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The Best Way to Refinish a Wood Floor

Updated on March 15, 2010

Floor Refinishing can be a tough task for any do it yourself person, not necessarily because it is hard but because the preparation and patience that comes from prepping the floor, sanding it, and adding a stain and finish.  All this said, with a little guidance, anyone can do it.  The real key is to go slow and use a methodical approach.  The slower you go, the better the chance you will get the floor that you want.  If you try to speed through the sanding process, you could damage your hardwood. Sometimes your entire floor won't need a complete makeover.  If you have scratches only in spots a simple wood repair using a hand sander could restore your hardwood floor into looking picture perfect again. 

In this section I have a series of articles that will help you through the process of refinishing your hardwood floors, step-by-step from floor preparation to sanding the wood (as well as what type of sander I believe works best for beginners), to staining and finishing your floor.

I also go over some simple hardwood repairs for dents, dings and scratches.  After all, if you don't need to resurface your entire floor, why go there, right?

Refinishing hardwood floors is often a job that most homeowner's will leave to a professional flooring company due to the fact that it is tedious and dirty.  But most often, if the homeowner is willing to dig in, it is not only possible to refinish wood floors...you can also get near professional results even if it is your first time trying.  What you need is simply a little time, the right tools and a keen eye for detail as the project unfurls.

The first step to floor refinishing is to empty the room you are about to refinish.  This mean everything;  all furniture, rugs, lamps and anything that is left on the floor.  While this may seem obvious, there are some that think that you can move furniture as you go.  Removing furniture will protect your stuff from potential damage but more importantly, it will give you free and easy access across the entire room.

Tools that you will need to refinish a floor

You will also need tools that are synonymous with refinishing your floors.  For one, you will need to either rent or buy a sander.  Obviously, renting a sander is the better option of the two.  There are two different types of sanders that are related to flooring;  the drum sander and the disk sander.  Both are professional grade sanders and are used to strip the previous finishes all the way down to the wood grain.  Another option that many prefer for do-it-yourself projects is the orbital sander which gives more margin for error.  While the orbital sander (or oscillating sander) is not as aggressive as the drum or disk sander, it can be used in cases where the floors aren't that scratched up or dented or when there is only a coat of finish to remove.

You will also need a hammer, some sandpaper (you can also grab a power sander and a hand sander), a broom and finally a vacuum cleaner, preferably a shop vacuum.  The initial stage will be more about prepping the floors before you apply a finish.

Finally, you will need to select the stain (the finish), brushes to apply the stain and a clear protective coat of sealant along with a paint roller to apply it.  Oh, and when we finally get to actually staining the floors, you will want to have a face mask to protect yourself from the noxious fumes and maybe some knee pads to protect your knees as you are applying the stain.

Step to refinish your hardwood floors

The first step is to close air vents in the room and if the room has a ceiling fan, turn it off.  If the room has a door, you will want to close it when you are sanding the floors.  If it doesn't, take an old bedsheet and drape it over the entryway.  This is to protect the other rooms from the dust as you sand the floors.

If the room has quarter round of molding along the baseboards, you can remove it for best sanding results.  The reason behind this is that the sander can actually damage the shoe molding if you aren't careful.  You can easily remove this by using a crowbar and carefully prying the molding from the baseboard, exposing the wood underneath.

Once you have prepped the area, you can begin sanding.  If you are using a drum sander, you will want to sand in the direction of the wood grain.  When you are sanding, never stop or you can expect a hole in your floor!  Also, it is a good idea to work your way slowly backwards in the direction of the wood grain.  The reason why you walk backwards is so that you won't have to walk through the sanding debris that is made by the sander.  Once you have completed the room, you can grab the edge sander and start sanding down the edges of the wall where the quarter round was at.  Because the sander is big, you won't be able to sand as close to the wall as necessary;  the edge sander can hit the spots that your drum sander can't.

Once the sanding is complete, grab a broom and sweep up the dust completing this with a final sweep with the shop vaccum.  Once you have finished and the room is clean and free of dust, you can then decide if you will need to go over the room with the sander again or proceed to staining the wood floors.

How to Stain your Hardwood Floors

Supposing that you have sanded the floors to the degree that you want, the next step is to stain the floors.  The color of the stain will determine what tools you will use.  If you are hoping for a dark, rich stain, then you can apply it with a brush as brushes will make applying the stain easier.  For ligher stains, a lint free cloth can be used to lightly coat the wood floors.  Either way, the key to properly staining your hardwood is patience; go slowly, applying the stain in the same direction as the wood grain of the planks.  Start staining at the spot farthest away from the entry point and work your way backwards until you reach the exit so you won't have to walk over the refinished floor.

Let the finish dry.  If the stain is not dark enough, you can add another coat.  Just repeat the process.

The final step to refinishing hardwood floors is to apply a clear coat sealant to your floors.  Take the roller and starting at the farthest point from the entry, apply a thin coat of sealant over your stained wood floor.  Let the sealant dry (it may take a couple hours) and then apply another coat or two of clearcoat sealant, allowing each coat at least 2-3 hours in between.

Take your quarter round or molding and reattach to your baseboards.

When can I put my furniture back in the room?

The lighter stuff can go back within a day.  For heavier furniture, you should allot 5-7 days before you move it back onto your wood floors.

That's is it.  If you are a novice who is looking for the best way to refinish wood floors, then this can give you an easy guide to follow.  Of course, if you aren't patient or don't have an eye for detail, I suggest you have a professional come in and refinish your hardwood for you.

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