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Top 5 Tips for Refinishing Wood Floors in Your Home

Be Sure it’s not Laminate, Barricade the Work Area, Sand, and Finish

© 2012 by Sarah Harris; All rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

Refinishing a hardwood floor, photo courtesy Stug

Perhaps the only thing you know about refinishing hardwood floors is that your home is in desperate need of the service if it has become scuffed, stained, or worn.

And if you don’t have the money to hire a flooring contractor to do this for you, or you feel silly paying for a pro when you know that plenty of people do it on their own, then you may be thinking of tackling this labor-intensive chore yourself.

Luckily, you’re not reinventing the wheel here, and there are guides galore to help you through the process. Here are just a few tips that could get you started on the right foot.

  1. Know your wood.

    This might sound silly to homeowners that have some experience with renovations and housing materials, but there are probably plenty of people out there who don’t know the difference between hardwoods and laminates.

    Before you take a DIY attitude towards refinishing your floors, it’s important to be sure that you’re working with a surface that can be refinished!

    Just like some people need to be prompted to plug in or turn on computer equipment when they call in for tech support, there are uninitiated homeowners who don’t have any basis of knowledge when it comes to household repairs and upgrades, through no real fault of their own.

    So don’t be embarrassed about asking for help to ensure that you don’t make an unholy mess of your laminate by trying to refinish it.

    Perhaps the easiest and least invasive way to determine which kind of material you have is to remove a section of baseboard and make an inspection of the edge of the floor. Hardwood is obviously wood; you can see the grain.

    Laminate, on the other hand, is a layered product (hence, the name laminate. Also, this type of product will have an underlayment under it, which looks something like carpet padding. It may or may not have a vapor barrier on the top.

  2. Check for exposed hardware.

    Seeing nails, staples, and other exposed hardware is a good indication that your floors have been refinished before, or it could simply signal excessive wear.

    Either way, you need to be careful when you begin to refinish since this could affect the methods you use. If you’re not sure, call in a pro for an assessment beforehand.

  3. Do the prep work.

    Some people like to skip the appetizer and get right to the entrée, but this is a big no-no when it comes to refinishing your floors.

    It’s not enough to wear a protective mask while you’re sanding the floor; the dust from the process contains tiny particles of harmful toxins (stain, varnish, etc.) that will get absolutely everywhere in your home if you don’t seal off passageways with plastic sheets and secure them with tape.

    You can buy a roll of visqueen at your local home improvement store and a roll of duct tape. These are the most economic and effective materials to use to barricade off the work area. It is highly recommended to wear a proper respirator, not just a dust mask.

    So, take the time to complete the preparatory steps if you want to avoid the mess and potential health issues that could result from a failure to plan accordingly.

  4. Pick your poison.

    You might be surprised by the number of choices you have when it comes to refinishing your floor. Do you want to use an orbital or drum sander?

    The latter is faster but the former gives you more control and has less potential for permanent damage. Drum sanders are what the pros use for good reason. Production and effectiveness.

    Would you like a dark or a light stain? Hint: one will show more dust-bunnies. And do you want a varnish that is shiny or matte? How about a tinted lacquer? Would you prefer eco-friendly products?

    Some people prefer to use a polyurethane finish and this is a good choice with one drawback — it’s much harder to make a spot refinish later on. These are all things you need to decide before you get started.

  5. Take your time.

    This can’t be stressed enough. You may be able to go to and pick out a table and bench in a snap, but these items are easily replaced.

    When it comes to refinishing your hardwood floors you probably only want to do it once every 10 years or so, which means you’ll have to live with the results for quite a while.

    So, it behooves you to take a little extra time when it comes to sanding, staining, and lacquering to make sure the end result is as close to perfect as you can get.

After you finish re-finishing (isn’t that confusing?) your floor, there are a few things you can do to extend the life of your job. First, in high-traffic areas like the entry way, use runner carpets.

In all other areas, re-wax and buff on a regular basis. Not only does it make your home shine, wax provides a thin buffer zone between the planks and the feet.

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