What lies beneath: Restoring wood floors

Shifflett Hardwood Floors

 Q.  I own an older home with wood floors. How do I restore the floors to keep the wood looking good?

 A. You may think your wood floors are black and old, but there is something beautiful under there. In order to rediscover those floors, you need to sand them, which is a difficult process.

Before you start, inspect the floor. If you took carpet up, make sure there are no nails or staples exposed. Clean the floors, clear the bookcases and furniture, and cover your doors with plastic or sheets. The preparation is important because the sanding is so fine and may damage your belongings.

First, you need a drum sander­ try to find one to rent at a local store, since they cost over $10,000. Depending on the type and the age of your floors, use two to three grits of sandpaper for the sander. Starting from the center, drum sand the floors with the flow of the wood-­ move the drum in constant and controlled motions. Next, you have to rent another sander, called an edger. The edger goes around and let's you get close to the wall­ you need grit paper for the edger as well. After you've sanded the floors, scrape the corners and around the doorway with a scraper and file.

Finally, you need to buff the floors. Purchase a buffing pad and start buffing away. When you finish, vacuum all the dust, or else it will cause more grit. Some do-it-yourselfers like to stain the floors to match their furniture or color schemes-­ there are mahogany and red-pine stains, for example. Apply the polyurethane or water-acrylic finish, and wait to dry, which may take up to 24 hours.

If you put down wax, Swifter or Murray oil soap on your floors, you are stuck using these forever, because the oils burn the sander up. This process gets expensive, since you have to apply oil every two weeks to do it right. With the sanded floors, all you need is water and white vinegar for daily upkeep. Just spray a mist solution and wipe the floor­ you will never need wax again.

The sanding process is extremely difficult and time-consuming, but you need to do it only once in your lifetime. After 15 years, you may need to buff and coat the floors when you start noticing scratches or aging. You can always put on another coat of finish on the floors, but make sure to use the exact same coat.

Steve Shifflett