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Do It Yourself Hardwood Floor Refinishing

A few of the key reasons why refinishing floors as a do it Video on this pageyourself project typically results in less than satisfactory results are included below.

One Minute Quickie Videos

Using the edger
Filling cracks

USA Made hardwood floors

Inconsistent Use of the Belt or Drum Sander

You will not find common rentals centers offering the same equipment professionals use when it comes to the one piece of equipment that causes the most problems. This would include an underpowered belt sander than runs off typical 110 volt household power. However, these machines are capable of sanding out mild scratches, but not deeper gouges unless the machine is run over the areas multiple times. Even still, some consumers complain about the lack of aggressiveness.

Where Many Fail At

These machines have to be handled in a consistent manner you can see in our video below. Often inexperienced guys have a strong tendency to stay in one spot for too long to take care of that ugly spot the wife keeps nagging him about. Neither one of them will know the extent of the damage it’s causing until the finish goes on the floor. That’s when everything shows!

Professionals often have to do the same to remove stubborn spots, but they know how to handle it without problems. It’s all about tapering and knowing the resistance of the machine being used, or how much pressure is being applied by the machine and its sanding paper on the floor.

My illustration below shows tapering performed by a professional on the right. He knows where the sander has been on each and every subsequent pass. He knows how to go about removing deeper gouges with an angled cut into the floor in both directions. Once that’s completed there is an additional pass over all the angled cuts with the grain.

A tapering back effect is visible on all passes. He also does not apply the same pressure on the perimeter. This is where a keen feel for the sanding lever is important. He knows his machine inside and out while the inexperienced does not.

On the other side, a typical inexperienced person focuses on a few spots without realizing how it will eventually turn out. Often there’s just far too much digging in one area, causing even more problems, unless the operator is mindful of what has to be corrected with subsequent passes. But still, too much damage has been done to fix easily.

Later or when additional passes are made with finer grits in the direction of the grain, the professional has removed all the angled sanding marks whereas the DIY guy simply thinks his work has been removed, mainly because he doesn’t know what to look for.

DIY belt sander
Pro with sander

More Reasons For Failure

Before I go any further, some of these issues may not even be on your mind, or even bother you when your done. That is unless you crawl around on your hands and knees looking for blunders once the job is complete. I don’t know what it is, but some proud DIY’ers will actually criticize a professionals work before their own. Yet looking at it honestly, some of their work is horrid.

Not Blending Scratch Patterns

What’s a scratch pattern? This is where the belt sander and the edger marks meet or run out or over one another. The belt sanding machine runs in a different motion as does the edger. This is where the buffer comes into play after all other sanding has been completed. It’s purpose is to blend all the patterns with a pattern of it’s own so it creates consistency. Without doing so and finish is applied, there will be a halo effect around the room wall areas. This will be more pronounced for any stained floors.

Expectations Too High - Older Floors

Most rental machines are also not aggressive enough to take all the older finishes off the floor in the first pass. This is particularly true with floors that have an original shellac finish and may have been waxed repeatedly. An experienced professional can almost know immediately what sequence of events are needed to get older floors to bare wood in the least number of steps. Inexperienced enthusiasts simply think the guy at the rental center knows every situation. Far from being right, all floors will be different.

Floor Has To Be Sanded To Bare Wood

Not taking all the older finishes off is another problem waiting to happen. Most cannot recognize if they’ve sanded to bare wood. While it may look like it, older finishes are likely to be deeper into the pores of the floor. This creates new finish bonding failure. It’s not going to poke it’s ugly head immediately, but eventually floors begin to peel and blister.

No Crack Filling

Lack of crack filling can also create finish bonding problems. It’s more of what has happened over the years. While we have little control in how to deal with this situation, what occurs is older finishes, waxes and even oily floor cleaners have seeped down into in the cracks. Once any new finish is applied it becomes contaminated and the effects mentioned above will eventually create problems.

Newer Beveled Floors

It’s just a matter of time before a lot of micro bevel and eased edge prefinished floors get serious attention. Since the mid nineties, millions of these floor types have been installed. This area will be beyond the scope of a DIY project in my opinion. However, there is a page that analyzes this in detail with video if you’re so inclined.

Costs To Go It Alone?

I did some research and spoke to several of the busier rental centers in what a typical job would cost while doing it yourself. The study showed jobs run into an average three day period covering 650 square feet. Naturally costs will vary here and there, but you'll find the numbers useful to work with.

Materials Daily Cost
Belt Sander $ 60.00
$ 180.00
Edger    40.00
Floor Buffer    60.00
Misc Materials/Finish  
$ 800.00

More About Costs

Professional floor finishes are a proud breed. They know which finishes are good and those that aren’t. Many of us are always seeking that best, cheapest priced product. But folks, the longer you look, you’ll realize it does not exist. Big box stores and even manufacturers have changed our perceptions with all their marketing blitzes. They all want your hard earned dollars regardless if it’s going to last. It's reality folks.

Hey, I look for price from time to time with paint that goes on walls, but we abuse the heck out of floors. All this low grade finish that’s being sold is just that. It may have a good name on it, but like I said earlier, we’ve been blitzed by their marketing. Better finishes may run double what you’ll pay for the low grade stuff. But if all the work done up to the finishing part is performed right with the finish applied properly it will perform far better and last. With our 650 square foot example you may be looking at another $100.00.

The days before the big box, better floor finish products were found easily at lumber yards and smaller mom and pop hardware stores. Now that they’re nearly gone, other sources are hardwood floor supply houses, or the place the pros go to for their materials. Not all sell to the public, but it’s worth a try.

Contributing Contractor: John Kolbaska, President and Founder of One Day Floor Pro
Specialty: UV Cured Finishing
Location: Staten Island, New York

One Day Floor Pro

Square Buff Floor Sander?

See the story on why these machines don't do the job effectively, or view the video below. The before pictures are a classic example of not enough finish being removed from an older floor.

The Edger

The edger can get many in trouble if the proper grits aren’t being used. Failure to recognize the sequence or trying to fix something that was missed in previous sequences causes far more trouble than helps.

The Buffer

The floor buffer handles the final sanding sequence. This is where all patterns left behind by the edger and big machine are blended or removed from sight. Failure to blend causes stain and finishing appearance problems.