What You Need to Know About Hardwood Floor Refinishing

DIYers can save money, but experience and know-how counts when refinishing hardwood floors.

By: John Riha


As it ages, hardwood flooring can get scratched and dull. But unlike other types of flooring, hardwood flooring can make a comeback. All you have to do is refinish it.

Hardwood flooring can take 10 to 12 complete sanding and refinishing jobs during its lifetime. Engineered wood flooring can be refinished once of twice, depending on the thickness of the hardwood veneer.

A word of caution for DIYers: You’ll save money by doing your own wood floor refinishing, but mistakes show up big time. The chief challenge is handling a drum sander — a heavy piece of equipment you get from a tool rental store. Properly handled, it’s a marvel. But linger too long in one spot and you’ll carve a divot that’ll stare back at you for years.

DIY Floor Refinishing

Hardwood floor refinishing is dusty and noisy. Always wear a good dust mask or respirator, ear protection, and goggles. Seal doorways off doorways with plastic sheeting and turn off forced-air HVAC to keep dust from circulating throughout your house.

There are two levels of refinishing hardwood floors.

Buffing is the easiest. If scratches and wear are only on the surface finish and the wood underneath is in good shape, you can restore the topcoat by buffing, a process also called screening.

You’ll need to rent a floor buffing tool with a series of screen grits to restore the luster to your floor’s topcoat. A buffing tool is much less aggressive than a drum sander and easier to use. Sweep and vacuum up any dust between each grit.

Refinish your floors with either low-VOC water based finish or polyurethane floor finish (about $60 per gallon).

Note that hardwood floors that have been waxed or cleaned with an oil soap can’t be buffed unless you first remove any residue. Otherwise, you’ll get a blotchy finish. Use mineral spirits or a wax remover to take off any old wax or oil soap before beginning.

Sanding and refinishing hardwood floors gives you the chance to completely restore old, damaged flooring. It also gives you the chance to change the color of your hardwood flooring with stain.

Rent a drum sander and a progression of grits — 40 grit, 60 grit, and finish up with 100-grit. Remove baseboards. While sanding, keep the sander moving to prevent gouging the flooring. You won’t be able to get too close to your walls, so remove the remaining finish along the edges with a hand-held orbital sander.

After you’ve sanded down to bare wood, fill any cracks with color-matched wood filler. Apply the stain and allow to dry thoroughly before applying two to three coats of finish.

Call in the Pro

Many professional floor refinishers use equipment with heavy-duty dust removal attachments that help keep your house from getting messy. Pro screening costs $1 to $3 per square foot, depending on complexity. A complete sanding, staining and refinishing runs $2 to $4 per square foot.

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