Where Are We Now?

This weekend we started stripping the floors. Huzzah!

I say "started" because it took us three VERY FULL days to strip the old floors bare.

It all began when we decided that dark floors would look nice, and new floors were out of the question for this house (the only way I could afford real walnut would be to become a tree rustler ). Since that day, it has been nothing but discouraging comments from people we know and trust.

Tell someone that you are finishing your hardwood floors and you will probably get a look of incredulous pity. Follow that with a story about "so-and-so" who has done every imaginable DIY project, but would not attempt to re-finish their floors or a well-intentioned newbie that accidentally sanded a hole into their floor and you have our last five months.

Needless to say all these comments were very discouraging. I certainly can't afford to have someone do it for me, but I also refuse to forgo something just because there is a clandestine community of floor professionals that create some myth about refinishing your own floors.

So like every project that we have attempted, we researched it on the internet. The information was consistent; rent a drum sander (or orbital sander, more on that later) and an edge sander, remove old polyurethane, continue to sand with a finer grit, stain if desired, and coat generously with polyurethane. The only confusing choice was selecting an oil-based versus water-based stain.

We called a local rental shop (actually located in the same town as the house) and reserved the drum sander and edger. Naturally when we got there, the drum sander had been accidentally checked out and would be returned the next morning. So much for making a reservation. I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry attempts to reserve a rental car:


Agent: I'm sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.

Jerry: I don't understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have the

Agent: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don't think you do. If you did, I'd have a car. See, you know how to
take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation and
that's really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody
can just take them.


Anyway, as luck would have it, they did have an orbital sander in stock. We had read in several articles that an orbital sander is much kinder on your floors than the drum sander and good for beginners. So we rented the orbital sander instead.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we tossed our first piece of 30 grit sand paper (30! Like a piece of paper with a single rock attached to it) on the orbital sander and took it into the office. When you first start the sander you feel as though the sander and you are like two magnets repelling each other. It is always trying to get away from you. It did not help that the floors throughout the house are sloped and you are constantly trying to drag it uphill.

Like people that have been threatened by "holes" in our floors, we nervously sanded a small stretch of floor. The polyurethane was only slightly scratched. Perhaps we were not moving slow enough. We tried again. No change. They did say the orbital sander could take more time than the drum sander. I set to work sanding for the next hour. No change. It looked as though I had drug a piece of paper with a single rock attached to it around the room, but the polyurethane still clung on to the floor.

After a few more futile attempts, we decided that the orbital sander was for wussies. The only way you could sand a hole in your floor would be to let the orbital sander bounce around the room by itself for a couple of hours while you ran a few errands around town. Even then, I am not sure there would be any change.

So back to the rental shop, where the drum sander had been returned. There we were once again warned that the drum sander was a little more "aggressive" than the orbital sander. All I can say is thank God to that!

Home again, where we attempted once again to sand the office floor. The drum sander has a nice rhythm and is surprisingly easy to operate despite it's massive weight.

Basic Instructions for the drum sander:

Start walking about 1/3 the length of the entire room (with the grain of course).

Lower the drum onto the floor with a lever.

Walk to wall.

Drag the sander back to the start.

Raise the drum from the floor.

Reposition the sander about four inches to the side.

Begin again.


It was boring and slow, but the polyurethane started to come off the floor. Initially we assumed that the sanding would be completed in one day. Not a chance. Even for a house that is only ~1000 square feet, the sanding is a slow and laborious procedure. One handy tip when using the drum sander is to lift up when pulling backwards. This seemed to remove the small spots of very reluctant poly. Unfortunately, this is one time when I wish I was stronger, since I tired of lifting the hundred pound machine very quickly.

The edge sander was a powerful machine that took material off very quickly where the drum sander could not reach. Since Brice was in charge of the edging, he described the process as "wrestling a angry pig" (the sander looked a lot like a pig from the front). You are on your knees a lot, and knee pads could have been very useful. Brice used rags and duct tape. He knees were very nearly bloody before the days were over.

So here is the floor today... Two days of sanding (until four in the morning).

So why haven't we applied stain yet? Good question. Most articles said that you should apply the stain and/or polyurethane as soon as possible, as the wood is unprotected. However, we noticed small swirl marks that were left from the edge sander. When we tested the stain, the swirl marks were even more apparent. After more research it appears that the nature of the edger is to leave these marks. A very good professional can probably minimize them, but most people have to hand sand or buff these marks out before they can stain or polyurethane. Since the work week started once again, we are hoping that tomorrow we can start and possibly finish sanding those marks out.

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