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Welcome to the Flooring Section: we sand and varnish floorboards
How to refurbish old floor boards: sand and varnish
Using those large floor sanders will usually generate huge amouts of sawdust so most people do this work when a property is empty (i.e. before they move in) or include it in with other more major DIY jobs.

Time: Before you rush out and hire a floor sander, remember that you may need time to prepare the floor by repairing/replacing badly broken floorboards and countersinking the nails and screws. Also remember that the floor sander makes a hell of a lot of noise, so its best operated during daylight hours or the neighbours might come knocking.

Is it worth the trouble, effort and expence? Very much so. Nicely refurbished wooden floors can completely tranform the look and feel of an old house. And once you've lived with such a hard wearing and natural material it just wouldn't seem right to cover it up with some sort of synthetic carpet.

Skill Level Required: Sanding and varnishing the floors is a fairly straightforward DIY project which is perhaps more physical than it is skillful. The floor sander is heavy and some might struggle lifting it up a flight of stairs, and the edging sander is pretty hard on the back.

Good luck

Todd O'Neill (editor of

Sanding a wooden floor: basic stages
1) Floor repair & preparation: repair broken boards and countersing nails
2) Sanding Floorboards: hire a floor sander & edge sander
3) Varnish: remove sawdust then use a quality floor varnish
4) Wooden Stairs: more time consuming than a basic floor, but they look great when they are done.
1. Preparation & repair

Floor repair: remove any floor coverings and examine each floorboard. If a board is badly cracked, it may need bracing from underneath or repalcement. Ifyou have to replace a floorboard try to find a matching one (and of the same age), they are available at reclaimination and salvage yards.

  Countersink all nails and screws: You may need to lift a few floorboards to identify where electrical cables and plumbing pipework are located. Then carefully countersink all floorboard nails and screws to compensate for the amount of surface wood you'll be sanding off. If the floorsander runs over a protruding nailhead it'll rip the paper and come off the drum (the sandpaper it pretty expensive). Here we use a countersink bit in a drill. A hammer & punch will sort out the nails.
  Fill holes: Here our pine floorboard has a hole where an old radiator pipe was located. Clean up the area around the hole and use a performance wood filler (of a similar colour) for the repair. Here we've used Ronseal and it worked very well indeed! (See Ronseal for product info... click here)

Mix wood filler: Mix the base filler with the hardener as per instructions.

  Apply wood filler: Pack the hole with filler.You'll be sanding it down later. Its a very good filler and it hardens very quickly.
2. Sanding floorboards

Hire floor sanders: Most local hire shops have floor sanders and sell the special sand paper and sanding disks for them. We rented a 'drum' type floor sander and a disk 'edging' sander. Ensure you have get plenty of sandpaper and sand disks from the rental shop, some floors consume them like crazy (especially if they have old paint or varnish on them).

  Drum sander: you'll need course, medium and fine grades of sand paper. Start with course and work you way to fine. Here we install a course sheet of sandpaper. The paper is held onto the drum by a locking bar and two screws. Its very easy to install, and the hire shop will show you how to install the paper. Always unplug the sander when replacing the sandpaper.
  Begin to sand: install the catch bag to the sander and plug the sander in. Put on protective gear (ear defenders, airmask...). Before you turn the sander on, push down on the handle to lift the sanding drum up off the floor. Turn the sander on, then gently ease the now spinning sanding drum onto the floor. The sander will want to run away from you, but hold on and control the travel speed. Make the first pass in a 45 degree line to the floor boards. This will help level the floor. When you are near the wall, raise the sanding drum off the floor, back up and make another pass.

Second pass: make the second pass 45 degrees in the opposite direction. If its an old floor you'll feel the floor becoming more level with each pass. On your 3rd pass you can sand along the length of the floor boards.

Make further passes using medium then fine grades of sand paper .

  Problem floors: here is our first pass on this old pine floor. You can see each board is bowed in the centre with only the highest section coming into contact with the sander. We had to make quite a few passes with the sander before we achieved a level floor, but bare in mind you don't want to take too much material off the floorboards as it could make them thin and flexible. The object is not to sand the old boards so much as to make them look new, just sand them enough look presentable.
  Edging sander: the edging sander does a great job at sanding almost right up to the edge of the skirting boards, but it is prettyphysical and can be hard on the back.
  Edging sander: if there are 2 people working on the job, one can be using the edging sander in one room, and the person with the drum sander in another room . Work from course to fine grades of sandpaper .
  Disk sanderreplacement: there disk will need changing from time to time. One nut hold the disk on, and its a simple job to do. Remember to unplug the sander before replacing the sanding disk.

Detail sander: a detail sander works well at sanding in the room corners as well as any areas on the floor which might have been missed by the big drum sander. Make further passes using medium then fine grades of sand paper until the floor is completed and ready for varnish.

3. Floor Varnish

Floor varnish: Before you brush on the floor varnish, vaccuum the floor and ensure you are completely happy with the finish. Use a good quality floor varnish. We avoid high gloss finished and opt for satin or eggshell as they look more natural when completed.


Apply floor varnish: use a large brush, and a pair of knee pads. Brush thin coats of varnish along the length of the floorboards. There will be some minor change in colour to the wood. Modern varnishes are quick drying and we normally put on 3 coats over a 2 day period. Follow the manufacturers guidelines.

  Completed floor: with varnish dry, move the furniture in and enjoy.
4. Stairs
  Before: We know there is an old pine stair underneath this stinky old carpet.
  Remove carpet:: We are lucky the stairs seem to be in pretty good condition. We get ready to strip off the old paint.
  Remove paint:: Hot air gun, air mask and door open for ventilation (lead paint is harmful stuff). Also gloves, paint scraper, knee pads and some time. Carefully remove the paint as it starts to blister. Use only enough heat to do blister the paint so as not to burn the wood. If the wood has scorch marks it'll look terrible. If you are not confident with an hot air gun the other option is to use a paint remover gel.

Sanding wooden stairs: With the paint removed, then use an electric sander to prepare the surface. Start with course sandpaper and work through to fine. An electric detail sander will help to get into the corners and edges.

  Varnish: end off with 3 coats of a high quality satin floor varnish.
  Finished: Here the central part of the stair has slightly different coloured edges because for years it must have been covered with a central stair carpet. I don't mind the colour differences (it tells a storey) and in time the colour will even out.
Good and the bad bits...
The good apects of refurbished wood flooring
The bad bits about refurbished wooden floors


Sand & varnish floors: costs £

Equipment: Floor sanders are noisy things. Remember to wear ear defenders, protective glasses, a good quality air mask, work gloves.

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