Properly sanding hardwood floors increases the life span of your floor and the lasting quality of the finish. Whether you’re finishing, refinishing, going to hire a contractor or attempt to DIY, you’ll want to succeed the first time. In this post, you’ll get a high-level overview about what it takes to sand hardwood floors, the risks involved, how to prepare, and what you should know about renting sanders.
Sanding Hardwood Floors: DIY or Hire a Contractor?
If you’re uncertain about the sanding process, you may wonder if this is something you can do yourself. Some say it takes time but is otherwise an easy and straightforward process. Ask a flooring contractor with years of experience about your DIY floor sanding project, however, and it may go something like this:
“Don’t try to sand hardwood floors yourself.”
The truth is that sanding a hardwood floor is far from simple. If you’re thinking about tackling this project as a novice, you’re almost guaranteed to make some mistakes that will show up after applying the finish. Worse comes to worse, and you damage or wreck the floor, you’ll need to call in someone to redo everything, which means starting over.
Many contractors have steady business fixing DIY projects. That said, there’s plenty of people without any experience, who have successfully sanded and finished their hardwood floors. They’re happy with the results and have the added satisfaction of accomplishing it themselves. But for most people, it’s not easy. You’ll have to plan, learn everything you can, work smart, and keep your expectations realistic.
5 questions to ask yourself if you’re considering a DIY hardwood floor project:
- Will you have plenty of time available?
- Are you committed to learning how to sand properly?
- Are you up for a challenge that involves really hard work?
- Do you need to save money?
- Are you willing to accept the result of this project, no matter the outcome?
If you said yes to everything above, then DIY hardwood floor sanding may be your best (or only) option. You’ll save thousands of dollars when you do it yourself. But be wary if your main motivation is to save money. You may unfortunately experience the opposite. And renting three sanding machines plus buying all the pads is still costly, just the less expensive alternative.
Before Getting Started
Before getting started, you’ll want to have a rough idea (at least) about what you’d like your floor to look like once it’s completely done. With the end in mind, everything tends to fall more naturally into place.
Pinterest is one great tool you can use to easily find, collect, and organize images of flooring to guide your efforts. With a picture or a collection of images, you can also more easily discuss your expectations with a professional.
Sanding is Hard Labor
You should also know that it’s going to be hard work. Maybe you already know, and that’s part of the appeal. Crawling around the floor on your knees can seem like fun at first. Many people underestimate how grueling it will be though. Run an edger for a day, and you’ll experience a full body workout that leaves your forearms, shoulders, back of your legs and lower back feeling like you just did a week of Cross Fit. You may want to consider wearing knee pads and a work belt.
Evaluating Your Space
Besides hard work, sanding hardwood floors requires meticulous preparation. The first step is to evaluate your floors, so you can plan accordingly, which means you’ll work more efficiently and avoid common setbacks.
Say you have 1,000 sq. ft of solid wood flooring. You’ll want to carefully evaluate…
- The floor’s current condition (species, gaps, stains, marks, and any cupping or crowning)
- Any coating on the floor you’ll have to remove
- The number of rooms, space, and entry points
- The skill level and number of the people doing the job
As you evaluate your floor, make sure the planks are properly secured to the sub flooring. Countersink all nails and other fasteners. You’ll want to make sure no nail heads are protruding because they’ll rip the sanding paper. When this happens, the sander will leave streaks behind.
Once the floor is good to go, remove the trim and moldings, such as the quarter round and base shoe. This is often considered to be a pro tip that makes everything else easier.
Your next step is to thoroughly clean the floors with a vacuum. To avoid any debris getting caught under the sander, you must vacuum carefully before you begin. After cleaning, you’ll be ready to plan for the dust.
Dust Containment & Dustless Floor Sanding
You’ll want to have a solid plan for dust containment in place before you begin to sand. This includes knowing how air circulates throughout your home. Be extra cautious. You can tarp the adjoining rooms, put up plastic in the entries, and you still might find yourself vacuuming dust that’s traveled throughout the entire house.
You’ll also want to remove doors that open into the room and all the furniture from the space. You’ll have to take down pictures from the walls, remove light fixtures that hang low, and anything else that will collect dust (except ceiling fans).
Next, it’s time to rent sanding equipment and learn how to use it.
Renting Sanding Machines & Buying Materials
One key tip is to make sure the machine you rent is ready for the job at hand. If you rent a machine that’s been used for 600 hours and the handle is loose, you’re going to be dismayed when you leave chatter marks across the floor. Nothing is more demoralizing to your DIY project than renting a poorly maintained and inadequate machine.
