How to find a good flooring professional

Q: Can you help me determine how to find a good flooring professional. In our previous home we hired a well known local company to install engineered hardwood and had 3 years of issues from underlayment issues to panels moving. We want to have hard wood installed in our new home but I don’t know what to ask to find someone who can do the job well the first time.

A: Finding referrals from friends and neighbours can help. Maybe if you emailed National Wood Flooring Assoc., they could have a recommendation for your area. Hope that helps.

Fixing a DIY blotchy stain, dirty finish job

Q: A person helping my boyfriend re-finish my hardwood floors used a non stain-able, yellow carpenters wood glue to float the entire floor. The floor ended up with a blotchy stain job, so we re-sanded. Do you know of anything that may work to remove it or cover it up? Do you think we can cover it up by going over it with the correct product? Do you think we can use a stain with the varathane already in it or that a gel stain will work? In addition, my boyfriend thinks the bubbles and dirt particles I saw when he applied a coat of varathane are no big deal because they will sand out and I disagree. Who is right?

A: The best answer I can give you is this is not DIY work, as your floors appearance will testify. You need to hire a professional who knows what they are doing. I could sit here for the next hour outlining the various procedures for every step involved in producing a good looking stained floor, but that wouldn’t help you much because it still requires months to years of practice.

Do-It-Yourself Buff and Coat

If you can’t afford a professional and you’re set on a DIY solution to fixing wood floors that aren’t in terrible shape, but could use a lift, here’s a link to a tutorial from This Old House on How to Refinish Wood Floors. By “refinish” they’re not referring to a full sanding, but to a buff and coat or what he calls “scuff-sand” and a coat.

The main risks to attempting this are swirl marks that are much more visible than a pro would have, and problems with finish adhesion and so forth (issues could arise from simply not following directions/missing a step, or contaminants, or stop and start marks, etc.) There’s certainly risk (See Please hire a reputed professional! article), but This Old House magazine’s article at least has steps to DIY refinish hardwood floors w/ pictures. There are probably video tutorials on YouTube as well. You may want to browse around our Problems With Finish category and others to gain some foresight as a preventive measure.

Do you think this can be a do-it-yourself job, doing one room at a time?

Q: I have striped maple floors throughout my 1st floor. I really don’t know if they were stained that way or are real, but they need refinishing badly. I’m consider do it yourself wood flooring. Do you think this can be a do-it-yourself job, doing one room at a time?

A: I would never consider this type of work to be DIY. A person has to serve an apprenticeship for some time before they can really know what they are doing.

Please hire a reputed professional!

With few exceptions:

“I really couldn’t do that, because this type of work requires an apprenticeship, where a person learns through theory and practice over an extended period of time under the tutelage of a professional. This is not DIY work.” 1

“You would actually save money and your floors by hiring a professional.” 2

“I would suggest calling in a professional with pro equipment. It would save you hours of grief.” 3

” If you want a professional job, call a pro.” 4

“Honestly, you need to hire a professional. It takes a lot of practice on the job to become efficient at working the equipment, knowing which abrasives to use and on it goes.” 5

And after a hundred hurried questions sent, after the fact someone has taken their floor job into their own hands with disastrous results, a rant:

“Answering your question is so involved and detailed, it is much easier to say ‘hire a professional’. This is not DIY work. If this work is so easy that anyone can do it, why have I invested over $30 grand on equipment and still find the work sometimes ominous after 33 years? So, how do you think you can do it, even if I try to walk you through anything? I really don’t mean to be rude, but since I have invested so much of myself to make this my living, how can I spend lengthy periods trying to walk someone through the job who is trying to save money? What you don’t understand is that you are now using me and my time to save money on a job you have started and now realize is not quite as easy as you thought it might be.” 6

If you want to avoid badly sanded floors that look like a cheese grater was used on them…

If you want to avoid an uneven stain job, with spots that didn’t even pick up any colour because not all the poly was sanded off…

If you want to avoid a sticky situation of stain not drying or poly peeling up…

If you want to avoid joining the long list of DIY horror stories at Wood Flooring Guy.com…

And most of all, if you want beautiful hardwood floors,

Please hire a reputed professional!

DIY refinishing?

Q: I have engineered hardwoods in one room of my home. I would like to refinish these myself. Is it possible to sand, restain and put poly on them? If so, how would your recommend I go about sanding them?

A: First it depends whose product it is. If it is Mirage engineered, they have a thick enough wood wear layer to be sanded several times. A very strong caution here: This / refinishing engineered hardwood is not a DIY job at the best of times. Dealing with factory finishes and removal of the bevel edge and ends takes a huge amount of work and know how. You can use very expensive ceramic abrasives or break the surface with an 80 grit and then move to the rougher 40 grit and work your way to the fine grits. I have dust containment so a job like this, though a major work out, doesn’t pose the health risks it would to you. Aluminum oxide particles in your lungs is not a good thing.

