No. of Recommendations: 36

My wife and I just completed re-finishing our hardwood floors. I wanted to share our lessons learned so they may be of benefit to others. Overall the floors turned out very nice, but we learned some lessons the hard way. This was our first time trying this, so some of these suggestions may be obvious to the seasoned amateur or professional.


1. When renting equipment, make sure the rental place has all the varieties of sandpaper you will need. We ended up having to look for another rental place because ours didn't have the correct grades.

2. Buy 5 times more sandpaper than you think you will need. The rental store should let you return unused paper, and it sure beats trips to the store when the rental clock is ticking. I bought 3 times as much, and still went to the store twice! I could not guess which grits of sandpaper were more likely to tear.

3. Make sure you understand how to attach the sand paper to the drum sander. Have the rental person show you exactly how. Don't accept a quick, "twist this" demonstration. This was the hardest part of the whole sanding. Once we figured the paper out, our floor looked better and we used far less sand paper.

4. NEVER, EVER, EVER use the edge sander on anything that is not an edge. It leaves swirl marks that are very hard to get out with the drum sander.

5. When using the drum sander, start it moving before the drum touches the floor. It starts out smoothly that way and doesn't gouge. The sanding was pretty easy overall. Just be patient and thorough.

6. Prepare for lots of dust. Mask everything you can, and buy an extra filter or two for your shop vac. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Then use a tack cloth, and vacuum twice more.


7. Staining was the easiset part. Just stir it, brush some on, wait 5-15 minutes depending on how dark you want the stain to be, then wipe off the excess.

8. If you MJUST use putty to fill holes in the floor (we had a lot of holes from carpet tack strips)check with your stain manufacturer to see if they make a putty that matches the color of stain. Even though our putty was called "The One That Takes The Stain" we can still see where the putty was used. We even spent 3 hours on our hands and knees finger-tip sanding the spots with putty and restaining. Ugh. Test the color of your putty first. Never be in a hurry when it comes to staining. This is the hardest part to fix. Trust me. I wish I had not used the putty at all. The little holes without the putty took the stain fine.


9. The topcoating was really fun. We used a synthetic pad for our oil-based polyurethane. It went very quickly and the finish was very smooth. We used 3 coats of poly semi-gloss, lightly sanding between coats, and it is pretty and shiny.


10. Don't be in a hurry. Follow your gut instinct. When we made our small mistakes, I knew we were making them. I should have listened to that inner voice and I would have made better decisions on a few things like the putty and the edge sander. I was either excited or anxious and let that interfere with the decision.

11. When we were done sanding and staining, we were disappointed with what the floor looked like. The color was nice, but the finish was dull and unappealing. Once we put on the polyurethane, however, it started to look beautiful. So, don't be discouraged.

12. Your house will be dirtier than you expect. Your sandpaper will wear out more often than you think. Your stain will stink to high heaven. The polyurethane will look nicer than you think.

Overall, we are very glad we did it. When we get ready to do the upstairs, we will know the techniques and should have an easier time.

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No. of Recommendations: 2
I did my floors for the first time recently. I agree with everything you said. Here's some of the lessons I learned:

Because I wasn't totally sure how the drum sander would work, I started with a medium grit sandpaper (100 grit) on the assumption that if I screwed up it wouldn't get too tragic. I did the floor once with no problems, but decided to just keep on with the medium. It worked great, but I probably had to make an extra pass or two. For me it was worth it take the extra time and get familiar with the equipment. I did the edges with a hand-held belt sander. Rent the edge sander :)

I didn't try to completely restore the floor. There's a few dings, etc. still visible, but on the other hand I didn't remove too much wood from any one area and the floors will take another sanding in the future.

Before applying the urethane, I wiped all the floors down with paint thinner. I also wiped down the floor after every time I sanded and before applying the next coat. When the floors are wet with thinner, it gives you a good idea what the urethane will look like.

I used a roller to apply the urethane. It worked great! It went on very thin and smooth. I used a brush for the edges and corners. I put on four coats of satin finish and the floor looks great.
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Not bad!

