How to Refinish Hardwood Floors—By Yourself

Hallway interior

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While you can buy books and even DVDs on refinishing hardwood floors from home improvement stores and the Internet, this is a very delicate job that most homeowners rightly hire a flooring professional to do. Though DIY hardwood floor refinishing is possible, the technique and expertise that comes from working on hundreds of floors simply cannot be learned from a video or book. Unless you have a good deal of patience and are very detail oriented, refinishing hardwood floors is likely to be a process that first-timers will have some difficulty with.

Planning for Hardwood Floor Refinishing

Refinishing hardwood floors is a very detailed job that deals with many variables including old wood, using old and new chemicals (and knowing how to rectify unforeseen reactions), and applying the proper pressure and techniques when using a heavy, sanding machine that could permanently damage the wood. But, if you feel you could tackle a project of this nature, you should first do your homework:

  1. Add up the costs of buying and renting all the products, materials, tools, and special heavy equipment you will need (including protection for your eyes, ears, and lungs).
  2. Contact two or three hardwood floor refinishing pros to see how much they would charge to do the job (or maybe find out how much he or she would charge to do just the drum sanding, which is the most difficult, damaging, and potentially dangerous step).
  3. Finally, consider how much it would bother you each time you walk into the room if the finished project doesn’t turn out well. If you’re a perfectionist who would feel compelled to have it redone (now or in the future when you put the house up for sale), having it professionally refinished the first time is usually the most economical way to go.
Sanding hardwood floors

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Refinishing Hardwood Floors: Basic Steps

On the surface, hardwood floor refinishing is basically a three-step process. First, you must examine the floor for raised nails, carpet tacks, and the like (taking care to nail flush or remove these as you go along) and sand the old finish off of the floor. Next, after you clean up all the dust created by sanding, it’s on to staining. Sometimes, the staining step is skipped to leave the floor with a “natural” look. Finally, you move on to sealing and finishing the floor with polyurethane.

When broken down into these three simple steps, refinishing hardwood floors sounds like a snap. Be careful, though, as each of these steps involves a lot of mess, effort, and–if you want professional results–a professional attention to detail. Sanding the finish from your old floor can take a very long time; though you can probably rent a drum sander (like the pros use) from a home improvement center, even a few seconds of inattention can cause damage to your floor that will be very difficult to fix. Staining and applying finish might sound easy at first, but creating an even surface can be difficult even for those with some experience in the process.

Staining Floors

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Weighing Your Refinishing Options

The bottom line is that die-hard DIYs might be able to get moderately good results refinishing their own hardwood floors, but these will not come easily, and there is very little margin for error if you want floors you’ll be proud to show off. Make sure to take the time to compare what you’ll save doing the job yourself against how much hiring a professional crew will run. Weigh the difference in cost to the amount you’d be willing to pay to guarantee a beautiful, efficient, and worry-free refinishing job. If it still makes sense to do the work yourself, make sure to do all the research you can before you begin. It might also be a good idea to begin in an area that is a little out of the way until your technique becomes up to your standards.

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