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 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.

I didn’t heed the expert advice and 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 defence, 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).

Similar Q: My husband recently re-varnished our hardwood floors. He sanded down the floor and put two coats of semi-gloss Minwax on. From a couple angles the floors look very streaky and almost cloudy. hy would this happen? How can we fix it? Is there anyway to fix it without re-varnishing the floor?

A: Streaking is generally an issue of uneven distribution of the flattener in the finish which determines the level of shine. You will have to buff and coat the floor again. Best finish I’ve used is Primero. It has never streaked on me. Look up Poloplaz and get what you need. It rolls on really well.

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. 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.

Blotchy polyurethane coating

Q: We applied a water based polyurethane to our freshly stained floors. We have only done one coat with a roller. We have places where there was not enough polyurethane on the roller and places where you can tell it was stopped to reload the roller. Should we apply the second coat and see how it looks or buff the floor then reapply?

A: This really is a job best left to professionals. Most water borne coatings can be recoated without buffing between coats “provided” this is done within the number of hours after the previous coating specified by the finish manufacturer. Also, not all finishes apply well with a roller, and there are a list of specifications that need to be met to have any hope of really good results. Since you say the floor has been stained a particular colour, it will be difficult to buff this finish without also removing the stain, since water borne coatings generally are lower solids and therefore leave a thinner film on the floor. If you have to buff, it is going to have to be with a very fine abrasive. Please do not use steel wool. You may have better success in applying with a “water wiz” which is basically a foam pad.

Hard job

Q: We have just recently bought a house dated somewhere around the early 1900’s, After removing the 10 year old carpet and the 40+ year old linoleum we discovered the original hardwood floors underneath. The linoleum seem to have been laid with some sort of tar or tar paper under them. Is there anyway to remove the tar or what ever it is on the floor without destroying the hardwood and what is the best thing to finish them with?

A: I would suggest calling in a professional with pro equipment. It would save you hours of grief.


Q: We have a 3000 sq. foot hard wood dance floor (we think it’s oak, but not sure). We are looking at a minwax polyurethane water based clear finish. We are doing this job ourselves, sanding, sealing and finishing. We want to know which of their four options is the best for us to use; matt, satin, semi gloss or clear high glass. Please keep in mind we want to end up with the most durable, the best looking, the least slippery and the longest lasting finish. Please also keep in mind, this is a high traffic, commercial use dance floor used 7 days a week.

A: If you are doing this job yourself, professional work, and using minwax water borne, then you do not really want the best job, most durable finish. These products are for home owners and DIY people, not professionals. If you want a professional job, call a pro.

Finish an existing unfinished hardwood floor ourselves?

Q: I am interested in knowing how I can finish an existing unfinished hardwood floor in the entry hall of my home. We had planned to buy the interlocking new wood floor system and do it ourselves. How difficult would it be to finish the existing original hardwood floor which is already there?

Also, a few drops if white paint were spilled on it during renovation and we weren’t worried about it since we originally planned to cover it anyway but, have now changed our minds.

A: Generally sanding and finishing a wood floor is a professional project requiring professional equipment and expertise. Most of the tools we use, cannot be rented. However, if this is a very small area, you may be able to struggle through with a small belt sander and orbital sander. This still represents an investment in equipment of $400-$500 for those 2 tools, if you get something decent. Remember, however, that some of the old coatings contained a high degree of metals and you would be wise not to breathe that in.

DIY funky stain

Q: I recently bought a house in severe need of full remodelling. We are to the point of redoing the hardwood floors. I want to stain the white oak to a dark mahogany colour. I want to put down a layer of polyurethane first to seal the wood and then go over it with a poly/stain mix, then more polyurethane. My idea on this is: If we ever want the light colour back, we can just sand down to the wood. My questions then are: Is this possible? And, if so can I mix the stain and polyurethane (in what percentages)?

A: 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. The questions you are asking reveal you’re not an expert in this trade, yet you think you can have such skill to sand with precision to a certain depth.

Don’t even go there. If you value your floors, let someone who is practised and experienced do the work.

Solo coat of poly

Q: We have birch wood floors. They were given one coat of poly about 8 years ago. After 3 kids and 2 dogs running through the house, I’m cleaning them constantly with little success. I would like to sand them down, and refinish them. We have a very small house, children, and can’t think of a way to do this without moving out. Is there any alternative ways to refinishing wood flooring, which doesn’t require moving the kids out? They have a lot of gaps, and are very stained. Very little finish is left on them.

A: This is a job requiring professional expertise. Anyone who applies just one coat of finish to a floor should not call himself a professional.

No matter what, the floor area will need to be empty of furniture. You might wish to opt the finisher to use a high end water borne polyurethane which dries fast.

Restoring old carpet covered floors

Q: My husband and I would like to remove the carpet in our living room and dinning room. When I had it professionally cleaned they said the carpet was about 50 years old. When we lifted a corner up there is a mesh over red clay like stuff. Where the clay was lose there are beautiful wood floors. We would like to remove the carpet without having to sand and refinish. Is there any thing we could use that won’t damage the floors?

