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Wood Floor Refinishing Tricks

Refinishing a hardwood floor can be a tough job, but it is a little easier if you know a few tricks. The first, and most important, is to evaluate the condition of the floor to decide if it needs refinishing. You might avoid sanding by restoring the finish. If the condition of the floor is bad enough to require sanding, though, there are ways to reduce the amount of work involved.

Screen, Don't Sand

The most important refinishing trick may be to avoid it altogether.

If your floor is dull or if the finish is peeling, yellowing, or has a few surface cracks, you probably do not need to do a complete refinish.  The yellowing or dullness can be caused by dirt or old wax that you can clean with a good hardwood floor cleaner. If the finish is damaged, sand it lightly with a floor buffer fitted with a sanding screen attachment, a process called screening.  Then apply a new coat of finish. Screening removes chipped or flaked-off finish, and the new finish coat should hide any surface cracks. 

Fill Before You Sand

If the floor needs refinishing, it is likely that the boards have developed gaps between them that you have to fill.  It is a big job to fill each one individually, and it is not really necessary. Professionals usually spread a thinned mixture of filler over the entire floor before they sand it.  A rubber grouting float is a good tool to use for spreading the filler. If you do it before you sand, the grout will slide effortlessly over the still-varnished surface, and deposit the filler where it is needed.  The filler will not stick to the floor finish and will not sink into the wood grain.

Sand Diagonally

A flooring drum sander is an aggressive machine that removes up to 1/16 inch of material in one pass and can leave deep scratch marks.  For this reason, floor refinishers almost always run the sander in the same direction as the grain of the wood, with one exception. If the floor is severely warped, cupped, or otherwise damaged, they make the first pass diagonally across the grain.  This flattens the boards much more quickly than running the machine parallel, saving time and sandpaper. It is important only to do it on the first pass so you can sand out the cross-grain scratch marks later. 

Use Water-Based Finishes

Water-based finishes have an edge over oil-based ones that can make your refinishing job go more smoothly.  Two important advantages are that water-based finishes are nontoxic and dry more quickly. Because they do not emit noxious fumes, you do not have to seal the room off from the rest of the house, and you can work without a respirator.  Moreover, most dry in one to two hours, which allows you to apply several coats in a single day instead of waiting overnight for each coat to dry. The faster drying time also means less chance of dust collecting on the finish while it is drying. 

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.

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