Hardwood floors are bound to get scuffed up, turn yellow and fade over time, but the wood itself is durable enough to withstand the abuse. Thankfully, bringing your floors back to their former glory is just a matter of sanding and refinishing. It can be an involved process, but it’s not so complicated that you can’t do it yourself. Follow this step-by-step guide to hardwood floor refinishing, and be well on your way to recovering the gleaming radiance of your favorite home feature.

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Prepare the Room & Floor

Before anything can happen, you first need to clear the room of furniture, rugs and any other things obstructing access to the floor. This includes dirt and debris, too! Pass the vacuum or a dust mop over the entire floor area.

Next, anything you don’t want to be exposed to sawdust or sanding equipment – such as doors, vents and registers – should be removed or sealed off with tape and plastic sheeting. In addition, gently remove the shoe base moulding off the bottom of the walls, and label each piece so that you can easily reattach them at the end. Use a moulding bar or a putty knife, as opposed to a crowbar, to pry it off without damaging it.

Finally, thoroughly scan the entire floor with the putty knife to find any nails sticking up that could damage your sanding equipment. Note any loose floorboards, and use a hammer to fix them back in place.

Sand the Floor

You’ll need to rent a sander, an edger, and a floor buffer from your local home improvement or hardware shop. A drum sander could be a good choice only if you have prior experience using one and have severe scratches or dents on your floor. However, an orbital sander will do the job just fine for most situations and is easy enough for a beginner to handle. Practice using the orbital sander without sandpaper in a small area to get the hang of it before using it on the whole room.

Once you’re feeling confident with the sander, you’re ready to get started. First, put on your basic safety equipment: a dust mask, goggles and hearing protection. Equip the coarse 36 to 40 grit sandpaper, and pass the sander back and forth in the same direction as the floorboards about 3 to 4 feet at a time. Repeat this process two more times, using a finer grain each time: 60 grit and then 100 grit.

Then, use the edger on hard-to-reach areas like nooks, corners, stairs and closets. Progress from coarse grit to finer grit with the edger as well. For any spots that the edger can’t even reach, work an 80 to 100 grit piece of sandpaper by hand until all the old finish is removed.

Most sanding machines have a built-in dust bag to catch the majority of the sawdust. However, some dust will escape, and that’s crucial for this next step. If there are any deep gouges in your hardwood, fill them with a mixture of glue and sawdust and smooth it over with your putty knife. Alternatively, you can use wood putty or wood filler. Although, using the sawdust from the original wood may match slightly better.

Use A Floor Buffer

The floor buffer is an even finer form of sanding that levels out slight changes in slope along the floor and erases any minor scratches left by the sander. Move the floor buffer in wide arcs until the whole floor is consistently smooth. It’s especially crucial not to skip this step if you want your floors to look like they were done by a professional!

Dust & Vacuum Thoroughly

A lot of sawdust and debris is guaranteed to arise. Remember to dust or vacuum after every step to prevent the debris from interfering with the process. Sweep up the sawdust after every new pass with the sander and floor buffer. Make sure to do a comprehensive job at the very end of sanding before applying your stain, or else dust may get trapped in your finish.

Stain the Wood

Stains change the color and tone of the wood to appear more vibrant. Staining your hardwood floors is entirely optional, however, and some people prefer the natural look of bare wood. If you are staining your floors, first test it out with a small dab in an inconspicuous location. Once you have finalized your choice of stain, use a foam applicator to coat the floor with stain along the grain of the wood. Use paper towels or cotton cloths to dab away any excess stain after it dries for a few minutes.

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Add the Protective Finish

A high-quality finish will protect your wood floors for many more years to come while bringing out their natural beauty and texture. Oil-based polyurethane finishes tend to be thicker, take longer to dry, and contribute a slightly amber color to the final look. Keep in mind that oil-based finishes will generally become yellower with age. Water-based polyurethane finishes are thinner, dry quicker, and create a colder look. Some people like the classic warmth of oil-based finishes, while others prefer a cooler modern appeal. In terms of aesthetics, the choice is yours!

Apply the finish using a lamb’s wool applicator in even lines across the floor. Make sure that the coat is smooth and no droplets are left behind. Because water-based finishes dry quickly, they can be more challenging to apply evenly in time. On the other hand, oil-based finishes give off heavy fumes and therefore require you to wear a mask and provide the room with plenty of ventilation.

A single coating may take up to 24 hours to dry completely. Once dried, lightly sand the floor with 220 grit sandpaper, vacuum up the dust, and add the next coat. A good rule of thumb is to apply three coatings of oil-based finish or four coatings of water-based finish. Once the final coat of finish has dried, remember to reinstall your shoe moulding and have fun reorganizing the room’s rugs, furniture, and décor.

In Conclusion

Your hardwood flooring once looked illustrious and gave the room an air of warm grandeur. But a lot can happen in the span of a few years to cause damage to your hardwood. Kids and pets may have played a bit too rough and created harsh dents. You may have reorganized your furniture a time or two and left scratch marks in the process. Perhaps you had friends over for dinner and didn’t notice a water spill until it had seeped into the wood and left a stain. However, a thorough DIY refinishing job about once a decade ensures your hardwood floors can keep up with your evolving lifestyle.

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