5 Things To Know Before Refinishing Old Hardwood Floors

5 Things To Know Before Refinishing Old Hardwood Floors

One of the earliest DIY renovations we tackled at the #totsreno Farmhouse was refinishing old hardwood floors.

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Refinishing wood floors can be grueling task and is not a project you want to take on casually.

The floors are almost 100 years old and quite a challenge to restore. Think of all the “living” that went on in this house over the last 100 years to create all the wear marks eventually making the previous owner paint the floors.

Here are the tips and tricks I learned while refinishing hardwood floors for the first time.

Creating Beautiful Hardwood Floors is a Lot of Work

Work, a lot of work.

I went into the project thinking we were going to have the entire house (4 bedrooms, hallway, huge living/dining space, additional room and kitchen) done in 3 days.

Granted I thought it was going to be three LONG days but three days nonetheless.

Nope. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

I think it took two of us 6 LONG days with full-time daycare to get it done (minus the additional room and kitchen).

There is a reason why people hire professionals for this.

Professionals will cost $1,000 to 1,280 per 300 sq. ft. room or $3.33 to $4.26 per sq. ft.

There a number of factors affecting the total cost of a project and they include:

  • Number of rooms, hallways and stairs and total square footage 
  • Flooring e.g. vinyl or carpet to be removed and discarded
  • Condition of floor after coating or other flooring material is removed
  • Recoating verses refinishing
  • Number of finish coats or finishes required

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Know what Type of Sealer or Paint is on Your Floors

The house was a foreclosure and as such, it was not well maintained. Each room had its own unique challenges.

The living and dining space had raw wood with no finish left and the office had a thick layer of yellow paint.

The worst room was my daughter’s which had carpet glue UNDER a layer of thick brown paint.

Because of the differences in how the floors were treated we had to customize our sanding to fit.

For example, normally when you sand floors you start with 60 grit sandpaper and end with 120 grit.

To remove the carpet glue and paint we had to go with a “tear your flesh off” grit of around 20.

While we did this room we asked ourselves “why we were refinishing these old hardwood floors”?

This was the worst room and we learned a lot and some of these options may be available to you (they were not for us).

Screening Method to Remove the Finish

This option is only available if your wood floor has NOT been stained or damaged or if you HAVE a non-waxed polyurethane finish on the wood floor.

Screens are sanding disks that have a clog resistant design. They are designed to remove the finish without cutting the wood.

Some people call this buffing and is minimally invasive in terms of work, dust, mess and cost. Cost ranges from $1 – $2 per sq. ft.

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Sanding Method to Remove the Finish, Stain and Damage

The sanding method is required when the existing finish is badly worn, there is a wax coating on the polyurethane finish and the wood has been stained and damaged.

If you choose to do this step yourself (DIY) be aware that this process has the greatest risk of going terribly wrong. 

When the process is done correctly only the finish, stain and marks on the floor are removed. 

There are hidden costs and risks when sanding a wood floor; if the floor has been sanding previously it might be too thin to sand again.

Some hardwood flooring is not solid and even sanding once does not work. 

Other potential risks include; leaving inconsistent marks or even gouging the wood if the sander is left in one place too long (it only takes a few seconds).

Next there is a considerable list of safety equipment and tools required to do even the smallest refinishing old hardwood floors job.

Keep in mind the same equipment is required for one 10’x 10′ room or five 10’x 10′ rooms.

Price out the Materials, Tools and Equipment

Safety Gear

  • Safety Glasses or Googles (preferred) $6 ea
  • Respirator $50 ea
  • Knee Pads $12 per pair
  • Work Gloves $15 per pair
  • Safety Shoes or Boots – starts at $90 per pair

Hand Tools

  • Hand Scraper $35 ea
  • Nail Set $10 ea
  • Claw Hammer $25 ea

Rental Equipment

  • Floor Edger $37 per day
  • Drum Floor Sander $60 per day
  • Belt Sander for tight spots $60 per day
  • Sandpaper for both Sanders $60 lot (depends on size of project)

Cleanup Tools and Materials

  • Shop Vacuum $70 to $170 (purchase)
  • Trash Bags $20 for 32 bags
  • Mop $12
  • Rags 4lb Box – $20

Finish Applicators and Materials

  • Paintbrush $1 to $5 ea
  • Paint Roller Cage Frame $9 ea.
  • Paint Rollers $10 set of 3
  • Extension Pole $15 ea
  • Stain $27 to $40 a Gallon (coverage per Gallon varies depending on desired color)
  • Polyurethane clear varnish (water based) One gallon covers 200 sq. ft. $165

We recommend you get prices from a professional and compare your cost for materials, tools and rental equipment (and your time).

Tip – You need to Stir the Poly between each use

This may seem like a no-brainer but I made this mistake.

We went with flat sheen clear polyurethane to seal the floors.

I now know polyurethane is shiny, they add a special powder to reduce the sheen.

This sediment settles to the bottom so you must stir the flat poly very well when you use it.

I did not stir between coats on the second floor so some of the bedrooms looks like they have wet floor splotches on them.

After working so hard on the floors this was not the look I was going for.

I now need to hand sand and re-poly these spots.

Know when Enough is Enough

We are not professional floor sanders. At some point, we needed to call a spade a spade and leave well enough alone.

When dealing with almost century old floors the boards we uneven and there were spaces we just could not sand the paint off of (without potentially ruining them).

I actually really like the results – our floors look great.

They have a farmhouse vibe to them with the leftover paint in the crevices that give it “character”.

Sometimes these things work out for the best. So this is how refinishing old hardwood floors can work out for you too.

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Refinishing Old Hardwood Floors is not Possible in all Renovations

We also did not refinish the kitchen and additional room floors like we intended. Instead, we covered them with laminate.

Why?

They were in much rougher shape than we thought.

We found deck boards from a old patch job hidden beneath ugly “stick on tile”.

Instead of trying to ‘put lipstick on a pig’ we decided to cover it up with laminate until we can save enough to have a professional fix the floors.

We learned that refinishing the floors was a great investment in the home.

We were able to keep much of the original charm, which was important to us.

Do you have stories about refinishing old hardwood floors? Make sure you leave your favourite tips and resources in the comments.

So please do not forget to follow us as we continue on the #totsreno journey. OR forget all this hard work and read Tips for a less Stressful Family Vacation!

Read these interesting articles Preparing Your House for a Showing, 10 Tips for Living in a Hotel Room with Kids and 5 Simple Tips for Redoing your Bathroom Floor.

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