If you’re lucky enough to find hardwood floors hiding under your tired carpeting, you might feel like covering the wood back up. That’s understandable because refinishing the floors yourself seems like an impossible task.Hardwood floors were a common feature in houses until the 1960s. Before that, having wall-to-wall carpet was considered a luxury upgrade. From the 1970s on, most homes had wall-to-wall carpet in nearly every room. However, tastes change, and over the last couple decades, hardwood floors have once again become fashionable and desirable. Oftentimes, when I’m talking with someone about fixing houses, they ask if refinishing hardwood floors is something they can do themselves. Unless the person has a physical reason why they can’t do it, I generally say yes. However, I also remind them that redoing hardwood floors takes a great deal of time, sweat, and elbow grease.
As a general rule, floors of fifty square feet or less can be sanded by hand, but for any floor larger than that, rent or buy a small orbital sander. Everything necessary for doing it yourself will be available at your local hardware store. You can buy a pretty good electric sander nowadays for less than $100, which can be a good investment, especially if you’re planning to work on your home on a regular basis.The first layer to be removed is often a thick wax coating, followed by a coat of either polyurethane or varnish. A heavy duty commercial wax stripper can remove the wax, and then a lacquer thinner or acetone can be wiped on to prepare the wood for the next step. If there are any carpet tacks or pieces of old nails in the wood, remove them first. The remnant of a nail can tear up sandpaper, damage a sanding pad, and do serious damage to the palm of your hand, so check carefully to make sure all remnants of tacks and nails are gone before you begin sanding. Fill all nail holes with a quality wood filler, matching the color as closely as you can, and let it dry. Then you’re ready to begin sanding the floor with 220-grit sandpaper, whether by hand or with a sander. When you’re done sanding, wipe the entire floor with a damp cloth to remove as much sanding dust as possible. Damp cloths work better than vacuum cleaners. Let the floor dry, and then wipe it again with a tack rag, which is a cloth impregnated with resin to pick up fine dust particles. Again, your local hardware store will have what you need.After the floor is as clean as you can get it, apply three coats of polyurethane with a paint pad, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly, lightly sanding with 220-grit paper, and wiping the floor with a damp cloth and a tack rag between coats. If you prefer an old-fashioned finish, you can use a 50/50 mixture of linseed oil and mineral spirits and then wax the floors with beeswax or paste wax. Take caution with the chemical mixture and the rags because they can catch on fire.
You can refinish hardwood floors yourself. It just takes time and effort–and a good set of kneepads wouldn’t hurt, either! Once you finish, you’ll have a gorgeous floor to be proud of and ready for that next “do it yourself” project–perhaps the next room with hardwood floors.