Do it yourself sanding or buff and coat?

Q: My fiance and I recently purchased a home with maple flooring (thick tongue and groove). The home is roughly 40 years old; not sure of the floor. It appears to have been previously refinished with a polyurethane.

My questions to you are: what should be used to fill the long gaps between boards(1/16″ to 1/8″) at most? And second, should we take the floor completely down by sanding, i.e. start over with the finish, or buff the floor with screen and buffing pads before re-coating?

We are looking to accomplish this task ourselves and would encourage any input you may have.

A: There are any number of wood fillers on the market for professional use, coming in tubs and tubes as the need might be. If you only have a few gaps to fill, you may want to take a look at Colr-Rite tub fillers that come in hundreds of colours. It can be a bit of a problem matching maple because the colour can be quite a bit different between boards, so the filler may be to dark or to light. You may have to get more than one shade. Or buy a small tub of Woodwise, Bona Kemi or Final Touch either online or from a local hardwood retailer. It comes in different species. If you don’t intend to sand the floor completely, fill the gap and wipe the excess residue from the boards surface with a damp cloth.

To completely sand or just buff and coat will depend on the condition of the existing finish. If there are areas where it has totally worn off, leaving the wood grey and discoloured, the only choice really is to do a complete sanding to expose fresh wood and start over. I must warn you, this work is really best left to the professional. It is technically and physically difficult work.

If a buff and coat are all that is required, to freshen up the top coat, you will have to make sure there are no contaminants on the floor surface that will impede adhesion. You will need to thoroughly abrade or rub down the existing finish with fine sand paper or suitable abrasive and may be wise to try a couple of sample areas off in a corner to see if you can get good adhesion. There are cleaners designed for use with polyurethane coatings that can help to remove contaminants. Talk to your local flooring supply store.

Where to apprentice to learn floor sanding

Q: I am at wits end. I have reclaimed wooden antique long leaf pine floors installed in my house. I first tried to sand them myself with a rented floor sander (from Home Depot) and got a “few” chatter marks. I quickly stopped working on the floor. Reading on the internet, I decided the best thing to do would be to hire a professional.

The professional, *************, promised he could get rid of my chatter marks. After he sanded and put finish on the floor, instead of getting rid of them, the ENTIRE FLOOR now has waves (chatter marks) ALL OVER IT, much worse than ever before, about an inch apart. First he told me “pine floors all do that”. Next he claimed it was my floors fault. Then he again changed his story and said it was “one of those unexplainable things in the universe”. I talked to several other flooring people in my area and had another older, basically retired, flooring person come out and look at the floor. He told me that the flooring WAS INSTALLED CORRECTLY and it was that the previous refinishers sanding equipment was not adjusted right and this caused the chatter marks (which seems to make the most sense from what I have read on the internet). I have been unable to find anyone who has the knowledge or willingness to fix my floors. I am already out $6400 being ripped off by he who left the chatter marks. The floor is just terrible (unacceptable).

I cannot sell this house for any where near what I have in it so that does not seem like a reasonable option either.

My question to you: Since I cannot find anyone in this area to do any decent work, can you recommend anyone, anywhere in the continental United States that I could go work for, for free, that would be familiar with this chatter mark problem and how to get rid/avoid it. At this point, all I can figure to do is to learn how to sand floors myself so that I can one day fix my own floor. I am willing to move to their location and go to work for them for several months to try to learn how to sand wooden floors correctly. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I simply do not know what else to do at this point? Is there a school I could go to and learn how to sand floors without chatter marks (hands on, not just reading a book) and if so where is it located?

Thank you for any suggestions to help point me in the right direction.

A: I may as well send you to the top for answers to what you wish to do. Do a search for National Wood Flooring Association and contact them. They do have training schools. I have their magazine sent to my inbox regularly.

If ones equipment and drum are functioning correctly the one issue with pine (besides generally a high resin content) is the knots. All the wood around the knot is very soft but knots themselves are very hard. So the sander tends to dish out more material surrounding these knots. If these waves are everywhere, even in areas with few to no knots it is likely an equipment problem. When dealing with a floor that has waves, if it is then sanded in a straight direction following the lengths of the boards, the drum will follow the contour of the floor and the waves will get worse. First the floor would have to be sanded on a bit of an angle.