Best way to refinish?

Q: I just removed carpeting from my new home that is 44 years old. The carpet installer went nuts with the staples and some adhesive. All staples have been removed and the adhesive cleaned as best as I could. The floor seems to be in good condition but I would like to know the best way to refinish them if you will. What is the best way to fill in the many ‘holes’ from the staples, the best way to remove all of the adhesive and the best way to finish? What would you recommend that I, a beginner on floor maintenance, take on myself and/or hire the professionals to take care of?

A: I would recommend a full sand and finish performed by a professional, since this isn’t DIY work. The many staple and nail holes could be filled with a latex or water base filler during that procedure. These fillers are not perfect but they do help to mask such holes. Cut lines from the carpet layers razor knife likely, for the most part, won’t be able to be sanded out.

DIY Buff and coat?

Q: I recently moved into a home with hardwood floors, and although they’re in good shape they look as though they could use an extra layer of protection. I’m wondering if there is a DIY way to add a layer of protection, like polyurethane (or something better) that will still leave the floors with a nice shine but will also protect against heavy foot traffic, dogs, kids and frequently dropped things.

A: I would never recommend this trade as DIY work. If you are intent on doing it yourself I can only offer a few tips. Make sure you first clean the floor with, for example TSP to hopefully remove any contaminants from the floor surface. Denatured alcohol would also be a good substitute for this. Then the floor must be thoroughly buffed and de-glossed with a fine abrasive and all dust removed before coating. Use a polyurethane that can be applied with a roller such as Poloplaz Primero. Cut in the edges and roll the field. Thin coats are always best. Avoid any moving air across the floor for several hours after applying.

Also see DIY Refinish Hardwood Floors.

Polyurethane peeling off

Q: I have 2000 square feet of hardwood floors, and in some areas I have the poly / polyurethane peeling off. So far I have made one huge mistake: I cleaned all the floors with ammonia, and that took the water, dirt, and wax off of them. Then I used an oil based product called Dura Seal on two rooms. It made a huge difference. I then added a water based poly to one room and it dried great, but you could scratch off the poly. I do not know what to do about that. I do not want to sand my entire house. Can you put a stain over old oil based polyurethane and then use an oil based poly? Any suggestions?

A: You cannot apply either oil or waterborne finishes over top of a floor that has wax on it. If you intend to stain, the entire coating, whatever it may be has to be removed to bare wood first.

You would actually save money and your floors by hiring a professional.

Directions on sanding and top coating an oak floor?

Q: Please give me directions on sanding and top coating an oak floor. It’s mostly in good condition. It has been under a rug for the past 25 years.

A: I really couldn’t do that, because this type of work requires an apprenticeship, where a person learns through theory and practice over an extended period of time under the tutelage of a professional. This is not DIY work.

Applicator marks in stain, where Lambswool applicator first/last touched the floor

Q: I recently sanded my Red Oak floors and prepared them for staining. They looked amazing before the stain hit the deck. I applied DuraSeal Medium Brown with a Lambswool applicator, following the instructions from the container. I did about a 10 sq. ft., waited about 6 min., and tried to wipe off the excess. Every time I wiped (again with the lambswool applicator), I got a dark stain line / applicator marks in stain where the applicator first/last touched the floor.

Unfortunately, I moved on and before I knew I had one heck of an unevenly stained floor. I was beside myself. Over 20 hrs of sanding and prepping and it looked awful!

The next morning I came back and decided to try to “cut it down” with mineral spirits. To my surprise, it actually pulled off some of the heavy stain spots. But it is still uneven. I tried a fresh area of the floor with a cut down (5:1 stain:mineral spirits) mix and it went on like magic. I left town right after the final room was done and I’m worried about what I am going to come back to in the first room. Do you have any suggestions for me on how to fix the uneven stain in the first room?

A: Get a package of 80 grit screens and use a polisher to remove as much of the stain possible. On the edges use an orbital sander with 60 grit. Then when you have removed as much stain as you are able, screen with 100 grit and go 80 on the orbital. Water pop floor with warm water, and when dry, apply stain, row by row with a cloth. Apply a row. Wipe off excess with clean cloth or carpet pad and polisher.

Gaps forming along walls, after DIY install

Q: Recently I installed oak hardwood floors in my house. I used pneumatic nailer, but at the area close to walls I had to nail down manually, and I can see gaps between woods. How do I fix this problem?

