Wednesday, August 30, 2017

To Re-finish or Not to Re-finish: What to Do With Your 40 Year Old Wood Floors

Our kitchen now, after refinishing the floors!
Our wood floors have been bugging us for a while now. They're old floors, which we knew when we bought our home 4 years ago, but they were in decent shape at the time so not a lot of thought was given to least until after several years of our ball-loving Sheepadoodle Irie leaving her "mark" (literally") all over our kitchen floor...Irie's favorite thing in the whole world is playing ball, and who are we to deprive her of that God-given joy? But over the past few years of ball throwing, followed by dog running and sliding and skidding all over the floors, we could no longer ignore or overlook....this:

Long story short, Colette and I discussed and researched every possible solution from the simplest DIY options to complete professional floor replacement. There's almost too much information available online on this topic, and at the end of the day it can easily all leave you flat-out confused and unsure about what will and won't work in your situation.

Should you do a complete sanding down to bare wood, and re-stain and re-finish? Will chemical etching and refinishing work? Will buffing/screening and refinishing do the trick? Or are your floors too bad for all of those and you need to either live with them as-is or completely replace them? And how do you know?

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure what the absolute best option was for our floors, but after picking one and then diving in and doing it, I feel like we made the right choice. Wheww....
The biggest obstacle was trying to pick a solution that would make a notable impact for dog-scratched (and just plain old/worn) floors. Most of what we read made it seem like complete sanding or replacing were the only viable options. But at long last we decided to give screening and refinishing a try and we are very happy with the results!

So what is "screening" (or buffing as it's sometimes called)? Basically it's just a form of sanding that doesn't go all the way down to bare wood like a belt sander does. To screen a floor you rent a floor buffer and load sanding "screens" (basically just a special kind of sandpaper disk) onto the buffer and start sanding. (Note: We used 100 grit sanding screens and that seemed to work well.)

The idea is to sand off as much of the polyurethane finish as needed to make a notable improvement in the consistency and texture of the floor. This technique will remove most surface/superficial scratches (not down to or into the wood) and many other imperfections that don't go too deep. Screening won't do anything for dents in the wood or scratches that penetrate past the finish into the wood. So in other words, if you're looking to make a 40 year old floor look brand new, you probably need to just replace the floor - or at a minimum do a ginormous super sanding project that likely will leave you wishing you had replaced the floor.

So onto our project. We started with the kitchen floors. First we removed all the furniture and then covered everything with sheet plastic (large box from Home Depot). Then we did a thorough vacuum and mop of the floor.

Next I rented a floor buffer at Home Depot and went to town. Warning up front: a floor buffer is a hard machine to operate - but after a little trial and error and learning to control the machine by brute force it's pretty easy to use. Took me about 20 minutes and a couple YouTube videos to figure out how to keep the machine from racing all by itself across the floor every time I turned it on.

I went through 4 100-grit sanding disks on this floor. Probably could have gone through 6, but after a couple hours of sanding the whole floor (and sanding the really bad spots again and again and again and again) Colette and I looked at the floor and decided enough was enough. (Note: we also used a pole sander and 100 grit screens to sand the edges all the way around the room).

Next step was to do tear down all the plastic. Then came a thorough vacuum of the floor, after which we mopped it and vacuumed some more and then mopped and vacuumed some more. There was a decent amount of dust, but it wasn't horrible and was nothing like what we would have had if we'd done a complete sanding of the floor.

After the floor was completely clean and dry it was time to put on the polyurethane. (Note at this point we could already tell the floors were in a lot better condition.) We used Varathane quick dry polyurethane in semi-gloss.

We chose Varathane mainly because we've used their products before and found them easy to apply and quick-drying which is a huge plus. And Colette, being the truly beautiful artist she is, as well as our undisputed resident expert on all things color/aesthetic, quickly determined that full gloss would leave a super pretty shine but would also magnify every imperfection (the last thing we needed), so we decided that semi-gloss was the way to go.

It took 3 coats of the polyurethane to do the job. The 2nd coat goes down a couple hours after the first, then you wait a day and apply the third coat.

To apply I used a special synthetic mop head designed for water based finishes from Home Depot which attaches to a painter's pole. You basically start in the farthest closed-in corner of the room and "paint" your way section by section all the way into the opposite corner until the whole room is coated. It takes a little practice to get the hang of the mop and polyurethane to make sure you're applying it evenly and not blotchily, but once you get the hang of it it goes quickly. Make sure you don't apply too thick of coats though (we learned that lesson the hard way here).

So after about 2 days worth of work, here is our new kitchen floor which we couldn't be happier with!

Thanks for reading!