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FloorEd 101

21st March 2011


The first and and only time I have refinished a wood floor was over 10 years ago.  My memory was a little fuzzy on everything involved, but I at least had some idea of what to expect.  The first floor wasn’t perfect, but it looked OK. I hoped that the little bit of previous experience, better tools, and newer materials would lead to a more professional looking job.

I started by removing quarter round from the baseboard and sanded the entire perimeter of the house with 60 grit sand paper. This removed the old finish and minor imperfections easily.

Once this was done I rented a drum sander from Home Depot and sanded the field with 60 grit to remove the old finish and level the cupped boards and the floor furnace patches. Once this was accomplished I went over the entire floor again with 80 grit and returned the sander. I would rent it again a couple days later to do the final 100 grit sanding. The next step was to go back around the perimeter with 80 grit to blend in where the drum sander wouldn’t reach. It turned out that the drum sander wouldn’t reach in quite a few places. It was to big and bulky to do most of the closets, most of the upstairs hallway and the small area in front of the downstairs bath. The closets didn’t matter much since the doors are closed most of the time, but the hallways were some of the worst areas. I did the best I could with the large orbital sander, a small belt sander and a palm sander. The final results would turn out a little disappointing, but I just didn’t have the experience or tools required.

Once the entire floor was sanded, some major problems began to showing up. Where ever any tack strip nails came into contact with moisture it reacts with the high tannin content in oak and created dark black stains. These stains were especially bad around the baths and under windows. With a little research, I discovered that oxalic acid would remove some of this defect. Oxalic acid crystals are mixed with distilled water and brushed or mopped onto the floor. I applied six or seven coats to some of the worst areas. It didn’t remove all of the stains but it removed a lot.

It may be possible to completely remove the black stains, but I stopped after one afternoon of trying. One thing I discovered is you can’t spot clean a stain. It will leave a blotchy appearance if you do. The best way to avoid this is to mop the entire floor to even out the bleaching process.

Once satisfied the floor was as good as it was going to get,  I neutralized the oxalic wash with borax and water. This stops the bleaching process. If time and money weren’t a consideration I would have removed the entire floor in the upstairs hallway and replaced it with new oak. I could then recycle the best of those slats and patch all of the areas with the black marks in the rest of the house. The patches I made where the floor furnaces where turned out very nice, so it could have been done,

The next step was to fill all of the voids in the floor. Since this floor had so many, I used a trowelable red oak filler. Using a masonry trowel I spread the thinnest possible coat over the entire floor. I let it dry overnight and sanded it with 100 grit using the rented drum and orbital sanders. The filler seemed to work great.  It filled in all of the cracks, nail holes and dings in the floor. Time will tell how well it stays. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it work itself out as time goes by, but we will see. I’ll revisit this post next year some time and report how it is holding up.

Once the sanding was done, I swept, vacuumed, then wiped the entire surface with a damp rag. The sanding filler left a dust almost as fine as talc. It was quite a job to remove all the dust I had generated over the past week or two.

We decided to go with high gloss waterborne polyurethane. It is almost twice as expensive as the oil base, but it dries fast and you can do next coat in an hour or two, where oil base takes up to 24 hours between coats. I made a slight mistake with the type of applicator I used for the first coat. I used a natural lambs wool pad where I should have used a synthetic. The natural lambs wool holds much more finish than the synthetic so it goes on much thicker. Even using the correct technique to apply the finish, the finish was not 100% smooth. I let the first coat dry overnight and came back the next morning to sand the surface with a 220 grit screen. Using several scrap blocks of wood, I made a sanding pad with handle and stuck a small piece of carpet pad to it with double sided tape. The carpet pad held the screen nicely and I was able to screen the entire floor effectively in about an hour.

I don’t think I would do it this way again, but the thick first coat worked out very well. For the second and third coats I used the appropriate synthetic applicator. I actually used less poly on these two coats than I did on the first coat using the lambs wool. The second and third coats went on much thinner and much smoother also. A lot of the experts recommend sanding between the last two coats, but I didn’t have to. The first sanding was enough.

The final results were OK once again. Nowhere near perfect, but then this is DIY. I would expect a professional to do a much better job, however the cost saving was substantial (not including my labor). A pro would have charged me anywhere between $2100 and $3300. My costs were $300 for the rental equipment and sand paper, $200 for the poly urethane and another $50 or so for miscellaneous supplies. Add a week of hard labor and those savings disappear but considering actual cash spent only, the savings were substantial. Even cheap carpet and pad would have cost double what I spent, however the whole project would have been completed in a day. That is something to consider next time. At least I have the satisfaction of doing the floor refinishing myself. As far as the flaws and mistakes go, Carri says they give the floor character. I’ll leave it there, the floor has character.

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