Floor Sander Rental 101
When you rent a sanding machine, you’ll want help from a trained professional. There’s many ways to make a serious mistake and damage the floor, so you’ll want to know exactly what you’re doing, which includes using different grits in proper sequence.
Know What Can Go Wrong
Knowing what can go wrong will help you avoid costly mistakes. Make sure you’re aware of the big problems that can cause you to have to start over.
Mishandling the equipment is a source of major trouble. If you operate the sanding equipment too aggressively, you’ll permanently damage the floor with gouges and dents. Another problem results from over-sanding the wood, which will prevent it from taking the finish. This causes spots across the floor where the finish dries differently and gives you a blotchy-looking surface. But if you’re not aggressive enough while sanding, your floor will look dull after you apply the finish.
That’s why it makes all the difference to seek guidance from someone with experience, who is willing to teach you in-person. They can show you what to use and how to properly operate the equipment you’ll need to rent. At Panel Town, we have a former contractor with 35-years of experience. He shows you the ins-and-outs of each machine we have available, so you get hands-on learning before you rent. If you’re not in Columbus, OH, check for something similar in your area.
Don’t skimp by trying to save money on a rental, sandpaper, or by skipping steps in the process to save time. Being overly frugal or careless increases the likeliness for a serious mistake where you’ll end up wasting time and spending more to go back and do it all over again the right way.
In this section you’ll learn more about the different floor sanders available to rent.
Drum sanders are hefty, heavy walk-behind sanders that are made for fast, high-volume production. With a drum sander, you can easily remove finish and stain from the floor. These large and powerful sanding machines also come with built-in dust containment. The same ones the pros use aren’t commonly available to rent.
Even the drum and belt sanders available to rent are unwieldy until you get the hang of them. A pro can show you how it’s done – what to do and what not to do. They’ll explain how you should never start with the drum down in contact with the floor. They’ll show you how to always be moving the machine before gently easing down the drum to the floor to avoid causing a dip.
After using the drum sander, you’ll want to run an orbital sander to blend the scratch pattern. Orbital sanders can reach corners and areas unreachable by a drum sander. These machines are smaller, circular or square sanders that you can use to completely sand the floor, but it will take much longer if you don’t use a drum sander first. The benefit of going the distance with an orbital sander is that there’s less risk that you’ll do damage.
Read about the best orbital sander.
Edgers are small, circular sanding machines that are made to go where the other bigger machines won’t be able to reach, such as along the perimeter of the room. You can use them to reach around cabinets and radiators and other difficult spaces like the stairs.
You operate an edger by hand, and they have a rotary disc that can get rid of material (stains/finish/paint). Like the other sanders, you can use them to level off the floor and decrease the appearance of scratches. The key to using an edger is to never apply aggressive pressure and to always keep it moving. Edgers also have adjustable wheels for regulating the level of sanding aggressiveness.
Most floor buffers are 16”-18” and are commonly used toward the end of the sanding process or to abrade in between coats of finish. Operating a buffer is less about strength and control and more like a dance. Again, a skilled contractor can show you how it’s done.
Knowing the type of sanding paper or hardwood floor abrasives you’re going to use is an important consideration. A good rule is to start by choosing the finest grit you can that will effectively flatten the floor. If you’re refinishing, then you’ll want to choose a grit that completely removes the prior finish.
The abrasive you choose will depend on the floor and the type of sander you’re using. If your sanding machine has a lot of power, then it will apply more pressure. The more pressure your sander applies the better suited it is to certain grits. For example, you’ll need more pressure for a coarser grit.
If you don’t load the right sandpaper or use the proper grit sequence, you’ll leave behind scratches from the first cut. This will result in a sloppy looking surface that won’t hold finish.
Sanding hardwood floors requires specialized skills, the right equipment, and hard work. If you want to make it a DIY project, the good news is that it’s possible, but you need to set realistic expectations. There’s no reason to expect that, with everything involved, you’ll be able to achieve the same level of quality as someone with years of experience.
With many different resources available, you can find tutorials that show you how it’s done step-by-step. There are also many ways to learn the process from beginning to end. Your local flooring store is a great resource if you’re looking for knowledgeable people willing to take the time to walk you through each step.
And if you decide to go with a contractor, there’s always the option of completing some of the steps yourself to cut down on some of the cost. In the end, you’ll have to decide which is best for you, your budget, and your floor. You can learn what to do, how to do it, and then rent the equipment, buy the materials yourself, and then get to work as long as you’re willing to live with the results. Agree or disagree? Leave us a message in the comments!