How to finish hardwood floors

How to finish hardwood floors

How to finish hardwood floors

Photo by: Mirage Floors

We have just purchased a beautiful home with the exception of the oak hardwood floors that are looking slightly worn. They are solid, and I believe they could look great if we refinished them. But we never have completed this type of project and would like some advice on how to do so.

-Terry S. Dexter

Hi Terry,

Welcome to the world of wood refinishing. Besides painting and cleaning, I believe refinishing hardwood floors can have one of the most dramatic effects on any home, not to mention the return on your investment could literally double or more.

The trend for hardwood flooring is that it’s in high demand. According to the National Wood Flooring Association. Between 2002 -2007 wood flooring retail sales increased at 6.4% compounded annual rate while the overall wood flooring market increased 2.2% annually.

However, it is not one of the easiest home improvement projects.

Pre-inspection. It is best completed while the room is empty. Your first step is to determine the cause and extent of any floor damage. The floor boards must be solid and secure and not majorly warped. Hammer in any protruding nails using a nail set to sink them slightly below the surface of the floor as they can damage the sandpaper.

You will need to use a hardwood floor sander which is available to rent at most rental stores. For larger stains and heavy finish build up you may have to rent a drum belt sander. Otherwise, for medium projects I prefer using an upright, self leveling, four disc, random-orbital sander. This sander will allow you to get closer to the walls and is easier to maneuver due to it being self leveling.

Sanding. Remove all the corner round molding carefully so you can re-use it if possible. Sand according to the manufacturers instruction. Sand a minimum of three times, starting with heavy grit sandpaper such as 36 grit, then ending with fine grit sandpaper such as 120 grit.

Although the sanding machine keeps most of the dust in the dust collector, it’s best to do it on a day when you can open a few windows and doors. Of course my last floor sanding job was in February.

Sand slowly with the grain while keeping the machine constantly moving forward. For hard to reach areas and edges, you may have to use a edge sander, also provided by the rental store.

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Finishing. Before applying any finishes to the floor, you want to make sure that you remove all of the dust off the floor. First, broom sweep the floor, and then lightly damp mop. After the floor dries use a tack cloth to pick-up any leftover dust particles.

Apply the appropriate color stain if applicable. If you prefer a more natural look, just apply clear polyurethane carefully with a lambs wool applicator, as seen in the picture, and follow the manufacture’s instructions.

Be sure to take your time and remove any bubbles or puddles that may form. Many products state two coats are sufficient; however, I have always applied three coats to ensure the floor’s resistance to wear and tear.

Although this is a labor-intensive project, it is well worth the effort. The final results will ensure the rich look of hardwood and a durable floor for years to come.

Paul is a State of Michigan Licensed Builder. Paul serves as President and founding member of Nationally franchised HandyPro Handyman Service, servicing Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland Counties. Listen to Paul every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Its Your Home, Lets Talk About It WAAM Talk 1600AM. Email questions or comments to .


Keith A. Paul

Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 10:54 p.m. Drying time is can be two hours between coats and 24 hours before traffic. Although the durability water based products are getting closer every year I still prefer the durability of the oil base.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 9:26 p.m.

We had pre-finished maple floors installed a few years back. If you are putting a new floor in I think this is the way to go, unless you have all the time in the world and are not going to be in the house.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 9:20 p.m.

I am not likely to do this myself — sounds like the perfect project to hire someone else for. I do have one question, though: Start to finish, including sanding and three coats, how long does a typical job take? In particular, how long must each coat dry before the next coat is applied, and how long must the final coat dry before you can move furniture back into the room?


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 8:48 p.m.

One last thing: When using oil based products, like polyurethene, the outgases will be concentrated by any open flame in your home. E.g, your clothes dryer will have all your clothes smelling like gas. Your stove/oven will smell like the dickens. Even you hot water heater will stink up an area. If you have a high efficient furnace that combusts air brought in from the outside, there wont be a problem. The outgassing lasts the better part of two to three days. This is, of course, after the two to three days it takes to apply finish. You can pretty much count on a nasty smelly house for a number of days. In the winter, we often schedule floor refinishing when clients are out of town for a few days, like mid-winter break.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 8:37 p.m.

Oh, forgot to provide a reference: I have used A & A Hardwood floors for years. They are third generation flooring installers/finishers, and do amazing work. Fast, thorough, honest, very reasonable. You cant go wrong with these guys. 517-764-2443


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 8:32 p.m.

I agree with sbbuilder. I would also add that the fumes from the poly/stain will linger and you really need to let the coats cure before putting on another coat.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 8:06 p.m.

Finishing your own floors is dicey at best. There are many projects a homeowner can do, but I would not recommend finishing your own hardwood floors. The article didnt mention a few things: Using an edger to do the entire perimeter is not an option, it is a must. Landings, baths, closets, hallways where the floor runs perpendicular, etc. all require an edger. And, after you use an edger, you must hand scrape the wood to remove the edger marks. If you are staining, particular care must be taken to remove all sanding marks. Otherwise, the stain will show those marks clearly. Stain counts as one coat towards the three mentioned. Also, each coat needs to be screened before the next one is applied. Cudos to those who wish to attempt this. In my experience, however, you can quickly wind up with a botched job that will need to be fixed by an expert.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 5:32 p.m.

Go to Ann Arbor Carpet & FIne Floors for new hardwood or flooring. they have great installers, too, if you buy from them. Ive used them. wonderful results.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 5:28 p.m. If you are unsure of getting a reputable contractor Ive found to be a good source.


Fri, Feb 25, 2011. 5:13 p.m.

If we dont want to do this ourselves, by the way, does anyone know of a good reputable company in the AA area that installs new hardwood floors or refinishes older ones?

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