How to Repair or Refinish a Hardwood Floor

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, hardwood floors add value and visual appeal, so keeping them in shape is a top priority.

    TOM: And if you’re not sure whether to repair or replace a weathered hardwood How to Repair or Refinish a Hardwood Floorfloor, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva is here with tips on both.

    Welcome, Tom. Great to see you.

    TOM SILVA: Hi, guys. It’s always nice to be here.

    TOM: And hardwood floors are pretty darn durable. There’s probably few scenarios when you actually have to rip that out, correct?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, they have to be pretty bad to rip it out. A lot of people today, if they’re stained or a little beaten up, what they’re even doing is they’re refinishing because everybody wants the reclaimed wood.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: So now they’re just saying it’s a reclaimed floor. And it looks great.

    TOM: So beat-up is in.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, beat-up is in. But if – I mean lots of times, you don’t have to replace a whole floor; you can patch it in.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: I’ve done a lot of patches around old radiators where the floor just rots around it from the steam. The hardest part about the job was almost taking the radiator out and get the radiator back in, because it’s so heavy.

    TOM: Well, let’s talk about that for a minute. Because hardwood floors are tongue-and-groove. So how do you sort of excise that one piece of hardwood to get a new piece in?

    TOM SILVA: Well, you’ve got to start in the middle and work your way out.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: So what I like to do is I’ll either take a router and I go right down the middle or I take a SKILSAW and go down the middle, take the center piece out and work back in to the center and work your way out that way.

    And there is a wear layer. So above that tongue ­- or above that groove – you have so much material that you can take out before you’ve destroyed the integrity of that floor system. So you want to make sure that you don’t over-sand it. Because once you’ve destroyed it, then you’re going to have to replace it.

    TOM: Now, that’s a great point because I think folks that want to refinish floors automatically want to go to the belt-sanding, STAT.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, yeah.

    TOM: It’s fun. It’s a big machine.

    TOM SILVA: And it’s an animal.

    TOM: It is an animal; you have to use it very, very carefully. But you don’t always have to go there unless you’ve really got some serious damage in your hardwood. Can’t you just buff it out and lightly sand it?

    TOM SILVA: I love the buffer with a screening pad. And I tell people, “Keep your eye on your floors – your hardwood floors – especially in the wear areas.” Like where the kitchen sink is? Keep a little accent mat down there because, believe it or not, you wear that finish just by turning back and forth, going into the dishwasher back and forth. That wears it out.

    But keep your eye on the finish. If you start to see the finish wearing, get a buffer with a screening pad and screen the floor. Get that top layer off – that’ll really clean it down – and then put a couple of coats of poly on it. You’ll get a few more years out of it, no problem.

    TOM: Then when you apply that poly, best way to do that is not necessarily with a brush, correct?

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah. You do a brush, you’ll be – oh, you’ll be aching. I like to just dump it on the floor a little bit and I spread it around with a lambswool pad and it spreads out really fast.

    TOM: One thing I’ve learned about refinishing floors: never believe the drying time on the can.

    TOM SILVA: Oh. That’s for sure.

    TOM: It always takes longer.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. And the thing is is you’ve got to remember something about the finish on the hardwood floor: although it may feel dry, it’s still soft underneath, so you’ve got to be careful for a few days.

    TOM: Yeah, good point.

    Now, if a major sanding is required for deeper scratchers – we talked about the sanding machine. The floor sander is essentially a very, very big, heavy belt sander. Probably not a good idea to do that yourself because that’s a piece of equipment that takes a lot of skill, correct?

    TOM SILVA: All it takes is one second of you having the floor sander and your son or your daughter or your neighbor coming in and say, “Hey, Tom” – and you stop on that floor for a second, you’ve just gone down an 1/8-inch.

    TOM: Yep.

    TOM SILVA: And on a hardwood floor, you can’t afford to go down an 1/8-inch without ruining it.

    TOM: So that’s a job best left to a pro.

    TOM SILVA: Absolutely.

    TOM: Now, what about cleaning hardwood floors? People are reluctant to put any kind of moisture on there. What do you recommend for keeping your floor in good shape?

    TOM SILVA: I do like a mop that’s not soaked. You know, a damp mop over the floor, really quick, is not bad because it gets off that little grit that’s there. But I don’t recommend putting wax on polyurethane floors, because it will dull the finish.

    Years ago, when I was a kid, we had varnishes and we used to wax the varnished floors once a year and it really looked beautiful. But they can be slippery.

    TOM: Good advice.

    We’re talking to Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    And one more question. Let’s talk about a common side effect of hardwood floors: squeaking hardwood floors.

    TOM SILVA: Hmm. Yeah.

    TOM: Any easy ways to fix that, while we’re at it?

    TOM SILVA: Squeaky floors. They can squeak for a couple of reasons. They can squeak because the floorboards have shrunk a little bit and they’re moving independently. And they’re moving, actually, on the nail that is holding them down; they slide up and down. Or it could be the subfloor and the flooring itself that is attached to one another, pulling itself out of the joist, squeaking there, also.

    And they actually have a pretty good system that is a screw that the head snaps off, with a little attachment, that when you screw through the floor, it snaps the head of the screw off. So the screw sinks down about an 1/8-inch below it and then you can use a putty stick to fill in that void.

    TOM: Oh, that’s a cool idea. So, basically, you tighten up the loose board, snap off the head of the screw and touch it up with putty.

    TOM SILVA: Right. Yeah. And you’ve got to find the joist.

    TOM: Yep.

    TOM SILVA: So, finding the joist, you can try a stud finder or you can use a real long, 1/8-inch drill bit and drill a couple of holes between the joints of the board. And you won’t notice the holes. Once you find that joist, mark it and then measure 16 inches in both directions from that, across your room, and you’ll find your joists.

    TOM: Great tricks of the trade. Tom Silva from This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: My pleasure and always good to see you guys.

    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 is brought to you on PBS by Lumber Liquidators. Lumber Liquidators, hardwood floors for less.

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