DIY floor refinishing.




While many choose to leave the floor finishing to the contractors, others decide to refinish their own floors. What’s the worst that could happen?


The possibilities may be endless and there’s a chance you could ruin your valuable wood flooring.

Let’s see what happens when you hire a professional versus doing it yourself:

If you decide to refinish or resurface wood floors yourself, rather than engage an experienced floor finishing professional, you’ll need to get the equipment at a tool-rental center. Take note that these are domestic sanders and will not sand a floor as effectively as the commercial grade dust-free system we use at Island Floor Finishing. The main tool you will rent is a drum sander, it features a rotating 8-inch drum wrapped in sandpaper. This floor sander is slowly walked back and forth along the wood flooring to remove old coatings, scratches or paint. If you’re afraid of power tools, do not attempt to run one of these machines! Even domestic rental machines are powerful and will cause irreversible dents and gouges in your wood floors if not handled correctly. You will correct safety items including earmuffs, good quality dust masks, and gloves as a minimum.  Rental floor sanding machines are not as effective at collecting dust, thorough taping and masking off the surrounding area is needed before starting. Poor drum sanding will be noticeable in the end results and may only be seen after the final stages of polishing when it is too late to rectify mistakes.

ALL the old finish must be removed so you may need to do 3-4 passes over the floor with different grits. These floor machines are so powerful that if you pause in one spot you will gouge a dip in the flooring. This is the most common problem when inexperienced operators sand a floor. Depending on the finish, you will need at least 40, 60, and 100grit paper and possibly 24 or 36 for tougher coatings. These grits can clog easily so plenty of extras may be required.

After you’ve sanded off the existing coatings, you’re ready to punch any nails that may still be visible. Punching nails and removing staples should be done prior to using any floor sanding machinery. If you don’t pre-punch and remove ALL the staples and tacks, you will ruin the machines rubber drums and discs. The rental stores will most certainly charge for replacing floor sanding drums and backing plates. After punching nails, you will need to fill with color match putty.  A large flexible trowel or tapers tool, knee pads, and disposable gloves are needed for this stage.  Give the floor a really good vacuum first to remove all the dust from between the gaps and in the nail holes. It is not recommended to fill the gaps between boards due to expansion and contraction. After dry the putty is then sanded off with 80, 100 0r 120 grit cloth belts.

After finishing with the drum sander an edge sander is used to remove coatings from areas the larger belt floor sander cannot reach.  The drum or belt sander can only sand up to 6 inches from the baseboards. Make sure you buy a selection of both rough and fine grits as you will need at least a 24, 36 or 50 grit to remove the old finish and either 80 or 100grit for fine sanding. Experiment with different grits to find what works best on old finishes.

Floor Polishing


Make sure you rent the large rotary polisher and random orbital sander. You will need these machines to polish out all the drum and edge sander marks. If your planning to skip this step, I would suggest not attempting to refinish your floors at all. Every process in wood floor resurfacing complements the one before and if polishing is skipped, or rushed, your previous efforts will be a waste of time.

Once you have set up the rotary polisher and orbital sander, start with the perimeter and use either 80 or 100 grit screens to polish the wood. Once the perimeter is sanded smooth you can switch over and start polishing the rest of the floor going with the boards and grain. These fine rotary sanders use a fast spinning motion and remove the fine drum marks and edger swirls for a professional finish. Start with an 80-120 grit polishing screens and systematically go over the floor removing lines left by the drum and edge sanders. Keep polishing until the floor is smooth, your final grit should be120 or 150 grit screen paper depending on the product or stain used.

Floor scraping

The best tool for removing the old coats in the corners is a handheld scraper and a file to sharpen it. You can use or hire a corner sander, but these sanders are dusty and ineffective at removing the thick coats found in corners. These areas the most physically draining of the all floor sanding and refinishing processes. Once you have removed the old finishes from the corners, grab a small piece if 120 grit paper and lightly sand the corners to make smooth after scraping. You can use a corner sander for this or do it by hand.

If all these previous steps have been completed correctly you should have a perfectly smooth floor with no dips, gauges or chatter marks. If you have chatter marks, you will notice evenly spaced ridges over the floor where the hired drum sander has passed. If so, stop now, return the machines, and call a pro. Chatter marks, dip, and gouges that remain in the floor at this stage will be more noticeable once the floor finishes have been applied.

Floor coating

By now you will have decided on your floor finishing products and purchased the array of equipment needed to apply them correctly. These include painters pole and brush, applicator or roller, bucket or tray, gloves, non-marking old shoes, respirator, and cartridges. Solvents may be needed to clean your equipment after each use if oil-based finishes are chosen. Once your ready to apply the coat give the entire floor, baseboards, and surrounding areas another good vacuum after removing drop sheets and other protective equipment.

Before you coat the floor, be sure to monitor the ambient temperature and relative humidity. These are important factors for a professional floor contractor and the key to a successfully finished wood floor. Temperatures should not be too far above or below 20 degrees Celsius. If you choose to stain first, you will need to water-pop the floors to allow stains to absorb evenly and dry before clear finishes are applied.

After the first coat has dried, begin spot filling any areas that were missed before coating the floor. This can be done with compatible color matched putty or fill products. When your satisfied that you are ready for the next coat you can begin the cutback and polish stage with your rotary polisher using a 150-220 grit screen or buffing pad.

Once you have cut back and detailed the floor, thoroughly vacuumed the total areas in preparation for applying the final coat. The final coat is the most important part of the entire floor refinishing process and full care should be taken to ensure even application and drying. Coating a floor is a skill that most professional contractors take years to master, but with little patience, homeowners may achieve a decent result. In order to apply a floor finish correctly, you must apply evenly and quickly while maintaining a wet edge at all times.

There’s just nothing like the feeling of looking at a beautifully refinished floor and knowing you did it yourself. If your floor looks patchy, uneven, blistered or peeling you may have a serious problem that only starting over may rectify. While most DIY jobs can save you some money, the tools, equipment, and products used need a fair amount of skill to control.

This DIY floor is a great example of how missed steps and inferior hire machines affect the final finish. Unfortunately, the resulting finish poorly reflects the time, money and effort that was put into resurfacing this old wood floor. The refinisher was out of their depth on this tough old pine floor that had previously been painted. These old floors take time and knowledge to produce outstanding, eye-catching results. Drum marks, staining, gaps, and crosscut marks are common when an experienced floor sander attempts to resurface a wood floor.

“I’ve met plenty of people who try to resurface their floors, but never someone who attempts it twice!” 


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