Refinishing hardwood floors

After purchasing my home the very first thing I tackled was refinishing the hardwood floors.  This is an old house after all, and there were actually trails worn into the finish showing the most commonly traveled paths.  I did this project before moving in because it is infinitely easier in an empty house than one full of furniture.  What follows is a simple guide to what you need and how to refinish your own floors. Doing this yourself will save you thousands of dollars in labor.  It is hard but rewarding work so here goes.

Required Tools

You will need to rent the following tools from a Home Depot, supply store, or whatever nearby rental equipment store is near you.  Make sure to call around because rates can vary substantially.

Drum sander imageDrum Sander – This is essential for any refinishing job that involves stripping away the existing finish completely.  Be cautious with how to use it though, improper technique can result in a floor that looks like a rolling ocean.  I watched about a dozen youtube videos on how to do this before actually beginning.  I’ve added a few video links at the bottom of the page for reference, but there are tons more out there.  Start in the corner of the least used room to ensure mastery of the motion.

Tip for use – Use a smooth motion and never stop over a single spot.

Edging sander

Edge Sander – Once you’ve completed your drum sanding you will have a solid edge of unsnapped area near the walls.  Use this sander to bring it down to match the main area of the floor.

Tip for use – This doesn’t take a lot of pressure but it take some effort to control, and it is to be in constant motion during use.  Take breaks to walk around and stretch during use.


Orbital floor sander

Orbital Sander – This is the secondary sander after you have finished with the drum sander.  It brings the grain down to a smoother finish and evens out any remaining inconsistencies.  This will probably come with a strong looking white pad about an inch thick.  Use this to buff the stripped floor before applying the finish.

Tip for use – this can be a little difficult to handle when it is starting up because it will want to turn with the pad.  Raise the pad off the floor (by leaning it back on the wheels) and get it up to speed before applying to the floor.  Even then be ready for it to pull to the left (or right depending on direction of spin).

Stain applicator – These can be gotten at just about any local hardware store.  Be certain to use the one that is lambs wool.

Tip for use – Pour the stain into a painters tray and get smaller amounts of stain for each use.  Very likely you will end up with more stain than is needed on the floor.  Use a rag to wipe up and even out the application of the stain on the floor (this should immediately follow the stain being applied to the floor – works best if there are 2 people; one using the applicator and one with the rag).

Miscellaneous Items you will need include:

  • Extra sandpaper for all devices (better to have too much and return it than run out during the job).  A quick note on this, when you itemize your costs from a rental company you will quickly find that they charge a fortune for sandpaper.  Rather than purchasing all of the replacement paper from the rental company, go to Home Depot or Lowes and load up there.  It’s a difference of as much as $12 PER SHEET of sandpaper.  When refinishing an entire house that difference can add substantial costs to your job.
  • Rag for wiping up/spreading of the stain
  • Pre Stain Conditioner – This prepares the wood for stain in the same way a primer coat does a wall.  This is especially important if you are staining a wood floor that is older since the wood has very likely dried out over the years.  Adding the pre stain coat in this case will give the wood something to absorb so it doesn’t take as many coats of stain to get the desired color.
  • Stain – remember this only colors the floor, it doesn’t protect it.
  • Polyethylene finish – This protects the floor.  Apply using a separate applicator (just like the one you applied stain with)


Now that you have a list of the equipment, it is simply a matter of getting the job done.

  • Begin with the drum sander.  For a first tutorial check out the Youtube video below.

  • Once the floor is stripped, sand down the edges and corners using the edge sander.  Here is another useful video on how to use this device.
  • There are actually a couple of methods for applying stain.  Using the buffer, a paint brush, or the wooden push applicator listed above.  Below is one video of using a buffer and brush to apply but there are many others out there.

Final considerations

There are a few final things to consider when planning this project.  And planning is crucial when doing a project like this.

  • How remove all of the furniture from the house before beginning.
  • Renting and transporting all of the equipment to the location before beginning
  • What type of stain to use (Oil or Acrylic).  There are pro’s and con’s to each specifically around drying times (oil- 24 hours to dry).
  • This is a multi day project if for no other reasons than dry times.  You may be able to hustle and get to the staining on the first day, but then you’ll need something to fill your time with for the next 24 hours because you can’t apply the second coat or finish until the floor is dry.
  • Weather: This affect the dry time.  I chose to refinish mine in the spring when it was cool and wet.  This led to a much longer than expected drying time for my floors (48 hours).  Plan ahead and do your research.  It will make a project like this much less stressful if you avoid surprises.

I’ve tried to include everything that I dealt with during my floor refinishing project but there may be other elements that apply to yours that I didn’t encounter.  Research what you need and talk to the folks at the hardware store to draw on their knowledge as well.  Keep in mind, you can do this.  If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed and intimidated, step back, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are perfectly capable of doing this.  Best of luck.




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