Ask The Builder

Q: I am extending a kitchen out into an addition that was built on a slab. I will need to frame the slab to raise the deck five inches to the same plane as the original kitchen. Should I lay a vapor barrier on the slab before framing? If so what should be used as the vapor barrier? Also can I insulate after framing, before laying down plywood subfloor? Do I need a vapor barrier between insulation and subfloor? What type of insulation? I will be laying reclaimed oak flooring. The project is in Michigan. The addition is a two story structure, well built and there is no evidence of any water problem. I look forward to receiving your advice.

A: Since your questions are more directly related to home construction I would recommend you visit Ask The Builder: Great web site and he has an extensive FAQ section and Craig Carter answers emails.

Do you have any suggestion as to professional training I could get such as sand and finish classes?

Q: I have enjoyed viewing your site and thank you for the info. I have recently started to rescreen wood floors and am thinking of getting into sand and finish as well as insulation. Do you have any suggestion as to professional wood floor refinishing training I could get such as sand and finish classes as well as insulation classes, maybe by some manufacturers or trade group?

A: The National Wood Flooring Association does hold training sessions from time to time. You could look them up or become an employee for someone for a few years to at least get the basics down.

Floor is high in the middle and sloped to the outer walls

Q: I looked at a house with beautiful floors, except every floor (first floor and second) was high in the middle and sloped to the outer walls. Why is this? How can this be on the second floor also? Are houses built this way? The floors were beautiful otherwise.

A: I couldn’t even attempt an answer on this one. Most old homes without poured concrete foundations will have some movement in time. If you were buying the house, I would have it checked out by a qualified inspector, just to make sure there hasn’t been incorrect renovations done in the past or that there isn’t a termite problem.

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…

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

Please hire a reputed professional!

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?

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.

Existing wood floor has no subfloor, doesn’t feel solid

Q: My existing wood floor has no subfloor. To me the floor does not feel very solid. Is there anything I can do to improve my floor?

A: What kind of wood is the floor? I have seen a few oak & maple floors installed directly on the joists. Not a really great idea, in my view. I don’t think there is any practical way to “fix” what you have. If the floor is thick enough to be sanded several times, you may consider carefully removing it, laying down 3/4 sheeting and re installing your floor, or you may simply opt to go new.

White blotches all over wood floor

Q: We are building a new house. We had a flaming red birch wood floor installed. They sanded it and put two coats of a water based sealer on it, 4 months ago. The house took longer to finish then expected. When they came out to put the third coat on it and replace some big gaps in the floor (due to a subfloor seam pulling apart, due to drying), we noticed white blotches all over the floor. The company that laid the floor states he has never seen nor heard of this. The rep of the company says he has never seen this before. They all say it’s a problem, but they don’t seem to have an answer except charging us more money to redo it and see what happens. What caused the white areas, and how does it get fixed?

A: You are so short on details, I could barely comment. However, some things you say indicate the timing was wrong to have this floor sanded when it was. None of the wet trades had finished. The sub floor shrank, so it was not dry either. You don’t say if the floor was immediately covered over after it was finished.

Moisture seems to be an issue. I don’t think the flooring company is to blame, unless you think they should have refused to finish the floor when they did. Who made that decision?

The floors should be one of the last items finished in a job like this. What I have seen is that as good as trades people may be at their job, many care little for the work of others. 🙁 For all I know, the white spots are paint.

I have to side with the floor sanders on this one, with a caution, for their own safety that they not do a job this early but wait until all else is complete. The other trades should have covered and protected the unfinished floor while work was being done.

Before I hire… Is there any way I can “tell” if the job done may be good or bad?

Q: Before I hire… Is there any way I can “tell” if the job done may be good or bad?

A: Ask them about their sanding and finishing procedures. What grits do they use? What finishes do they use? How will they handle possible difficult points during the installation, such as when they may have to change direction and have 2 rows of boards with groove facing groove? You don’t want, for example, 2 rows of boards down the length of the floor that are face nailed. what about transitions from one room to the other?

Webmaster’s summary: Pick their brains to make sure something is in there! (Also make sure to get multiple estimates/quotes, references, etc.)

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.

Low-ball floor refinishing estimate

Follow-up Comments: Right now I am dealing with a cash settlement issue to cover the damage. The contractor for the moving company claims department estimated the cost to sand & refinish approx 500 sq ft. would be roughly $600 with 3 coats of varathane-– a cost that I guessed was a low-ball. Your estimate certainly acknowledges that.

A: $600 to sand, stain and finish an aluminum oxide coated floor? That is beyond absurd. Prices like that go back more than 30 years for a not well done natural job. Anyone who would claim that is what the cost of this job is, doesn’t know what they are talking about and doesn’t care if you end up with a butcher job.

