If you’re fortunate enough to have beautiful, salvageable hardwood floors, refinishing them on your own is a definite DIY possibility. The materials are readily available, the tools are inexpensive or can be easily rented, and the results are always worth the effort.
As with any home improvement project, preparation is important. And although hardwood floor refinishing can potentially be tackled by a homeowner, depending on how heavily damaged your floor is, you might need to call in a pro to handle the sanding portion of the job. Here are the steps to take toward new life for your floor.
1. Get ready. Refinishing your floors will take a room out of service for some time, quite possibly for longer than you’ve originally planned. Use this opportunity to remove, store or toss anything that you don’t need on your way to creating the blank canvas of a floor you’ll need to work on.
2. Vacuum the old floor. Remove as much dirt as possible so that it doesn’t mix in during the sanding process and further stain the floors.
3. Sand the floor. Sanding the floor is an important step. If it isn’t badly damaged, a light sanding will do, but if it is damaged or you’re changing the color of the wood and need to remove all the old stain, then a heavier sanding should be done. For light sanding, rent a floor buffer with a sanding screen or use a machine called a “U-sand.” However, if the floor is badly damaged, a floor belt sander is needed. This is a difficult tool to use, so unless you have lots of experience, hire a pro to handle this step.
4. Remove the dust. After sanding, you’ll need to do a good job of removing as much dust as possible. Vacuum the floor thoroughly, use a tack cloth, or damp-mop it. If you don’t remove the dust, it will get trapped in the new finish, float to the surface and make it rough.
5. Apply the finish. Use an angled brush to “cut in” the new finish along the walls. Then, using a lamb’s wool applicator (this looks like a sponge mop and is available at most home improvement centers), apply oil-based polyurethane, working your way out of the room as you go. Apply two to three thin coats, allowing plenty of drying time in between. Although water-based polyurethane is available, we don’t recommend it for floors. It simply doesn’t wear nearly as well and with the work it takes to refinish a floor, it’s not a project you’ll want to repeat anytime soon.
After the last coat of polyurethane, you’ll need to plan to be off of the floors for several hours of anticipated drying time. In fact, it’s best to avoid heavy traffic on a floor for several days after the last coat is applied to give the finish time to really set in. However, if practical detours aren’t available, use drop cloths for a few days over the areas you need to walk on. This’ll protect them while allowing enough air to get to the floor so that the drying process can continue.
6. You're all set. Move your furniture back in, plop down on the couch and say a little prayer that you didn’t just scratch the newly refinished floor!