A: I have no idea what the current finish is on your floors nor what the impact of carpet cleaning chemicals might have had. If it is a wax finish, then Dura Seal has a good product called Renovator. If it is a polyurethane finish, then a good cleaner such as Bona Kemi Pacific floor cleaner might help. If not, have a professional refinish the floors.

Another honest rant

Q: We recently refinished our floor and when I put the second coat on there were a lot of lap marks all over the room. Is there anyway to fix these? I have not put the cleat coat on yet- just the stain.

A: I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you mean by a “cleat” coat. 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.

My best advice is to hire a professional.

Flooring contact in the UK

Q: We live in the UK and have recently had oak floor planks laid. The wood settled in the house for 6 weeks before being fitted. A latex was laid to level the floor and then the wood was glued to the floor. The problem we have is that after 1 month of being down the floor has now risen in one part and created a big bow in the centre of the room. How can we correct this?

A: I would suggest you contact my friend, Mike Flanders at Southwestern Flooring. He works out of Bristol.

Honest answer about DIY floor refinishing

Q: My husband and I are planning on refinishing our oak hardwood floors this weekend. Have you heard of saving the dust from sanding and mixing with the varathane for the first finish coat? We were told that this would fill in any gaps or holes in the wood. Is this a good idea or would it create more problems for us?

A: There are a number of wood fillers on the market. some mix very fine dust collected from numerous sanding jobs and mix it with sanding sealer to fill cracks. Regardless of which filler is used, it is applied and then sanded off prior to finishing. You are doing a job that really is not for the DIY home owner, but you think you are saving tons of money. That you would have to ask a question like this clearly indicates you don’t really know what you are doing. It takes an apprenticeship, basically, to become skilled at working the equipment plus a good amount of understanding on procedure and finishing. You have no idea what you are in for and I won’t lengthen this response by getting into all that. What is your time worth and what do you consider a good job?

Bad stain job

Q: We have stained our hardwood floors and really did a terrible job. Is there a way to correct this? Is it possible to remove the stain?

A: (We get emails like this far too often!) I hope you haven’t yet applied any finish. You will need a good orbital sander for the perimeter with some 80 grit sandpaper. You will need a polisher with both 80 and 100 grit screens. This will be used for the main field of the floor. With each machine remove as much of the stain as you can. It will take several hours and you will use quite a bit of abrasive on the orbital sander. 10 screens of each grit should be enough.

Once you have taken off as much as you can, wet (not soak) the floor with warm water. Let it dry, and without scuffing your feet, apply the stain in narrow rows, about 3 feet wide. Wipe the row dry with a clean cloth and do another row until finished. The reason for the wipe down with the water is to try to pop open the grain to accept the stain more evenly.

Because this work is difficult, that is why you should hire a professional, and why we charge money to do it.

How to refinish oak parquet

Q: I am refinishing an oak parquet floor which I have already sanded. I would like to achieve a dark-espresso finish and I am unsure as to whether I should use oil or water based stain. Which coats should I sand in between? Can I leave windows open for ventilation or do I run the risk of dust causing an issue?

A: I hope you will indulge me for a moment. Your questions regarding the basics of the job are exactly why this work should be left to a professional. Each question you ask could easily involve a lengthy, detailed comment, but I will be brief.

Use an oil stain. Lightly buff each coat of polyurethane if using oil or solvent borne. It can be helpful to ventilate the area a during the coating process, but wait at least a couple of hours for the finish to flow and level.
I hope that helps.

Nails in floor

Q: I ripped up the carpet and want to refinish the oak floors. I’ve spent 12 hours pulling staples out and am stumped what to do about the nails. There are all kinds of nails in the floor, some I pulled out, all different lengths but with the rest (and I mean about 40) all I am managing to do it damage the floor or pull the nail heads off. Is there a better tool to use – I’m using a hammer, pliers, and a thing that looks like a flat head screwdriver with a slit in it. If I start hammering them down with a nail set I’m going to have an awful lot of ugly putty spots right in the middle of the floor. I was hoping to save some money doing the floors myself, I just want them to look ‘good’ but every professional I contact wants to replace every board with the slightest imperfection and make them look stunning! It’s an old house, I don’t want to pay for brand new looking floors.

A: This really is not the type of work that should be done by an inexperienced homeowner. Pull all the nails you can with the tools you have. Any others that can’t be removed, or have the heads break off, simply counter sink. There are decent wood fillers on the market that come pretty close to matching the floor and accept stain. There are also hundreds of colours in tubes that can be used afterward for any other holes or spots that were missed. Tell the floor company exactly what your expectations are and go from there. If the floor is worth saving in spite of the nail holes, there should be no problem with a company being willing to accept the job according to the visual standards you set.