Refinishing Hardwood Floors

There are just some projects that are completely overwhelming. In spite of the fact that we knew we would be doing this before we ever bought the house, and budgeted for it when we put in our offer–it was just a MASSIVE job.

TERRIBLE CELL PHONE PHOTO THE EVENING WE GOT OUR KEYS. YAH, WE HAD OUR WORK CUT OUT.
LIVING ROOM CARPET TO DINING ROOM HARDWOOD.
HARDWOOD FLOORING IN THE DINING ROOM.

So, to the details. We had originally planned to refinish the floors ourselves. We did a lot of research, budgeted, purchased supplies and rented tools, and it just did not turn out. If you are thinking of refinishing hardwoods yourself, I definitely think it can be done, I just googled around and read lots of resources, but my favorite tutorial was a youtube series by Bona (the manufacturer of the sealer) for professionals on using their products. So if you are thinking of refinishing your own floors, definitely check that out.

We hit our first hitch when we went to pull up the carpet in the living room, thinking that there was hardwood underneath…only to find that some previous owner had cut out the hardwood and put in particle board instead. This had been SOAKED in pee from the small incontinent dogs owned by the people from whom we purchased the house. So that explained the mystery smell on warm days (eeek!).

THE FATEFUL PHOTO MY HUSBAND TEXTED ME AS WE WERE PREPARING TO START INTO OUR REFINISHING PROJECT.

While we hadn’t planned on this expense, we knew we couldn’t leave that dirty, smelly particle board down there. So my husband did a ton of research and found unfinished hardwoods that seem to match ours perfectly! He found them at Home Depot, and we drove 4 hours to the nearest location that had some. It is red oak. If you are matching hardwoods in your home you want to match the color/type of wood (ie. red oak, white oak, hickory, etc.) as well as the plank width and thickness.

MY HANDSOME HUSBAND WITH A TRAILER FULL OF HARDWOOD FLOORING.

Luckily, my husband’s father used to own a construction business and he still had all his tools, so he loaded up and drove down and he and my husband did 99% of the work removing the carpet and particle board, and then installing the new hardwood. My mother-in-law and I did line up some boards for them and such, but they did the lion’s share of the work for the next 48 hours.

YOU CAN SEE THE ORIGINAL SHIPLAP ON THE RIGHT, THEN A LAYER OF TAR PAPER, AND THE NEW UNFINISHED FLOORING ON THE LEFT.
PROGRESS!

So, we got that installed and then rented a sander and tried to start the refinishing process. That’s where we hit problem #2.

Wax.

At some point someone either tried to seal the floors with wax, or cleaned for several years with a wax gloss coat. Apparently that’s bad and don’t do it. *shrug*

So what that did was IMMEDIATELY gum up the sandpaper on the machine. OVER AND OVER AND OVER. We couldn’t sand it off. There are chemical ways to remove wax, but at this point we were exhausted from installing the floors, feeling defeated, and were really doubting our abilities. I also really didn’t want to handle the harsh chemicals involved in stripping the wax from the floors.

Luckily we go to church with a great couple who flip houses for a living, so we asked for their advice and they recommended a company that had refinished floors for them in the past (and was within our price range). We had a consultation within a few days and decided to hire him.

If you don’t know a contractor or refinisher personally (or maybe even if you do), Bless’er House actually put out a great list of things to check into when you’re hiring someone to work on your house. We used it when hiring this refinisher, so definitely check it out here.

Hiring it out instead of doing it ourselves did cost about twice as much as it would have for us to do it ourselves, so instead of doing the whole house we just did the downstairs to stay within budget. Honestly, this took quite a bit of pressure off anyway, since we didn’t need to remove all the furniture from the upstairs as well.

CHOOSING A STAIN.

At this point we picked a stain color: Special Walnut, and a sheen for the top coat (sealer): matte. He used a water based stain and sealer. I don’t remember the brand of stain, but the sealer was Bona HD. He did do a technique called “water popping” which is supposed to even out the color of the stain, so definitely check that out if you’re thinking of having your hardwoods stained.

Things to know:
1. Check into water based vs. oil based. We chose water based because it releases fewer fumes and cures quicker. But when you’re both staining and finishing, you need to chose both treatments from the same type. So you can’t use an oil-based stain and a water-based sealer, which is the mistake I almost made when trying to do it myself.

2. The process of sanding removes, on average, 1/4 of an inch of wood from the floor. So this means that there is a maximum number of times a floor can be refinished. If you see nail heads in your floor, you probably can’t refinish it again. Also, if the floors have been refinished without removing the baseboards you may see a lip at the edge of the floors where it meets the baseboard. It is recommended that you remove baseboards, refinish to the edge underneath, and then that edge is covered by putting the baseboards back on.

3. If you do hire someone, check their work every day. I mean it, EVERY DAY. Optimally, you wouldn’t be living in the house if you’re having a whole level refinished, but I’m really glad that we were, because it meant that we spent several hours each day looking at the progress, and deciding if there was anything we wanted to communicate to the contractor. And we did, there were several things we had him fix throughout the process, and I’m so glad we did.

Once he found a spot in his schedule, the whole process took about a week. It is absolutely beautiful and we are SO GLAD that we did it, and chose to have a professional take this on for us. Part of that is personality, but I think if we’d muddled through ourselves, we would just have nitpicked at every little flaw, so having a professional take care of it just gave us such peace of mind.

Timeline:
Before Contractor Begins: Clear all your belongings out of the rooms, remove baseboards, vacuum, make a plan for where you’re going to stay if you need to be out of the house overnight (which I especially suggest if you will be using a stain, as it had a very strong odor), if you have cabinets in the rooms I’d suggest taping off the cupboard doors so that dust from the sanding doesn’t get inside.
Sanding: There will be 3-4 grits to go through, this will take a few days. Then the floor needs to be cleaned of all dust.
Stain (optional): We wanted to stain our floor so that the older part, which had yellowed from the previous finish, would match the new floor, as well as to help deaden the red tone of the wood. Our contractor did a “water pop” method, so he applied the water, and then the stain the next day. In between we could not walk on the floors, as it could mar how evenly the stain would take. Then he applied the stain, which took 24 hours to dry, and we couldn’t walk on the floor.
Finish: Our contractor applied two coats of Bona HD in matte. We could walk on the floor between coats (after giving it a few hours to dry), but could not walk on it for 24 hours after the final coat.
Cure: After the final coat of sealer, don’t move furniture in for 3 days, and don’t put down any rugs for at least 7 days. We also took the precaution of adding felt to the bottom of all our furniture as we moved it back in.
Cleanup: We found dust on all the trim, and anywhere it could settle, so be prepared to wipe everything down 🙂

Hopefully that was helpful if you are thinking of refinishing your floors. I think that this project was well worth the money and made a HUGE difference in our home. Do you have a big, overwhelming job you’re planning on doing in your home?

2 thoughts on “Refinishing Hardwood Floors

  1. Great post! In our last house, we refinished one room ourselves, and did ok, but definitely got some bubbles in the polyurethane around the edges. We totally understand the gummy sandpaper as the people who lived there prior had glued plywood subfloor over all of the hardwoods. We ended up getting help for the rest of the house. A kid working for a company in the off season, just showed up at our door one day and made us an amazing offer. He was sent by God I’m convinced! We were young and had a new baby, and I was so discouraged with the state of progress on our house…to have that done was HUGE!!

    Like

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