I've done mine twice (once for the downstairs, once for the upstairs). Only difference was that once I got to the topcoating phase, I wanted to never do it again for the rest of my life, so I did 5 coats of oil-based poly. It doesn't look too built-up, so for those of you out there who want to never deal with it again, you can go for 4 or 5 coats.
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When we refinished the floor in our house we didn't get a belt sander. From our local Knoxx (or Payless Cashways) hardware store, we rented an orbital sander. It worked great. It came with a very helpful video. Didn't bother asking the store guys to demo the machine. The sander was a breeze to use. Didn't do any damage to the floor. Didn't pull any muscles or end up with a sore back. I got a sore back from pulling all those darn carpet tacks and filling each hole with wood putty. We opted not to stain. The polyurethane finish was easy as well.
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My ex and I did the same thing on more than one ocassion. We were advised not to use any putty under the varnish because the movement of the floor would eventually cause the putty to move and crack the varnish. We wanted a good looking floor so fill and varnish we did. In no time at all we were busy trying to repair every putty spot. If you must fill do it after you have varnished. Want the putty to have the same shine as the rest of the floor? Take an artists brush and put a tiny spot of varnish on the putty. This allows for the natural movement that is bound to take place.
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Floor sanding tips -- hopefully you have a big, powerful shop vac such and the ones made by Sears. Buy an extra hose, duct tape the two together, and duct tape the inlet end to the dust exhaust on your floor sander. With practice, running both machines at once won't be awkward. By removeing dust as you sand, your paper will cut a lot faster and last longer. You will also have less dust in the room. You should wear a resperaor and have ventilation also. You may need to run the machines on seperate circuits to avoid blowing breakers.

At any good hardware store you can buy a big "eraser" for removing gummy deposits from belt sander belts. These will save you sandpaper and time changing sandpaper. I saw one floor that kept clogging belts within minutes. It had to be chemically stripped before it could be sanded.

ABOVE ALL REMEMBER THIS!!!! Sanding dust from floor sanding is spontainiouly combustible! Store the bags outside in a place where they could (safely?)catch on fire,and keep a space between the bags so they don't heat up as much as if they were in a pile. My company had a fire from floor sanding dust, and I have observed that flooring contractors take no chances with dust.

Have fun, I have been there too many times!
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although this is to late for you, perhaps it will help some others.
yes be sure to get a putty that will accept the color of the stain that you are going to use. but before using it, mix a bit of the Clean sanding sawdust with it. do not use the first sanding, this will be dirty,but the final clean wood sawdust. 1/4 to 1/3 by volume, sometimes you may need a drop of solvent to mix it better. WHY? the wood is what you stain, adding some sawdust to the putty mix adds wood (to be stained)to your filler.
hope you enjoy your new floor jC
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Congratulations! I have a friend who re-did 5 houses before, in his last one, he decided to sand his own floors. He said, never again! And this was a very competent, highly skilled, do everything himselfer. After watching the professionals do mine and listening to my friend, I learned several things.

First, the "touch" on that rotary sander is almost an art. If you leave it swirling in one place for just a tenth of a second too long, when you urethane it, it will show as a swirl mark. But you won't see that swirl before you urethane.

Second, you're absolutely right about the edge sander: only use it on the edges.

Third, even the pros can get the putty in newly-laid wood floors wrong. I'm talking about the nail hole filler material, so be careful. (I had both new and old floors)

Fourth, I learned that during a humid summer, using either water based or oil based urethane can make all the difference in drying time and hardness. (Everything dries from the top down) Basically, the humidity can help one dry and not the other. Frankly, I don't remember anymore which was which but I do know that my floors in the kitchen had to be redone with the other kind of urethane.

Lastly, I learned that on wood steps (which were oak and which I personally only lightly sanded by hand, no machines) I could use a variety of varnishes to produce a non-skid surface and get the sheen that I wanted. Here's an interesting piece of info: whether it's paint, varnish or urethane, the shinier the surface the longer the lifespan. Apparently, everything breaks down over a period of years and shiny is the most durable in descending order from high gloss to satin to low gloss.

So, with that in mind I used high gloss varnish on the steps as the first coat and let it thoroughly dry. Then I lightly sanded again by hand and put down on top of it satin varnish. It lasted through dogs and people until I sold the house eight years later and needed no work. As an aside, I did the risers (the vertical parts of the stairway) with one coat of satin varnish since it would receive no wear at all.

Good luck folks.
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