What is Involved with Refinishing a Hardwood Floor?

S. Mithra

A great deal of specialized equipment, planning, patience, and skill is involved with refinishing a hardwood floor. Of all the common home improvement tasks, this is one that requires research, time, and know-how, so it is only a do-it-yourself job for the very ambitious or thrifty. For weeks, you must go through several stages of evaluating, preparing, sanding, and sealing the floors, so there are many places where a small error could create a lasting problem.

Hardwood flooring.
Hardwood flooring.

It is entirely possible to refinish floors yourself, but many sources advise having assistance at certain stages. The first thing involved with refinishing a hardwood floor is determining whether your planks are good candidates for the arduous process. Assess whether floors have suffered damage from water, pet urine, or spills. Pull up one door's threshold to see if the boards are too thin to be sanded. Determine whether the last seal was varnish, wax, or polyurethane. Do your floors have deep gouges or dramatic wear patterns?

A house with hardwood flooring.
A house with hardwood flooring.

If most planks seem to have the same amount of seal, not too many scratches or holes, and are at least 3/4" (2 cm) thick, you have conquered the first step. Now, many days of preparation are involved in refinishing a hardwood floor. Thoroughly clean all surfaces. Fill holes from nails, staples, or scrapes. It's useful to get matching boards to replace damaged ones. Pull up all thresholds and possibly baseboards. You'll want to give all the floors in your home the same treatment, even if you only feel like one room is bad, just to keep them consistent.

Probably the most demanding step involved with refinishing a hardwood floor is the actual sanding. First, you need to rent a cumbersome, heavy, unfamiliar tool that looks like a lawnmower ate a miniature steamroller. This is a drum sander. It is incredibly loud, extraordinarily heavy, and so unwieldy that it may dissuade you from the project. By rolling it around the room in three passes, you are peeling off the top layer of finish, stain, and a good deal of wood to make the surface raw and flat.

If you survive the treacherous sanding (only a slight exaggeration), you still have to tackle staining and sealing. These are the last steps involved with refinishing a hardwood floor. You need to clean every speck of sawdust, so it doesn't contaminate the liquid applications. Stains are notoriously challenging to apply without streaks or demarcations. Over this, you apply a thin coat of polyurethane. This is the best kind of sealer to protect your floor from sunlight and shoes. You'll probably want several coats, with steel wool in-between. All told, refinishing a hardwood floor may take up to 1-3 weeks or more, not to mention several trips to the home improvement store.

When hardwood floors are badly scratched, it may be necessary to strip the floor, buff it, and re-stain the entire surface.
When hardwood floors are badly scratched, it may be necessary to strip the floor, buff it, and re-stain the entire surface.

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Discussion Comments


Written like a true professional hardwood installer to dissuade the average consumer from doing it.

Could you stick a few more scary buzzwords in? (cumbersome, heavy, unfamiliar tool that looks like a lawnmower ate a miniature steamroller. For weeks...) You make it sound like someone is preparing to do surgery on their own liver.

A drum sander is big and heavy, but I'm 26 and had no problem lugging it up my stairs *by myself* to sand my second floor.

Refinishing hardwood is not easy, but it's not all doom and gloom, which is what the article makes it sound like. If you are a guy and get manicures, this is probably not a job for you, but if you have or can borrow a truck and don't mind a little elbow grease, do your research and enjoy your DIY refinished hardwood floor.

If you have the money, pay a professional - they are well worth it. If you have the time and desire, it can be a fun, frustrating and rewarding experience.


What if you just want to add a sealant to your hardwood floor? I have some that are in good condition, and if they are very clean, why can't they just be sealed without going through the pain & expense of sanding?


I have an engineered wood floor with a ceramic finish on it. When we had our new refrigerator delivered, the movers had to come through the front door and put some significant scratches in the finish...is there anything I can do to refinish the scratches. I've tried buffing out with baking soda and a sponge but the scratches are too deep. The finish is a satin finish and I don't want to put anything shiny on it. Would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.


Can a strong, permanent Poly sealer be applied over a previously paste waxed floor. The floor is in excellent condition and doesn't not really need refinished. The floors are 25 years old and waxed with Johnson's paste wax every 3 to 6 months. Each 1 foot square is made of of 5 separate pieces forming a hexagon. Because of that, they are grooved in between each of the 5 wood pieces. Wax has built up in those grooves through the years I'm sure. Please advise me on options as it's getting harder and harder for me to get down on my hands and knees to wax as I get older. Thank you. Arizona Gal.

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