Gneiss House

Low-pressure home metamorphism

Lessons in floor sanding technique

This is what I have learned about sanding floors:

  • The orbital U-Sand sander is too heavy for me to lift by myself.
  • If you are a petite person, you do not drive the U-Sand. The U-Sand drives you. And odd, rarely used muscles will be very sore.
  • It makes a giant mess. Face masks, goggles, and vacuum cleaners are your friends. So are strong friends.
  • Before sanding, read tips on various websites first, or else you might not know that it’s a good idea to cover your vents with plastic bags before you begin sanding. That said, I promise that your vents will only put a little bit of sawdust back out at a time, and after a month or two of occasional vacuuming, your vents will be done putting out measurable sawdust.
  • Sanding an entire small house, first with a coarse grit and then with a finer one, will rapidly use up all of the sanding pads provided with the sander rental for the grit sizes you want.
  • I do not have it in me to sand an entire house more than twice over in the span of a couple days. But that didn’t matter, because it turns out that twice is sufficient to do a good job. I recommend a first pass with a coarse grit (80 or 100 work fine), followed by a finer one several steps up, but not by any means the finest in the box. That kind of polish is unnecessary.
  • Uneven floorboards mean you will probably never get them sanded down quite far enough to remove every last bit of old stain. If you don’t make peace with this in advance, you will quickly do so once you can no longer move your arms from the pure sanding exhaustion.
  • Any nail sticking up even slightly or staple you missed pulling out will instantly shred the sanding pads as they pass over it, and you will probably be unaware of it for a minute or two. In the meantime, the exposed surface will make a couple black scuffs on your floor that you’ll have to go back and sand back out. After a while you’ll start tipping the sander over to check the pads every five minutes, and usually you’ll replace one or two of the pads almost every time you do so. Protip: do not skimp on the pads. It will just prolong the inevitable and make your job take longer. Also, check the pads every five minutes.
  • Likewise, as a non-pro, DIY sander, it’s unlikely you’ll sand perfectly. There will be some slight ribbing cutting across the grain. This is probably the biggest reason that amateur orbital sanding will almost always look a little amateur. That said, a new finish job of an old floor is still a million times better than what was there before. You’ll probably still love it, ribs and all.

After all of these lessons were learned, my family and I spent an additional day touching up everything by hand. We managed to assemble three hand sanders to work with, using a proper palm sander plus sanding attachments for a power drill and a little dremel. We sanded down every speck of white paint that the previous homeowners had splashed on the floors while painting the walls, every surface of the stairs, the side molding along the staircase, the edges and corners of every room and hallway and closet, and the worst parts of the uneven floorboards that the orbital sander couldn’t touch. We hammered back down all of the loose panels, including a couple that had been damaged but hadn’t needed replacement. We removed a few panels that were so damaged they couldn’t be repaired.

We thought those little odds and ends, with multiple people working and many sets of tools, would take just a couple hours. Instead it took a full day, and we were all exhausted. But in the end I had a bare, fully sanded floor, ready for finishing!

Next time: the value of knee pads!

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Author: Lumberjack Lynne

Geologist by trade, redesigning my little piece of property so it's greener, friendlier, and my very own.

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