A: As you got near the wall, each board and each row should have been pulled in tight, either with a pry bar or floor jack, if you are lucky enough to have one of those. Now, you would have to take up the rows in question and re install them tight, or fill the gaps with any commercial filler that will match.

We would like to install solid slabs, and add risers

Q: Our house has engineered hardwood floors, and an open stair case (no risers). We would like to install solid slabs, and add risers. What would you recommend for risers? Is solid slab engineered hardwood (for this application) available?

A: I would suggest you get a stair professional for this work. It is complicated, and you want it to be done right.

Refinishing floors by hand, using shellac?

Ralph’s step by step instructions:

01) Remove molding

02) Vacuum all cracks

03) Wipe floor down with damp rag & let dry

04) Sand lightly with ridig sander (finishing paper) or by hand

05) Vacuum floor

06) Repeat steps 2-4, 3 times

07) Wipe floor down with alcohol, let dry

08) Mix 1 qt: 1/2 5 lb. shellac & 1/2 alcohol

09) Using 1″ fine brush — paint on slowly in direction of grain, board by board, no bubbles

10) Clean brush

11) Repeat step 9-10, 2 times

12) Using 1″ fine brush – paint on (1) coat un cut 5 lb. shellac in direction of grain, board by board

13) Let dry for 1 week

14) Sand and shellac molding using the same process. replace molding

15) Clean brush

16) Apply 1 even coat of spar varnish on floor & molding — let dry for 1 week

17) TAKE PICTURES — Floor will be like a mirror AND LAST

I understand I do an overkill, but the quality of the results are worth it, to me. I only use shellac/brush.

I have wood I did in this manner 45 years ago. I looks like I did it last week. If you want a quality job you have to put in the time and effort. This may not be for everybody. I hate the words “cost effective” — to me this means a cheap/quick schlep job.

I have gone through 8 pen knives scraping corners.

For a few pennies more you go first class.

(Ralph Fry)

Craig’s suggestions: I would question using “shellac” as a seal coat. It contains a natural wax which will not allow adhesion of other top coats. There are de-waxed shellac products that offer better results. Zinsser universal sealer or Dura Seal Universal Sealer are good choices. Good adhesion on both sides of the shellac.

The main advantage of de-waxed shellac is it’s adhesion properties on certain old floors that contain “contaminants”. Current floor finishes far exceed such finishes generally. Everything has its place and time. With de-waxed shellac, you can coat in about 45 minutes.

I think wasting 8 pen knives, scraping corners, was unnecessary. You could have bought a hand scraper and fine edge file, and done the job a lot better and faster, not even coming close to using up the one blade.

I would consider your methods out of touch with modern technology.
(But to each his own cup of tea, eh?)

Did cutting the poly cause this?

Q: I had problems with the third coat of poly drying too fast and leaving lots of bubbles. So, I hand sanded with 100 grit, and with the 4th coat decided to cut the fast dry poly with 25% mineral spirits to ensure no bubbles, and let it slow dry (no ventilation). Now I can see all the sanding marks on the floor? Did cutting the poly cause this?

A: 100 grit is far too rough to buff polyurethane. If you have access to a polisher, knock it down with 180-220 grit. I would almost bet you are using M****** polyurethane. If you want to use an amazing finish, contact poloplaz.com and have him send you a gallon or 2 of Primero in whatever sheen you need. Note: Satin will tend to hide the sanding and other marks much better than gloss.

Follow-up Q: Thanks for the suggestion. You’re right on the M*****. The Big brand out there obviously. I must be prone to leaving bubbles. Unfortunately, I had to put my house back and will let the floor “wear in”. I learned tons on this project. From all the mistakes I learned from, I will be a pro refinisher on my next project. Great website, thanks.

A: M***** is a “big brand” for the home DIY person. Few if any professionals would use the stuff. You should do better next time around. I have to warn you though. This trade is so difficult and involved, it really requires an apprenticeship over a period of time to even become qualified enough to be left alone on a job. Good luck.

Lap marks: finishing left streaks and blotches

Q: I recently installed and finished a hickory floor myself. The install was tough, but it came out great. Sanding went well, but finishing left streaks and blotches (did an oil modified sealer then water based urethane). I wasn’t happy, so I resanded the floor back down, and this time did a water based sealer and then water based urethane. No streaks, but I do have the occasional lap mark where I needed to turn the t-bar around when dragging the puddle of finish. Any ideas on how to get rid of these? I have 1 coat of sealer and 2 coats of urethane. I am thinking of screening\sanding them down with very fine (300-400 grit) paper once the floor is cured for a few weeks. Any advice? And yes – I just found your Q&A, and you are right: leave the finish to the pros – it took me three tries to get the floor to where it is now!

