The first project we tackled when we moved into the house was to refinish the floors. As a matter of fact, we started buying tools and ripping out carpet the day we closed since we wanted to finish the floors before moving in. Somehow the idea of living in a cloud of sawdust wasn't that appealing, so we figured if we didn't do it right away it would be a major hassle to refinish all the floors later. So, suffice it to say we were very motivated to refinish the floors as quickly as possible, since we were living in a hotel during the transition.
Here are the before photos of the living room and dining room - complete with dark carpet, brown moulding and that coco/coffee/dark beige color which more or less every room in the house was painted in.
Before starting to work on the floors, I believe I didn't quite grasp the scope of this project. Sure, I thought it would take a lot of time and effort, however I was still optimistic in my expectations. We were thinking we could finish the floors in two days or so (including the living room, dining room, hallway and two bedrooms, so the majority of the house in other words), but that proved unrealistic. I also didn't have a good idea of the full extent of what hard work this is. If you're not used to physical labor, then every bone in your body will ache and you will walk like a crooked old lady for a week to come. So in other words: don't expect it to be easy to sand your floors down, especially not if you have more than one room to do.
The first step in the process was removing the carpet in the living room and dining room. The funny thing was, the carpet was actually not that old. Apparently the old owners preferred carpet to hardwood and had it put in just a year or so before selling the house. How anybody thought it was a good idea to cover beautiful old oak floors with a dark, ugly carpet is a mystery, but tastes are different...
So, the first thing we did was to remove the carpet. This went relatively quick and painless, and we thought - wow this is going smooth, we're going to have those floors done in no time! We were happy to discover the wood floor underneath was in excellent condition; there were no missing boards or other issues to deal with. We ripped the carpet out with a crow bar, some elbow greese and then were careful to remove all the tack strips which had sharp nails pointing up.
Next up was sanding the floors. We turned to a local machine rental shop which recommended a large drum sander. At first we were thinking of renting an orbital sander since that was what the folks over at This Old House recommended. However, the rental place told us they received lots of complaints with that type of sander and that we would get the job done faster with a drum sander.
Now, this is the monster we rented - because it was definitely an evil machine. The first issue we had was getting it home. Not having a truck, we utilized our old Mustang convertible to transport it, and this baby is heavy. Heavy as in, I couldn't lift it one inch off the floor myself. Luckily one of us could, but getting this machine in and out of the car, up the few stars and inside the house was not, NOT easy.
Another difficulty in dealing with this sander was replacing the sandpaper. It was terribly difficult to do and caused lots and lots of frustration. We broke countless expensive papers (because these rental places basically charge you more for the specialized sandpapers than renting the machine) and had we known about the difficulty of changing the paper, we would gladly have picked another sander that was less effective, but easier to deal with.
When you use this machine you basically push it slowly across the room. You can't ever stop or you'll end up with an uneven floor. And you can't just push it, you have to use your muscles to make sure it's angled right and actually removes wood, otherwise it won't really work. So, it's tough to do and required quite a bit of strength and patience.
We started with 60 grit paper, hoping we wouldn't have to do the 36 grit and could skip that step. But after doing about half the living room and realizing it was going terribly slow and we had to re-do spots over and over because it just wasn't sanding the surface right, we decided to go for 36 grit all around. So we did the entire floor in 36 grit, then we did the entire floor in 60 grit and lastly we did 80 grit. We actually skipped the 100 grit paper because we thought it was smooth enough and we were so sick and tired of sanding, it seemed like it really didn't matter.
With this machine you couldn't quite reach the corners and the edges of the room. So to reach those areas we picked up a belt sander ....
... and a palm sander.
Both of these sanders were invaluable, and really useful to have around. Even though we spent a few hundred dollars, it was worth it because these sanders are so useful in all kinds of projects, not to mention the floors. In fact, at the end when we were terribly sick of the giant evil sander, we finished a few rooms just with the palm sander with the 80 grit paper. This was at the point when the finer sandpaper just didn't want to stay on the machine and kept breaking and breaking on us.
