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Refinishing hardwood floors

A refinished wood floor can be one of the most eye-catching components to your home’s interior beauty, if done right. A wood flooring’s finish can help preserve this aesthetic by sealing and protecting from foot traffic, moisture and dirt. But nothing lasts forever as they say, and neither does the surface of a wood floor. But a simple refinish project can bring it’s appearance back to life and help protect the hard wood again. The following steps outline a basic wood floor refinishing project that you can use in your own home. The good news is that if you follow some simple tips and use the right tools, then refinishing a hardwood floor really isn’t that difficult.

Preparing your floor for refinishing
To get started, you’ll want your wood floors to be free of clutter and dirt. Obviously, remove furniture and other objects that can be moved. Move kitchen appliances if possible, but it’s fine to leave the refrigerator in place and get as far under as you can when sanding and applying finish. Sweep up any debris, dirt and other “dust bunnies” off the surface. Next, you’ll want to place a box fan if you have one, or some other medium sized fan in the window. Face it out and secure it well. You’ll want this running while your sanding to draw out some of the fine dust particles you’ll create when sanding hardwood floors. Now, tape up openings and doorways to rooms other than the one you’re working on. Do this using lightweight plastic drop clothes draped over the openings. Tape them up with painter’s tape so that they will stay up during the time you’re working. This will keep the dust out of other rooms and accumulating there.

Wood floor sanding
Chances are the floor you’re refinishing is big enough to require a machine floor sander. A common type of floor sander is known as a random orbital machine. This just looks like an oversized vacuum and comes with three or four disc sanders on the bottom. These will simply spin around as you move the machine about your prefinished floor. The machine will also have a bag on the back to collect most of the dust you generate as you remove the old coats and a very thin layer of wood. You can rent these machines at your local home center for the day.

Start with a coarse sandpaper, such as 36 grit. On a disc sander, you will buy a pack of paper that can be velcroed on the bottom of the machine easily and quickly. Before using the sanding machine, ensure you have on a dust mask and eye protection during operation. Also, if using an extension cord to plug it in, make sure it is a heavy duty cord.

As you sand, simply move the sander around in small circles. Change directions and think random. There is no need to push down on the sander as you go. The idea is to just twist about, forward and back and in both right and left directions. Just make short moves and go slowly. If you go too fast, you risk scratching the floor. Be careful not to bump walls or cabinets or other woodwork. Along edges, just move in close very slowly, literally sliding back and forth an inch at a time. You should also rotate the sander 45-degrees to make sure you sand the voids in between the sanding discs. You’ll notice that the machine can’t get right close to the edge of the flooring, e.g. next to baseboards. These areas can be done by hand using 36-grit paper again.

After sanding for fifteen minutes, it’s time to change out the sanding paper for your hardwood floors. As you sand, if you spot any nails that might need resetting, now is a good time to pound them down. Also, fill any small holes or cracks in the floor with water-based wood filler. Be sure to vacuum up dust before applying wood filler.

For your second sanding pass, use a finer paper such as 60-grit to smooth out your hardwood floor, e.g. any cuts or imperfections created from the first pass. Important – vacuum your floor first before this second pass. You don’t want any of the coarser grit paper granules getting caught up and scratching your floor while you’re trying to smooth it out. For a third and final pass, use an 80-grit paper. Don’t forget to vacuum in between each pass.

Time to refinish your hardwood floor
Before laying down your wood finish on the floor, you’ll want to remove any last fine particles that didn’t get caught by the vacuum. You don’t want anything showing up in your refinish. To do so, take a thick terry cloth, pour some mineral spirits on it and wipe down your entire floor. Now you’re ready to put down your floor finish.

A good floor refinish to use is a water-based polyurethane. Water-based will dry much faster than oil-based. This will allow you to do multiple coats in the same day (a much faster floor refinishing job!). Water-based will also not have the same, strong smell that oil-based has.

First, you want to apply a base coat. This will stop any discoloration from happening with the floor stain should it react with the wood. Apply with a bristile brush that is 4″-6″ inches. Spread it around, then smooth out with a wider, sythetic applicator. Ensure this base coat is evenly applied with not ridges. Allow two hours for it to dry before putting down your first coat of floor finish.

For final finishes, apply three coats, two hours apart. Three coats will ensure a longer lasting refinish. The type of floor refinish to use depends on the look you’re going after. A high-gloss finish will last longer than a satin finish. But you may not like the high sheen appearance with a high gloss coat for your hardwood floor refinish. If so, you can apply the first two coats in a high gloss and the final coat in a lower sheen finish, such as semi-gloss or satin. It’s that last coat that determines the reflective look of your refinished floor.

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