A: The streaking and mop stops is probably related to the flattener in satin finish. This does cause even seasoned professionals plenty of grief. I have recently switched to an omu finish that doesn’t seem to do this. At least, I have used it in environments where I thought this would be the time it would streak and it didn’t. I would describe it as velvet to apply. Primero from Poloplaz. Best finish I have ever used in over 34 years. Bar none. Not only does it apply beautifully and dry above expectations. It is not just a pretty face. It is as tough as a finish gets. No doubt in my mind at all about this product.

Stain without sanding first?

Q: I have a wall to wall rug that has been in my apartment since way before I moved in (more than 10 years), and I would like to remove the rug. Can I stain the hardwood floor without sanding first? I understand that I won’t know what condition the floor would be in, but I am looking for a easy way to make the floor look decent.

A: No you can’t stain without sanding first. this work is really best left to the professional. I have been doing this work 34 years and so many factors can impact a job, I still get tense doing it. This is not work for the novice.

So I didn’t heed the expert advice and I refinished my hardwood floors myself… DIY Hardwood Floor Refinishing

Q: So I didn’t heed the expert advice and I refinished my hardwood floors myself…

I did two small bedrooms and a large living room. I used a rented drum sander and sanded using 36 grit paper for the first pass, 60 grit paper for the second pass, and 80 grit paper for the third pass. I then used a vibrating sander with 100 grit paper over all the floors. After sanding I stained the floors with a medium dark stain and they looked beautiful. And then I put on semi-gloss polyurethane. The poly showed every flaw in the floor (and there were a lot of them, including sanding grooves). After all the work (it took about five days of non-stop work) I’m not happy with the results. Is there anything I can do now to disguise those flaws. Will putting on a couple of coats of satin poly help?

A: A lower sheen finish can help hide flaws. And, may I take this occasion as a long time professional who is well aware of how difficult this type of work is to say: I told you so.:)

Follow-up Reply: Thank you for the response. In my defense, I’ll note that I didn’t see your website until after I took on the project, but I’ll definitely agree that this is a job best left to the professionals.

Added diy hardwood floor refinishing cautions: Hopefully the satin will help. I will warn you also that satin polyurethanes do have a tendency to streak and show mop stops sometimes. this problem is related to how the flattener (silica) get dispersed throughout the finish during application. Best way to apply these finishes is with a T bar. You pour a puddle along the furthest wall from your exit point and “snowplough” the finish from one end of the room to the other, all the while moving the wet line across the room. This way you aren’t stopping to reload a mop in the middle of the room. You also don’t want it to set up too quickly either, so no air movement for a few hours after applying. I would also be careful with applying to many coats in a row. This can lock in solvents in the underlying coats, leading to a tender finish that will take some time to fully cure. I generally apply 3 coats (thin).

Refinishing a 115 year old painted pine floor

Q: I’m refinishing a 115 year old pine floor and getting a little desperate! I’ve already managed to sand and scrape off several generations of paint and reached the bare wood and my first coat of oil-based poly has dried.

However, I’m afraid I put it on a little too thick in places in one room and have several black stains appearing where there was only bare wood before (particularly around counter-sunk nail holes I didn’t dare try to fill.)

I now understand I should have used a sealer on my pine floors to produce a more uniform amber color, but at this stage I just hope to remove the black stains and put two more coats of poly down. I’ll be happy with a rustic look as long as it doesn’t appear I have tire tracks in my dining room!

A: Painted pine? I would have recommended you hire a professional for sure. To save some money, you may have jeopardized your health. Without doubt, the paint you removed would have contained lead.

I wouldn’t consider some black discolouration around counter sunk nail heads necessarily a blight on a floor like this. If it really bothers you, you can always “countersink” or recess the black spots and apply wood filler over top. You will need to buff with a fine abrasive between each coat, and remember: thin coats are best. Generally a spread rate of about 500 sq. ft. per gallon is recommended.

Bringing old hardwood floor back to life

Q: I just bought a 70 year-old house. I’ve looked at the hardwood floors and they don’t seem to be in too bad shape at all (there was carpet covering them). I want to bring them back to life. Do I need to sand them down or can I just throw a coat of varathane on them, or wax them?

A: I would strongly advise you to have a professional floor finisher in your area have a look at them. If the floor is an original wax finish without varnish or polyurethane, you can clean them up with a product such as Renovator from Dura Seal. www.duraseal.com. If they have a varnish/urethane coating, you might be able to have them buffed and coated. this can be risky, since you have no way to know what contaminants rest on the finish which could impede or prevent adhesion of another coat.