How To Refinish Hardwood Floors Part One — Home Hacks Apartment Therapy

How To Refinish Hardwood Floors Part One — Home Hacks Apartment Therapy

How To Refinish Hardwood Floors: Part One

I refinished my hardwood floors two years ago, and I’ll be honest: it’s HARD work. But if you have the time, patience and energy, you can do it. It’ll probably save you money and allow you to opt for greener finishing options. There are two options when it comes to floors: a complete refinish, which requires sanding down to bare wood (Part One) and screening, a process that only takes off the top coat of polyurethane (Part Two).

Most hardwood floors are made of oak, which is what I have experience doing myself. They are often sealed with a polyurethane finish.

To revitalize old floors, there are two options:

  1. A complete refinish which requires sanding down to bare wood. This is best for floors that are very well worn with stains, water damage or deep scratches.
  2. Screening, a process that only takes off the top layer of polyurethane. Screening is good for floors on which the finish is warn, scratched or dull but the wood below is not damaged (by water, deep scratches or stained).

This how-to will cover the first option, sanding down to bare wood. Next week we’ll tackle screening, a much easier and less intensive option. Why is this green? Rejuvenating an old floor to make it last longer is always a great option than replacing it or covering it up. You can also use a water-based polyurethane and low VOC stains.

Equipment and Tools

  • Painters Tape
  • Plastic
  • Fan
  • Tack cloth or damp towels
  • Hammer
  • Wood Putty
  • Putty Knife
  • Drum Sander (rent)
  • Large palm sander (rent)
  • Sanding discs for each above sanders
  • Low VOC stain!
  • Polyurethane
  • Old cotton rags (for applying stain)
  • Paint brush (for applying Polyurethane)
  • Old socks
  • Extension Cord
  • Respirator or good dust mask
  • Old clothes or disposable coveralls


1. The Preparation:

  • Remove everything from the room including wall hangings, and curtains.
  • Seal all doorways with plastic sheeting and tape.
  • Place a fan in a window to blow dust out and bring fresh air in through another window. Make sure to wear a respirator and clothes that you don’t much care about.
  • You’ll probably want to remove your baseboards and use painters tape around door trim, etc.

2. Fill Any Holes:

Ensure you have a uniform surface. Fill any small gaps or holes with wood putty and a putty knife. Any larger gaps you’ll want to fill with a small piece of similar wood, and the edges with putty. Tap into place and glue any filler wood. Also check for any nail heads that could puncture your sandpaper. Remove or pound in with a nail set.

For the finish, we used a water based Polyurethane from Minwax (Water Based Polyurethane for Floors ). The advantages of a water based finish over that of oil-based is a quicker dry time (you can begin the second coat sooner) and less noxious fumes. On the downside, oil-based polyurethane can be worked when wet (to correct mistakes — and supposedly better for beginners) unlike water-based, and is said to perform better in high traffic areas. For our 1,000 sq. foot house, we went through about 5 gallons of the stuff for three coats.

Leave a Reply