Hardwood floors scratched, dinged, dated and looking worn? Refinishing hardwood floors yourself is TOTALLY do-able and will save you a ton of money! See how I DIY’d my dining room floors and saved $1,500!
I’m going to start with a sort of disclaimer here… you can TOTALLY refinish hardwood floors yourself, but hiring a professional will undoubtedly give you a better overall finish. Professionals just have the practice, the skills, and the expertise to do a much better job than a first-time floor refinisher (as in a DIYer like me).
But, professional floor refinishing comes with a hefty price tag – well-earned I can tell you – but perhaps a little out of budget for most of us.
I had a floor refinishing company come in and quote me on my dining room floor; a maple hardwood that was stained and sealed at the factory before installation. The estimate came in at just over $2,100 CDN.
Being a DIY blogger/influencer, I wanted to see if the job was doable by a 48 year old, somewhat out-of-shape, woman.
It is – mostly – but there are parts that definitely require a second set of hands/muscles.
I’ll go step by step so you can see where I went right, and where I went wrong:
Refinishing hardwood floors yourself
- Make sure your floor is actually hardwood and not a really great laminate. Lift your heating vent cover off and see if you can see wood grain through the whole board.
- Make sure there is enough wood left to sand down. Some very old floors may have been refinished again and again over the years and are now down to almost nothing. If these two are a yes, then move on to step 3.
- Carefully score the caulking that seals your quarter round to your baseboards using a utility knife.
- Gently pry off the quarter round with a flat pry bar. Try not to break it if at all possible – it’s likely quite usable and will save you a few dollars in buying new. If you have a lot of quarter round, it will help to number each piece so you can return it to the same spot it came from.
- Seal the room with clear plastic sheeting at the door and cold air return. Block any heating vents and turn off your furnace/air conditioner if possible. You’ll want to minimize how much dust gets blown through your house.
- All of the tutorials I read and YouTube videos I watched said that the average homeowner should rent a “floor sander” and NOT a “Drum sander for floors”. The difference lies in sanding power and direction of the machine. A floor sander is basically a giant random orbit sander and will sand your floors in small circular motions that are less likely to leave swirl marks or gouges in the wood. You can move it back and forth with or against the grain and is much more forgiving for a newbie like me. Chris, who helped me with the sanding, ran the floor sander back and forth over a small section of the floor for about 2 hours and had barely gotten through the factory sealer they used on the floor. It was incredibly frustrating, and I am not a patient person.
- A “drum sander for floors” is another large machine that works like a belt sander. The sandpaper spins around as though it was put over the wheel of a tank, going around and around in one direction. Because of this, you CANNOT go back and forth and every which way with a drum sander, and you have to be moving before you let the the sanding belt touch the floor. You’ll see below where I got cocky and thought I could just go back and forth (like I was vacuuming) and left gouges all over my floor. You can’t do that. The drum sander takes a lot more technique and care, but it devoured the finish on my floor (the entire room) in just over an hour.
- My suggestion would be to rent the drum sander for 4 hours to get the sealer coat and most of the stain off – we used a 40 grit belt (provided by the rental company) to do this. THEN go back and rent the other floor sander for 4 hours to smooth everything out.
- Just to show you the damage a drum sander can do to your floors, below is where I was testing some stain samples. You can see dark lines in the two right-hand stains – those are areas where the drum sander gouged into my floor. Yes, you can also see how it looks like a vacuuming pattern. I’m such an idiot. 🤦🏻♀️. It was fixable, but it meant a LOT more sanding – going back to a 60 grit (then 80 then 120) and essentially starting over on the entire floor until the gouges had been levelled out. *Tip: if you can’t tell if you have gouges in your floor – it’s tough to see before you apply your stain – run a barely damp cloth over the flooring and any gouge lines will be visible.
- You will also want to rent an “Floor edger” from your local rental company. It looks a lot like a router, but is about 200lbs heavier. (Not really, but it is a beast). Neither the drum sander or floor sander will be able to get close enough to the baseboards. You need the edger to finish the sides. I used a 24 grit sandpaper and it DEVOURED the flooring in seconds. I was lucky I didn’t do any damage that couldn’t be hidden by the quarter round, but I’d suggest starting with a 40 grit.
- When refinishing hardwood floors yourself, the key is to get a smooth and level surface – don’t go over one spot too many times or you will create highs and lows in your floor. Instead, use the floor sander and start at a 60 grit, move slow and steady across the length of the room, keeping a steady pace. Sweep up the sawdust then repeat this with an 80 grit sandpaper and then finally a 120 grit. The darker flooring is where we left off with the drum sander (at 40 grit sandpaper) and the lighter is where we had gone over the floor with a 60 grit on the floor sander. The floor gets lighter and lighter until you reach your final 120 grit.
