Sanding methods for wood floors

Q: Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you yet about how the floor turned out, I got really busy. What I did was exactly what you told me and it turned out great. I rented a sander from Lowe’s that took 3 round pads and rotated like an orbital sander. I used 80 grit paper and sanded the floor and because I had stained the floor. What it revealed to me was how horrible a sanding job I did using the drum sander.

I thought I was very careful not to have the “bump” marks from setting it down or reversing directions. As a result I was able to tell when the sanding was even and smooth as the stain disappeared leaving the floors very smooth. I then used an orbital sander around the edges and after vacuuming I “water popped” the floors. After the floor dried I applied stain and it took the stain evenly, they turned out awesome.

What sanding method would you recommend when I do this in the future? I chose to use the drum sander because I thought it would remove the old finish faster and give me a decent finish however, after seeing how it looked when I sanded with the orbital sander the floor was really uneven. What are your thoughts?

A: I’m happy the rescue process I came up with worked for you too. In my case I had 2 issues that contributed to a real mess. It wasn’t my old drum sander. I was trying some cloth abrasives. They are very thick, heavy and stiff and they left awful marks. And the stain I used failed. This is very difficult work, technically and physically. You never know what you are going to face with each floor. The machine you used I assume was rental, 115 volt. You couldn’t rent what I use, 230 volt sander with belts. Regardless, I use aggressive equipment and it takes practice to get good results. Abrasive selection is important too. First, I don’t really like aluminium oxide (generally red). They don’t hold an edge. Silicon carbide is better (black). Some guys just start out with 36 grit regardless of what the floor condition might be. That is far too coarse in many cases. Basically I use the finest abrasive practical for the initial sanding. Generally not rougher than 40 grit. On natural, not stained floors I finish with 80 grit. Stain jobs always go to 100 for the final sanding and not finer than that. I hand scrape the corners and run either an orbital sander or random orbital on the perimeter to remove edger marks and also the shading line where the big sander stops along the walls. I fine edge and then final sanding with the big sander which leaves a shading line, not a trench! I have to use a flash light too when orbital sanding because scratches hide. I finish off by screening with a polisher and 100 grit screen. Water pop and stain after vacuuming. Those are general guidelines. Keep in mind also that if you hit a lot of nail heads when sanding it scores the abrasive which will leave lines or fine grooves in the floor. Not a good thing. Punch down the nails and change the abrasive. There is a lot involved in this work as I’m sure you know. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take people’s suggestion to wear head phones playing music. No, I need to be paying close attention, even to the sound the machine is making.

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