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Install Wood Strip or Laminate Flooring

Step 5: Floor Sanding Made Simple

Dave's Don'ts

Never put a running sander down unless it's moving across the floor—this leaves gouges.

Unless you installed prefinished flooring, it's time to rent some floor-sanding equipment—or hire a floor finisher. The key hazard of sanding is gouging the floor, which usually happens when you lower a stationary sander with the drum rotating onto the floor. Don't do this!

A drum sander rotates a wide piece of sandpaper on the floor. This is your main tool, used everywhere except the edges. Use the drum sander to sand anywhere you can sand more or less parallel to the grain. Then work the edges with a disk sander, a heavy-duty version of an orbital sander.

Observe these do's and don'ts on floor sanding:

  • Do protect yourself and the rest of the house from sawdust.

  • Do move the sander at a steady pace across the floor.

  • Do each pass twice—lift the sander as you reach the wall, start moving backward, and lower the sander. Move sideways (with the sander in the air) at the middle of the room.

  • Do start with the least aggressive grit that will level and smooth the floor. 40 grit might be a good general starting point for a newly laid floor. Change sandpaper on both sanders in unison.

  • Do work your way down through the grits—through 40, 60, and 100. If you skip too fast to finer grit, you won't remove marks left by the coarser paper.

  • Don't let the abrasive get clogged—that can burn wood. Change sandpaper when needed.

  • Do hold a light close to the floor to look for reflections from rough areas. These hidden blemishes may become painfully obvious after staining.

  • Do scrape with a sharp chisel or wood scraper in the corners, where the disk sander won't reach.

Step 6: Finishing Up

The onerous task of sanding is followed by the more enjoyable process of staining and varnishing. To prevent damage, finish the floor as soon as the dust settles.

Stain is only necessary for esthetic reasons. Test stain colors on a scrap from the flooring, and if you don't like the premixed stains, ask a paint store to mix one for you.

Most do-it-yourselfers protect floors with polyurethane varnish, which comes in various levels of gloss. “Poly” is applied with a wide brush or a paint pad—a roller will leave hideous bubbles. Read the can before mucking around with any floor finish. In some cases, you must recoat within a certain period, or the finish will become too hard for the next coat of varnish to adhere.

Before starting, vacuum the room, including dust catchers like windowsills, and then wipe the floor with a rag dampened with mineral spirits.

After the first coat of varnish is dry, remove bubbles and dust by lightly hand-sanding with extra-fine sandpaper. Vacuum, tack-cloth, and recoat.

When using solvent-based varnish, use good ventilation; an organic solvent respirator is a smart move, especially in close quarters. The fumes—combined with the nasty solvent cleanup—are good reasons to consider water-based poly varnish. You may need more coats, but the varnish dries faster, so the finish traps less dust. Although waterborne finishes have less resistance to heat and chemicals than a solvent-based one, they are about equal in all-important scratch resistance.

Because many varnishes get stronger with age, hold off from walking on your beautiful new floor as long as possible.

Finally, reattach or replace base trim, and you're done!


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Home Improvements © 2004 by David J. Tenenbaum. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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