Another aspect of sanding the floors that was annoying to deal with was all the sawdust! The monster sanding machine had a canvas bag that was supposed to gather the sawdust but that stopped working at some point so sawdust basically just went everywhere. There was literally a fine layer of dust covering anything and everything, and it just felt like it was impossible to get clean. We used our trusty dyson vacuum over and over and I'm so glad we picked that up. Unless you rented or bought a shop vacuum, you really need something more durable than a regular, cheap vacuum. Our dyson really got a workout here and did a beautiful job sucking up the sawdust time and time again.
Sanding the floors here (we're talking about 800 square feet since we ended up just painting one of the bedroom floors white since there was old carpet glue stuck on it that just got caked up and destroyed any sand paper attempting to remove it) took us about three days, however that was also with the enlisted help of my wonderful parents-inlaw who helped us a great deal. These were long days sanding, and we were hoping we weren't starting off on the wrong foot with our new neighbors as we used the sanding machines until late at night and they live really close!
When we finally were done sanding we were so happy. Now, finishing the floors seemed like a breeze in comparison with all that sanding.
Once we were done sanding, we vacuumed everywhere again real good a few times, dusting walls, light fixtures, windows etc... trying to remove as much of that ever-present sawdust as possible. Next we cleaned all the floors with mineral spirits and clean rags.
After letting the mineral spirits completely dry, we started applying a universal sealant.
This sealant seals the wood, and it brings out the natural color of the oak, and also protects it so it wouldn't react poorly with the polyurethane. If you were staining your floors you would have used a stain instead of a sealer at this point.
For the edges and the corners we used a wide brush...
...and for the rest of the floor we used a squeege. Now, in studying this process we had learned that you should sweep the sealent accross the floor and make sure you have an even layer on. What we didn't realize however is how sensitive this process is and how you have to make sure you have absolutely no pooling of sealant whatsoever, or else you will end up with what looks like water rings and darker areas. Of course we didn't actually realize this until after we were done putting the sealant down and it had dried. So we ended up re-sanding some areas and re-doing the sealant at those spots.
So, if we ever do this again, we would be much more careful when applying the sealant to make sure the evenness is absolute and there are no thicker layers anywhere. This, however is easier said than done. Our floors did show some spots at some places once we were done, but we figured: sure it's not perfect, but it's charming and has character and we learned something in the process...
Next up was applying the polyurethane. We chose a water based polyurethane, mainly because This Old House recommended it, but also after reading quite a bit about it online and people seemed to have good experiences with it. Not to mention, using something that dried in two hours was really beneficial for us, plus clean-up was easy. In terms of the finish, I was really struggling with whether we should pick glossy, semi gloss or satin. I love the look of glossy, however it supposedly shows dust more and is more annoying to keep clean and looking good. Satin finish apparently shows dust the least and is also the most durable. I guess by choosing semi gloss it showed compromise: we tried to keep some of that glossy finish while being practical.
We applied three coats of this semi gloss polyurethane with a roller. At this point we put on foot covers to reduce the chance of scratches and we waited two hours between each coat. This was easy and painless and we marveled as we were doing this at our wonderful looking floors.
We were tempted to do a fourth coat, because more is better, right? But we were also so tired of dealing with the floors and wanted to move on so we could start painting and moving our stuff in so we could get out of that hotel.
So, here is the final result of our refinished floors:
Looking good, right!
Sanding Machine Rental (including paper): $140
Belt Sander Purchase: $100
Palm Sander Purchase: $50
Sand paper: $30
Mineral Spirit: $15
Brush & Squeegee: $20
Time Frame: 4 (very long) days
It's now been a few months since we did this. So how have they held up? Well, they still look beautiful, however we have managed to get a few scratches. I don't know if that's due to the nature of the water based semi gloss polyurethane, or just that we're rather active and moving stuff around without being that careful every time. But, I also think, if you spend too much time worrying about the condition of your floors, then you're not really living. So who cares if they are not absolutely perfect? With time, activities and well...life, the floors will get a bit scuffed up and that's absolutley fine.
I'm really glad we did this ourselves. It saved us a lot of money, as it would have cost thousands to have somebody else do it. Meanwhile, I'm also really happy it's over and we're not doing new floors anytime soon as I think we've had our share of sawdust for quite some time!