Absolutely do not accept it, regardless of who you have doing the work, and I would not allow them to choose the company. I am all for being fare, but I don’t like seeing people taken advantage of.

Durability is key

Q: I am interested in getting hardwood flooring for the main floor of our house. This is the main walkway through the house, so durability is key. We also have a large dog! Any suggestions?

A: I would definitely suggest site finished. Pre finished, aluminium oxide coatings are very hard, but that actually becomes a problem if the floor starts to look beaten up, since these coatings resist abrasion, which is exactly what needs to be done to a finish to create a mechanical bond and adhesion of a refresher coat. A large dog will leave marks and nail impressions in just about any wood, regardless of how hard it might be. It is important to keep their nails clipped and filed smooth. I would stay away from any tight grained woods such as maple, since many scratches are hidden by heavy grain (such as oak), which maple doesn’t have. A good choice for you might be Hickory. Quite hard, yet a grain similar to oak. Ash and oak would be other good choices.

I will also suggest an alternate finish to urethane top coats. I have been working with a tung oil based finish recently. Excellent penetration into the wood. It does build similar to polyurethane, though it is a more elastic type finish rather than a hard top coat. It is very easy to touch up and re coat with no adhesion issues or the possibility of swirl marks from Inter coat buffing, since this product co adheres. No buffing is needed. You can check this out at

Sand or install new?

Q: My husband and I are trying to determine our options for getting rid of the old carpets on our second floor. We have lifted the corner of the carpet in a couple of the rooms and it looks like there is plywood that was put over top of the original hardwood floors (our house is circa 1918). We don’t know what the hardwood floors are like underneath and would like to know how we could go about determining whether it is worth trying to save the floors or whether we should install new floors. If we choose the latter option, then we might install cork in the bedrooms and then might choose to keep the plywood. However, we are not sure how to decide.

A: That’s a tough one. I would not know any better than yourself what is under the ply wood until it is removed. Even if you decided on a new floor, I would probably suggest removing everything to the original sub floor and starting over with a 3/4 thick solid floor. That will last well beyond our life span.

I can only tell you what I would do if it was my house. You probably have to go on the assumption that the floor under the plywood is toast and develop a scenario from there.

3/8″ Thick floors

Q: My wife and I just bought a 1929 home. One of the bedrooms had carpet. We pulled the carpet and there are vinyl tiles glued to the hardwood floor. We began removal of the tiles but the glue is sticking to the hardwood floor beneath the vinyl. How do we remove the glued vinyl tiles without damaging the hardwood flooring underneath?

A: A home from 1929 would have hardwood floors that are only 3/8 thick from top to bottom. They can be safely sanded twice. My suggestion is that they probably aren’t worth trying to save, given the cost involved and the effort. They were covered over for some reason! I would replace them with a 3/4 thick floor.

Staining shortcut?

Q: Is there a way to darken oak flooring that has been refinished, possibly a dark wax or a colored shellac? I would like to obtain a color similar to my fir doors and windows.

A: If you want to do it properly, it should be sanded to bare wood again and stained and finished.

Insurance company giving choices after parquet floor is damaged in flood

Q: I have 40 year old parquet in the basement of my back split that has lifted due to the weeping tiles overflowing during a recent rain storm. (In my neighbourhood the downspouts go down into the ground where the rain water is then taken directly to the storm sewer system. One of the underground pipes was blocked and the water backed up into my basement.)

Now for the question:

The insurance company has sent someone to inspect it and he tells me they can either replace the floor with the same parquet then sand it and put 4 coats of varathane on it. Or, they can install another type of parquet that comes in one foot by one foot squares that has a factory finish already on it.

I am wondering if the second parquet would be of the same quality and if the finish would stand up like the parquet that is original. (My original finish was still good 40 years later without a scratch). I’m worried that they are trying to talk me into an inferior product to save man hours and cost, but result in my not having as good a product as I had before the flood.

A: There is no doubt in my mind about this one. If your parquet is 40 years old, it is either 1/2 or 3/4 thick tongue and groove parquet block, or it is 5/16 thick solid parquet without tongue and groove. I am fairly certain the factory finished product they suggested comes in 4 squares per sheet and is tongue and groove. The wear layer on this is from the top of the sheet to the top of the groove, which doesn’t allow much in the way of future sanding, if needed. If you have the solid 5/16, your wear layer is from the top of the floor to the bottom of the piece, or 5/16. Tell them to put in the same product existing and sand the entire floor. In my opinion, the pre-finished parquet is junk.

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.

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.