How to Strip a Hardwood Floor

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, one of the biggest happy surprises in home improvement is pulling up carpet to reveal hardwood floors. Now, for some reason, in the ’60s and ’70s and even into the ’80s, homes were constructed with beautiful hardwood floors, which were then quickly covered up with wall-to-wall carpeting, sometimes shag, usually in a nice shade of avocado.

    How to Strip a Hardwood FloorTOM: That’s right. And most of the time, the floor’s been protected under all that carpeting and is in really good shape and just needs to be refinished. Here to walk us through the steps is This Old House general contractor Tom Silva.

    Welcome, Tommy.

    TOM SILVA: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

    TOM: Now, is this a do-it-yourself project? Because I’ve seen this project done well and done really badly.

    TOM SILVA: You’re so right. I have, too. I mean if you’re going to use – if you don’t have any experience with a drum sander, I would say stay away from the drum sander. They actually have sanders that have four heads on them with 6-inch pads that just about anybody can use. You won’t ruin the floor. It will take you a little longer.

    TOM: Now, I’ve used that sander and that, of course, is the first step – is getting the old finish off. I believe it’s called a U-Sand machine.

    TOM SILVA: Mm-hmm. You’re right.

    TOM: And I used it because I had Douglas fir floors, which were softer wood. But you’re right: with that drum sander, boy, I’ll tell you that is a destructive piece of equipment if you’re not used to using it every single day.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. All you have to do is stop for a half a second and you’ve just put a groove in that floor that you either can get out or it’s ruined.

    LESLIE: Or lean.

    TOM: Exactly.

    TOM SILVA: Yep.

    TOM: So, once you get the finish stripped off, first of all, do you really have to take all the finish off or are you just sort of taking the upper sort of layer off to get it ready for refinish?

    TOM SILVA: It really depends on what you want to do. If you have a floor that looks good but you just want to clean it out, you don’t even have to sand it. You can actually use a buffing wheel with a mesh that will actually just take the surface layer off and clean it. And then you can vacuum it and then put your finish coat on top of that.

    I tell people that if you have wood floors and they’re in good condition, you should service them every, say, 5 or 10 years depending on the areas, like in the kitchens. A lot of people like wood floors in the kitchen. Sand the area where the high-work areas are but you want to screen it. You don’t want to sand it.

    TOM: Right. And those screens, as you say, they fit under what looks like a giant floor buffer like you might see at the mall or commercial building, right?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. With a pad underneath it. Yeah.

    TOM: It just takes that upper surface off and preps it, really, for the new finish,

    TOM SILVA: Exactly.

    LESLIE: Now, all of this sounds really dusty and very messy, quite frankly. So, what can you do to control the quantity of dust and from it getting to other parts of the house?

    TOM SILVA: It is very dirty and dusty and you’re so right. You want to basically tape off the area with plastic. You want to have a couple of fans. I always like to have a box fan in the window sucking the air out with another one on the other side of the room bringing the air in. So you create a pressure that goes right through the room as opposed to taking the negative pressure out of the house.

    TOM: That makes a lot of sense. You basically depressurize the work area so all the dust that gets released to the air gets drawn right out.

    TOM SILVA: Exactly. But the sanders that you can even rent today – they have great vacuum systems: a separate vacuum that you can put outside the window with a long tube in. Or you can actually use a shop vac connected to it. But again, you want to make sure that you have a good filter on it because that dust is very fine.

    TOM: Now, once we have the floor sanded and ready for a finish, what’s your preferences on the type of finish to put on top of that floor?

    TOM SILVA: Well, I like to use a urethane finish. We used to use varnishes but a urethane finish – if you’re going to stain it, you can get a stain on it. You can put the stain on with a buffer and a rag, because that you can really get it on quick and get the whole area done. If it’s an oil-based stain, you’ve got to wait a long time. I like to wait a day before I put my finish on.

    But I always start with a couple of coats of high-gloss finish and then I think about what I want for a finish on top of that. So a lot of people don’t like that high-gloss wet look. But the higher the gloss, the harder the finish. So you want the floor to last. Two coats of high-gloss and then you decide on your last coat for the finish that you want: semi-gloss, satin or whatever. The idea of that is when you put the semi-gloss or the satin on top of a high-gloss, it actually magnifies the grain of the wood and it gives it a little, rich depth and it really makes the wood really, really shine.

    TOM: And that’s why he is the general contractor on This Old House.

    LESLIE: That’s really smart.

    TOM: Great trick of the trade. Tom Silva, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: Always my pleasure.

    LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing.

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