Alright guys, so we’ve been done our floors for a while, but I kept putting off this post because I took so few photos of the process. It was a dirty job and so my camera wasn’t being toted around. We did take some IPhone photos of most of the steps though. I am so happy with how our floors turned out, but we definitely learned a lot along the way. Here’s how we did it and what we would do differently/ what we learned. If this ain’t your thing- beware this is a wordy post so just check out the before and after :) Let’s start with the before photos, shall we? You can see all the before photos of the house here.
There are tons of tutorials online about refinishing hardwood floors. Some of them make it seem ridiculously easy (like one blogger did it in a weekend while her husband was out of town). Others give a more realistic picture of what it takes (like this one and this one). The only thing NONE of them (that I read anyways) talked about was really thin flooring. So I talked to every flooring guy I could find in our town and all of them seemed pretty un-excitable when I said we were refinishing the floors ourselves. I was told the same process over and over- use a random orbital sander 60 grit, 80 grit then 120. Easy, right?
Our house was built in the ’60s and the hardwood is super thin with a walnut inlay. It’s about 1/4 inch thick and nailed straight through the plywood sub-floor (which looks really creepy from the basement). I got a little history lesson from one of the older flooring guys in town- he said the floors are red oak and were shipped to Canada en masse during prohibition (cool right?) and they used to nail it down then flood the floor with wood filler and trowel it off. Then they’d give it a quick sand to get it off the surface. When I talked to him about refinishing the floors (pretty much the day before we were starting), he raised red flags like crazy. I guess with the wood being so thin it splinters really easily and he’s seen a few nightmares of splintered floors when it gets sanded. He strongly suggested not sanding the floor. My brain was freaking out at this point because that’s exactly what we’d planned to do! His recommendation was to use a screen (like this– but we used a different type of sander- shown here) instead of sandpaper to knock the finish off. I called all over town and Home Depot was the only place that carried them for the sander we were renting. So what’s the big deal with the floors being so thin? 1) Splintering 2) Nail holes- sand to far and you’d have nails to sink and fill, one by one 3) If they’d been previously refinished- you might have even less than 1/4 inch.
Anyways! Here’s the process. If you can possibly take off your baseboards (ours were ancient and splintered when we removed them, so we ended up replacing them)- do it. It was so much easier to get right to the edges when we didn’t have to worry about getting stain on the trim. We did a couple passes with the 80 grit screen (as course as we could find) and it wasn’t quite cutting it. We switched to the 60 grit sandpaper and did one really quick pass just to get the bulk of the finish off. Then we switched to 80 grit sandpaper and did a couple quick passes to get it looking much closer to done. We went over it all with the 120 grit a few times to finish it off. The finer the grit, the less stain will take (something to keep in mind if you want really dark floors). Please excuse the blurry photos… I Phones, y’know.
The problem we had was: no matter how many times we went over the floors, there were spots that weren’t getting touched. The floor was pretty warped and the edges were sunk more where the nails went in. We used a palm sander with 120 grit to get at these spots. It worked really well but was pretty darn time consuming. The first picture you can see shiny spots in the sun where there’s still finish- that’s after a million (probably 5 or 6) passes with the large sander and that much was left everywhere. We would have done more passes with the large sander, but we had a couple spots where the nail heads were getting really close to the surface. You can see my aunt getting the edges with the little guy here. This probably would be no big deal- and quick- if you were only doing one room… not 800 square feet.
So once you’ve got it all sanded, give it a good wash. There will be sawdust everywhere and the last thing you want is it settling into your sealant when it’s wet. We did a wipe on all the walls too, then stuffed rags in the vents to keep the dust down (we had the vents cleaned before moving in). The raw wood looked so nice! We filled some bigger gaps with wood filler here.
Picking out stain was pretty stressful for me- I was making so many decisions with the reno and for some reason I just couldn’t get my head around stain. We ended up going with Cloverdale Paints for a few reasons. They sold stain by the gallon instead of the quart. Since we needed a couple gallons to do the whole house, buying it this way was much more affordable. They also tinted stain for you and tested it on your sample wood to make sure it was what you wanted- so you didn’t have to pick one of five colours off the shelf. The problem with this? More choices! I came in with this photo as inspiration (below) and ended up picking this sample out of a box they had to colour match. It’s next to the sample wood we brought in. One tip I have for staining is to buy the best possible rubber gloves. Ours kept breaking (which gives you pretty gross looking hands) and we’d have to pick out the pieces of latex from the floor- ugh.
We wiped the stain and off on with plain white rags (you can buy bags of painters rags so you don’t need to wash them out and re-use them). The hardest part with a house this big is avoiding lap lines (when the edge of the stain dries so you get streaks). Since the flooring is pretty much continuous, we worked quickly (with 3 of us) to make sure the edges of the stain didn’t dry. After one coat, I was so disappointed- the flooring soaked it right up!
The second coat was so much better. We were finally ready to seal it. We used a satin finish oil based clear coat for a couple reasons. The store owner tried unsuccessfully to convince us to use semi-gloss. We really like the finish satin gave us- we wanted something that would hide scratches and showed the woodgrain a bit more… and I’m so glad we stuck to our guns. Water based is the new standard and so oil was harder to find, but an old hardwood specialty store was still stocking it. The fumes are way worse with oil, but it has a longer dry time, so is easier to work with. It’s also more durable- and durability was huge for us, we weren’t going to be doing this over any time soon. The downside to oil based is that it can yellow over time. We chose durability over the possible yellowing. We applied it with an applicator the hardwood store supplied. Like everyone suggested, we did three thin coats with 24 hours dry time in between. We waited 48 hours for it to cure before putting furniture on the floors.
Guys, I am so happy with our floors! They are totally worth the hours and hours of work, although if we were living here at the time- I’m pretty sure I’d feel differently (it was super stinky). Closing thoughts? If you want to refinish your floors- do it! It cost a bit more than we’d expected- we ended up having the sander for a week instead of one day (babies interfered a bit with our ability to go all day to get ‘er done). But it was still a fraction of the cost to pay a professional or get new floors. We love the character that the old floors give the house so replacing them was our last resort. It’s also not a weekend project if you’re doing more than one room (especially if your floors are as thin and warped as ours). Oh, and lastly- go satin! It’s seriously the best.
So I’ll stop now… if you’re still reading. This was a beast of a post- I promise the next one will be much more to the point :) If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ve seen how much the babes love it too. Plus one more look at the before/after. Seriously awesome.
Would you ever consider refinishing your hardwood floors? I’d love to hear if you’ve done it before.
XO – C
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