How to Sand a Floor

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What You Need to Know

  1. Wooden floors are easier to clean than carpets and harbour fewer germs and mites. They’re also regarded by many people as looking better and more contemporary, adding value to your property.
  2. Preparation is the key to doing a good sanding job. Clean the floor thoroughly and close up any gaps with filler.
  3. Protruding nails can cause serious damage to a sander, so ensure there are none sticking out from your floor.
  4. The heat of the sander will help dry the floorboards, so you don’t need to wait for your floor to be bone-dry before you get to work.
  5. For the sanding itself, try and go up and down each board individually, using a rounded edge to sand down the edges.
  6. Finish your floor with a clear varnish or paint. A semi-matt finish looks more contemporary than a gloss finish.
  7. Oil-based finishes are more hardwearing but be aware that they may cause old boards to crack.

Preparing the Floor

To start, you need to clear the room, sweep it free of dust and knock in any nails that sit proud of the boards. Watch out for the location of central heating pipes.

For a really professional finish you could lift the boards and push them together so the floor is completely flush. You will need to add more reclaimed boards or borrow some from another room.

Otherwise, leave them where they are and fill any gaps with a porridge-like mixture of sawdust (if you have some in your sander bag from sanding another room) and PVA glue or wood filler. At the same time, you should also use a nail punch to deal with any raised nails, working methodically across the floor to ensure none remain sticking up when you start sanding.

Get Sanding

You don't need to wait for the floor to dry completely as once you start sanding as the heat of the machine will blast it dry. When sanding the boards, you should start with a coarse-grade sandpaper and work diagonally. Old boards will 'cup' and you need to even this out. If you work up and down the boards immediately, you will exacerbate the unevenness.

Only once the floor is flat can you go up and down each board. Remember to tilt the sander right back off the floor when you turn to avoid stop marks. Use an edger or hand-sander to do the extremities.

After a second sand with a finer sandpaper, sweep to remove all the dust and wipe the boards with a cloth dampened with white spirit. Then apply stain if you are using it and at least two coats of floor varnish.

Finishing the Floor

To put the finishing touches to your work, you’ll need to sand the edges of the floor. To do this, use the rounded-edge add-on to your sander, working as close to the wood as possible. Once this is completed, it’s time to vacuum the floors completely in order to remove any grease or dirt that may be left on the surface and then seal the boards using either a clear wood finish or paint.

A semi-matt finish looks more contemporary than a high gloss. When choosing varnish, or lacquer as it is known in the trade, you can go for oil-based, which is hardwearing but can crack as the boards dry, or water-based that won't crack but will wear.

Other Considerations

You can strip floorboards yourself, but the work is hard and very dirty. It’s also easy to ruin a floor with bad sanding techniques if you don't know what you are doing, so consider getting professional help or at the very least doing your homework before you get started.

If you live in a flat, check your lease. It may be a breach of its terms not to have carpets covering your floors. Floorboards are much noisier than carpet, and any downstairs neighbours have the right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. You may need to install a layer of soundproofing beneath your floor.

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