By Mike McClintock, Special to Tribune Newspapers
September 29, 2012
Sanding, staining and sealing can rescue a worn wood floor and transform a room at the same time — from dark brown to driftwood gray or vice versa. You might be tempted by a coverup of pre-finished laminate. But solid planks like 3/4-inch strip oak can stand a deep sanding that removes dings, scratches, stains and burns.
The project starts with an empty room closed off with plastic sheeting. Floor sanders create fine dust that will drift throughout the house.
Sanding You can rent the equipment that contractors use: a drum sander that turns a belt over the main area (with the grain) and an edger that turns a disc to blend in the perimeter. Drum sanders are heavy and pack a lot of power usually requiring a 25- or 30-amp circuit. The easiest type to use has a tip-up clutch — a lever that raises the drum so you don't have to tip up the whole machine at the end of each pass. Most floors need only a finishing grit to clear the surface. More damaged or uneven floors need a pass with medium-grit first. The hard part for most DIYers is blending the edges where circular lines from the edger lap onto straight lines from the drum. You may need some hand sanding to finish.
Removing deep stains Burn marks and some liquid stains run more than skin deep. If most of the floor is marred, start with a coarse belt to take off more wood, then a medium grit, then a finishing grit. If a light sanding will do almost everywhere, bleach the stains until the wood has a neutral hue. After it dries, sand the raised grain by hand. If you will be re-staining the floor, spot-prime these areas with a diluted coat of stain to bring the neutral tone in line with the surrounding area.
Cleaning up Sanders have dust collectors — the personal version is a dust mask — but there will still be a fine layer settled on every flat surface. Before you clean the floor, check window sills, crevices in molding, window blinds, ceiling fan blades — anywhere dust might settle on a fresh coat of stain or sealer and leave a cloudy finish. Vacuum first, then mop the area with a Swiffer-type duster pad.
Finishing with penetrating sealers The traditional method is to stain the raw wood. Light-colored stains reveal more grain, while dark-colored stains provide a more uniform color. But it's a tricky process, brushing on the stain, wiping off the excess, and moving on to the next patch, always hustling to keep a wet edge and avoid lap marks. Then, after the stain dries, comes a protective sealer and more drying time. The updated version is a combination stain-sealer that reduces two coats to one. On a hot and humid weekend when coatings take forever to dry, that can cut at least one day off the project.
Finishing with surface sealers Instead of soaking into raw wood, sealers such as polyurethane form a protective surface. They don't alter the hue dramatically, but add an amber and slightly darker tone to sanded wood — with a finish from high-gloss to satin that has a buffed wax appearance. Because oil-based polys emit fumes and require solvents for cleanup, some DIYers opt for water-based products. But oil-based polys spread more easily and evenly than water-based products. And they have the advantage of a longer drying time. Sounds bad, but that gives you more time to coat a section and move on without leaving lap marks.