotes from different flooring professionals to settle on the best prices.  

Finally, if you’re undertaking the refinishing project by yourself, expect to pay much less than what it would cost to hire a floor contractor. You’ll need to factor in the cost of hiring the necessary equipment such as a drum sander, and the cost of buying the necessary supplies, such as a hardwood floor refinishing kit.

How to refinish hardwood floor without sanding

It could be that your hardwood floor has been sanded one too many times in the past. However, you still feel the need to refinish it to give it a new lease of life. Thin, over-sanded wood planks should not be sanded as thicker flooring is needed to effectively support the weight of house items an occupants.

Here’s another scenario, you and your family cannot afford to leave your home for longer than a weekend (two days) due to work obligations. But you feel that you need to refinish your hardwood floor as soon as possible. That’s where sandless refinishing comes in. It takes a shorter time and is way more affordable.

However, not all hardwood surfaces are candidates for refinishing without sanding. If the hardwood surface is badly damaged with signs of deep scratches, dents and stains, it’d be better to first sand it to remove all the blemish and expose a fresh layer of wood.

How to Sand and Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself without sanding

There are two prominent methods for refinishing a hardwood surface without sanding, including the chemical etch method and the screen-and-recoat method. We discuss each of these methods in detail below:

i. Chemical Etch Method for Hardwood Refinishing

You can undertake this method by simply investing in a hardwood floor refinishing kit. These are usually available at floor maintenance outlets. Inside the kit, you’ll find an etching solution, a transparent finish, and the application tools.

Before applying the chemical etcher, make sure you’ve properly cleaned the hardwood floor using a vacuum cleaner and a damp mop. Once the floor dries up, use a paint pad (or the tools in the product kit) to apply the etcher onto the floor surface. The etcher works by stripping off the old finish off the hardwood surface, thus allowing the new finish to stick better.

Once the etching solution cures, apply a stain to better bring out the grain of your natural hardwood. After staining, apply the clear finish. Alternatively, you can skip the staining stage and after etching, skip to directly applying the transparent finish using a paint pad or the application equipment included in the product kit.

ii. Screen-and-Recoat Method for Hardwood Refinishing

For this method, you’ll be looking to take off the old finish off the hardwood floor without abrading the wood surface. You can do this using a floor buffer that has a 120-grit sanding screen attached to it. Sanding screens are less-aggressive compared to sandpaper, and are- therefore- great for buffing hardwood surfaces to remove old surface coatings.

Once you’ve screen the entire floor, vacuum away any residue and wipe the surface with a tuck cloth. If you wish to give your hardwood surface a darker, warmer feel after screening it, you can stain it. Otherwise, you can directly apply a double coating of transparent finish.

After screening and re-coating the hardwood floor, give it a full day to cure. Take note that water-based finishes dry up faster than oil-based finishes. However, oil-based finishes have the upper hand when it comes to durability.

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Joe McGuinty
I’ve been working with floors for over 12 years. I started as a flooring contractor, primarily in materials selection. Then, I switched careers into accounting, so my wife and I began buying, renovating, and re-selling homes on the side. You’d be surprised how much value you can add to a home simply by adding new floors.

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