DIY buff and coat for worn and scratched wood floor

Q: I have a wide plank soft pine floor, 20×20, with a polyurethane finish. It has worn spots and my dog has left scratches. *I* want to re finish and would appreciate any info/how-to.

A: The best advice I can give you is to leave this work to a professional. If however, the finish is not scratched off, leaving dark discolored areas on the floor, it may only require a buff with fine sandpaper and a couple of coats of finish.

If that was something you would do yourself, You will need to make sure the finish is free of contaminants such as oily soaps, etc. Thoroughly buff the floor with the grain and clean up well. Apply a coat of Poloplaz Primero with a roller (1/4 or 3/8 nap). When dry, and if needed, buff it again with fine sandpaper and do it all again. I recommend Primero because it is very tough when fully cured and rolls beautifully.

Related Q: We have a room with oak floors and polyurethane finish. In the high traffic areas the finish is worn, with no damage to the floor itself. Can we clean the floor (with what?), lightly hand sand, and put down a coat or two of poly (what kind?) What is the downside of this approach, if any? The floor was finished in 1991.

A: If the floor finish is not totally worn off, discoloring the wood itself, then a fine sanding with the grain, with a fine abrasive to thoroughly scuff the finish, will be needed. It may be a good idea to clean the floor first to remove possible contaminants. A good polyurethane cleaner is important to use. A mild tri sodium solution may work too. Don’t soak the floor. When dry, buff and coat. Any good quality polyurethane will work. I prefer and recommend Poloplaz finishes, and in particular Primero. It is very difficult to do this in just a spot touch up fashion. Best to do the entire area/room, especially given the length of time between coats.

Dots all over floor in DIY stain job

Q: I’m in the process of staining my floor and there are a whole bunch of little, tiny colored dots all over the place. Can stain have air bubbles? How can I fix this so that my floor looks normal?

A: I’m not sure what the dots are or why they are there. If you were sweating at the time, sweat drops could open the grain and make the stain go darker in those spots. Also, you are suppose to apply the stain, let it soak for several minutes and then wipe off the excess. Did you do that?

Follow-up Q: I didn’t do that. Can I fix it or do I have to start over?

A: If I made a mess of staining I’d probably screen the crap out of the floor to remove as much of the stain as possible and then stain again. Of course, you need the equipment to do this and you may not even know what I mean by “screening”. You could try wiping the floor down with mineral spirits to remove the excess stain. Did I mention this is not really DIY work?

Does it need to be professionally redone?

Q: I took 20-year-old carpeting up and have 80-year-old pine floors underneath. I sanded with a machine and sandpaper recommended by a local home store, then stained with a stain recommended by another store (only one coat, and nothing else applied).

The sander left marks on the floor from its wheels, and never did sand all the old dark stain off. I went through 20 pads on the sander, and when I would turn the machine off, the burned up sandpaper pads left black gunk on the floors that I had to scrape up with a screwdriver, and I still couldn’t get it all off.

I now have floors that still have a few pet stains, roller marks from the wheels of the sander, burned charcoal-like black gunk from the sandpaper pads, and have uneven color from never being able to fully remove the old stain, no matter how many times I went over it.

Is there anything I can do to redo it and get it to look decent, or does it need to be professionally redone?

A: Not to be very critical, but you summed it up in your last statement. Hire a professional. It is a lot easier to say that than to write a book about sanding and finishing, which takes an apprenticeship to do well.

I may never understand why people think my job is so easy, that anyone could do it.

Splotchy DIY stain job

Q: I recently sanded and stained the floors in my recently purchased house. I have red oak flooring, and really like the way the hall and bedrooms turned out. However, in the living room there are splotchy areas. They tend to be really light like they didn’t take the stain. Is there any way to even out the floor despite the stains?

Please give me a step by step explanation. I’ve heard bleach, add more stain to light spots, etc. I need some tips before moving onto poly.

A: It sounds like uneven sanding to me. The smoother the wood is sanded, the less it will allow the stain to penetrate and the lighter the colour will be. Especially for darker colours I generally wet the entire floor, popping open the grain, then when dry stain row by row. Wipe on. Let sit 5 minutes. Wipe off. You can try sanding just the light areas by hand with an 80 grit sand paper and stain again. If that doesn’t work, you will have to try removing as much stain over the entire floor that you are able and stain again. This work is not easy even for seasoned professionals. It really isn’t DIY work.

Should the sanding option only be done by a professional?

Q: I removed two layers of very old linoleum flooring (over an oak floor) in a seven by twelve foot kitchen. Used Contractors Solvent to remove black mastic adhesive and paper residue with wide scrapper.

Can I epoxy paint the floor or should I just sand to bare wood beneath blackened boards? Should the sanding option only be done by a professional, or is a rented sander sufficient for novice?

I would consider “peel and stick tile” only as last resort.

A: It partly depends how thick this oak floor is. The old style 3/8 strip is most likely going to be too thin to tolerate the kind of heavy sanding needed to remove this mess. In that case, it would be better to remove that floor and install a new one.

Sanding is definitely work that needs a professional’s skills and equipment.

Related Q: We have strip hardwood flooring which was covered with carpet. The former owners removed most of the carpets and resanded. Though there is some water damage, it is not bad enough to replace. It seems to be covered with a urethane. We would like to strip the urethane and restain the floor a darker color. Is this possible? And how? What products do we use?

A: This really is a job best left to professionals. There is to much involved in every step of the procedure. Even if detailed instructions were provided experience is still lacking. One thing to consider: Can these floors tolerate another full sanding? If they were 3/8 thick brand new, such a floor can be safely re-sanded twice.

I cannot afford a professional

Q: We removed 3 old layers of floor in the kitchen and found a 3/4 inch oak floor. It had many staples in it. We removed all of them. Should we wood fill them in, sand, wood stain and put polyurethane on or…?

A: The next step is to hire a professional who is skilled and trained in how to properly sand, prepare and finish your floor.

Follow-up Q: I cannot afford a professional presently. Should we fill in the holes with wood fill, sand, apply wood stain and polyurethane?

A: I would sand the wood clean, then fill the holes then sand floor smooth. If using a dark stain, I would suggest wetting the surface of the floor and let it dry before applying the stain. This is called water popping which opens the grain to allow deeper, more even penetration of the stain.

Also see our recommendation to hire a pro.

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.

Related Q: I bought a house that is 10 years old. The hard wood floor is in not very good condition.

I have two issues: 1) Two areas are worn, which are about 1-2 sq. ft. I would like to sand them lightly and restain the floor (I think I found the closest match stain color)

2) The floor is not very shiny, however most of the surface area kept the original protection coating. I guess it is semi-gloss coating.

I don’t want to sand the whole floor at all, but prefer to clean it thoroughly and recoat with minwax clear semi-gloss Polyurethane. Can you please tell me if this is a doable? Urethane coating directly on another finished coating from 10 years ago? Do I have to sand off the original coating?

I don’t know if the original wood floor is prefinished or finished on site.

A: This type of work isn’t as easy as many people think. If the floor is bevelled on the edges it is probably pre finished. Very difficult to buff and re-coat. The odds wouldn’t be in your favour. You also don’t know what contaminants may be on the floor to react with the polyurethane you want to apply. Why don’t you buff thoroughly a spot behind the door or off in a corner and see what happens?

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?)