How Do I Refinish My Hardwood Floors?

From on March 31, 2008 in Tools and Tips

Refinishing hardwood floors

Refinishing hardwood floors is a fairly straightforward process, albeit a time-consuming, messy, repetitious one. It will be hard work and will require a good amount of patience and the proper tools to do the job. If the work is a bit daunting or too time-consuming for your busy schedule (it will take at least a couple days), there are qualified flooring contractors available who can do the job in a fast, professional manner.

List of Necessary Tools

  • Drum Sander
  • Floor Edger
  • Palm/Orbital Sander
  • Sandpaper to fit machines (various grits—36, 60, 80,100)
  • Broom
  • Shop Vacuum
  • Safety Protection (dust mask, safety goggles, ear plugs, gloves)
  • Rags
  • Paint brushes/foam applicators
  • Stain
  • Finish


First thing’s first. You will need to completely clear the surface to be refinished. Remove all rugs, furniture, etc. To prevent the spread of dust around your house, it would be a good idea to put plastic over any openings (including doorways) and towels or rags beneath doors and over vents. Clean the area well, removing any staples, tacks, or loose nails. Be sure to set any nails that may be protruding form the hardwood, as these can damage the sandpaper or the sanders themselves.


NOTE: Sanding is noisy and very dusty work. Wear all necessary safety gear.

  1. Once you have the floor clean you are ready to sand. You can rent any of the sanders you need from your local rental shop. They will also have the sandpaper you need for each machine. Be sure to ask for a demonstration on how to properly use the sander before you leave the shop.
  2. Start by putting the heaviest grit (36) sandpaper onto the Drum sander. Large, industrial sanders can be difficult to use at first, so get used to its feel in a hidden area of the room (under a sofa, etc.).
  3. Once you feel comfortable, start at one end of the room and begin sanding in straight, even strokes moving WITH the grain of the wood. Keep moving. Do not let the sander sit still for even a few seconds. This can cause irremovable gouges in the wood surface.
  4. Once you have finished the entire floor, replace the heavy grit sandpaper with a medium grit (50-60) paper and repeat the process. Make sure to sand any lines or scratches in the floor enough to eliminate them.
  5. Next, switch to your lightest grit (80-100) and sand again.
  6. The Drum sander will most likely not reach into corners and all the way to the edges of the walls. You will need to repeat the previous steps using the edge sander. The edge sander is handheld and easier to manage but you will still want to be careful. Set the sander down slowly and move it in a left-to-right, semicircular motion in order to blend the sanding.


NOTE: Be sure to ventilate the area as well as you can. Stains can emit toxic vapors. Also, be sure to wear gloves.

  1. Now you need to thoroughly sweep the floor clean of all dust and debris. Use a Shop Vacuum to clean up the finer dust particles from the floor, walls, and ceiling if necessary. You want the work area to be as clean as humanly possible before applying stain. This will ensure a beautiful, satisfying look after the finish. Anything on the floor when you stain/finish will be there forever!
  2. To begin, apply stain in an inconspicuous corner or a scrap piece of wood and let dry for a few minutes. If you are satisfied with the resulting look, you can move on to staining in earnest.
  3. For heavier, darker coats you can use a brush or foam applicator and wipe away access with a rag. If you’d prefer a lighter coat simply use the rags to apply the stain (switching rags often). Staining is a much easier job when two people team up to do it (one applying stain, one wiping excess).
  4. Apply the stain with long, even strokes going with the grain of the wood.
  5. When finished, let the stain dry overnight and be careful to stay off of it.


  1. There are two main types of finishes which you can choose from. There is oil-based urethane (or polyurethane) finish and water-based urethane. Polyurethane is the traditional choice. However, water-based finish has improved much over recent years. It dries faster, is clearer, more durable, cleans up with soap and water, and is the environmentally friendly choice.
  2. Stir your finish well before application. DO NOT shake it. This will create air bubbles that will show up in the finished floor.
  3. Apply the finish with a foam applicator or brush, cutting in from the corners/edges. When applying in open spaces, feel free to use a roller. Whatever application device you choose, make sure it is very clean and clutter free. Any dust or debris that may be in the brush or roller will end up locked into your finished floor.
  4. Again, apply with long, smooth strokes. This is no time for hurrying. If your mind or muscles grow impatient, just focus on the lasting quality and beauty you will have in your new floor. Rushing now may mean repetition later!
  5. Allow your finish to dry completely. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations on the container for an adequate drying time.
  6. Apply a second coat. Let the second coat dry AT LEAST overnight and, if you can manage it, wait up to three days before moving furniture and/or rugs back into the room.

After all your hard work and vigilance, take a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and enjoy your newly refinished floor!