At this point, Chris and I had invested maybe 2 hours with the drum sander and then another 5 with the floor sander. (This was mainly because I had to resand the entire floor to remove the gouge marks – so it will likely take you less time). This is when you take your sweaty, sawdusty body and roll around in your success. Just don’t leave sweat or skin creams or oils on the floor. Sawdust angels have been earned!
It looks SOOOOOO good!!
My friend Sherri (a contractor) gave me a *Tip: you should sand and stain your floors on the same day. The reason for this is that after sanding the pores of the wood are opened up and the stain will absorb more fully. If you can’t stain until the next day, give the floor a light sanding beforehand.
- I purchased a few small containers of stain to test out on the bare wood to see if I could find a finish I liked:
These are Minwax or Varathane stains and you can find them at your local home improvement store. From top: Spanish Oak, Weathered Oak, Sun Bleached, Ipswich Pine, Aged Wood Accelerator, Special Walnut, Dark Walnut, Espresso. I wanted an “aged look” and a lighter floor than the cherry I had before. I was leaning to Weathered Oak, which seemed to coordinate with my tile flooring, but on application (photo 4, bottom left) it was just too transparent. I wanted something a little “milkier”.
I hit up my AMAZING friend Leisa, over at Benjamin Moore/Clancy’s Rainbow, gave her a photo of what I liked and she mixed up a PERFECT semi-transparent custom stain for me (if you message Clancy’s Rainbow on IG for the formula, ask for “Shelly’s Dining Room“).
13. Another risk in refinishing hardwood floors yourself comes in the application of stain. You don’t want to leave a dry edge, meaning you need to apply the stain quickly and evenly because if it dries too quickly, you’ll see overlap marks. Not super-easy in a large room, unless you go in rows. I applied my stain in sections of 4 rows at a time keeping the edge along a seam. I applied four rows fairly quickly with a paintbrush, then wiped off the excess with a clean, dry cloth within about 5 minutes or so. You can see how it went on really dark (which scared me), but after wiping off the excess it lightened considerably. It will lighten further as it dries.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but just in case there are Tide Pod eaters out there; stain your way OUT of the room. Don’t trap yourself in a corner.
This is a bit shocking, but the difference the time of day makes is HUGE! This is the same hardwood floor that I stained the day prior, but with the morning sun pouring in. I kept the white balance at the baseboards so you could see the dramatic fluctuations in this stain.
Below is the same stain, nothing done to it, except the sun was not shining directly into the room. (still using the baseboards for the white balance)
- Time for your top coat, and by that I mean the first of 5 layers of clear sealer. 🤦🏻♀️ I went with a latex product called “Stays Clear” in low lustre by Benjamin Moore. The advantages of it are that the finish won’t yellow over time, which does happen with oil-based finishes, and it’s easy to clean up with warm water. The disadvantage of it is that it requires 4-5 coats to get the same durability as an oil finish. Worth it in my opinion.
I vacuumed and dusted the stained floor to remove any sawdust residue and then painted the first coat of Stays Clear starting at the edges with a paintbrush, and then filling in row by row with a roller on a stick.
Using a roller will leave a bit of stipple, particularly because Stays Clear dries so quickly, so if you want a more glassy finish, speak to a professional for suggestions.
- You’ve done a LOT of work at this point and it’s tempting to cheat while refinishing hardwood floors yourself – but don’t. This floor is going to last years and years and you are so close to the finish line – just a bit more gruelling labour and you’ll be done. (I’m kidding about it being gruelling, it’s just more sanding work.) After the 1st and 3rd application of clear coat you’ll need to sand your floor with a 320 grit sandpaper. After the first coat of clear you’ll feel the floor and find that the grain of the wood has raised. Part of this is the moisture from the stain, part from the clear coat, but you’ll want to smooth it out as best you can. After the first coat I hand-sanded using a sheet of 320 grit sandpaper and a foam sanding block because I didn’t want to remove too much finish and break through to the stain.
After the 3rd coat, and sufficient dry time, I felt confident in using my random orbit sander to lightly go over the entire floor. You can see in the white dust how the roller gives a slight stippling effect to the finish – I knocked a fair bit off with the sanding.
- I used a barely-damp cloth to wipe up all of the white powder that sanded off and vacuumed in the seams to make sure I had removed as much as possible before applying the 4th coat. The floor was still really smooth so I didn’t bother sanding between the 4th and 5th coat of clear sealer.
I won’t lie to you – my floor has a couple of gouge marks left that are very faint, and a couple of burn marks where I went too heavy with the edge sander – but no one except me (and a professional floor refinisher) will notice and I am SO PROUD of myself! (and grateful to Chris for all his help)
I sanded the old quarter round down, re-installed it with a brad nailer, caulked the seams and then cleaned the baseboards and quarter round up with 2 coats of “Simply White”.
Furniture can go back into the room after 72 hours – but furniture should be “placed” and not “dragged”. I can bring in an area rug in about 3 weeks once everything has cured completely.
Is refinishing hardwood floors yourself worth it?
(Keep in mind I had extra rental fees because we rented the drum sander after the fact and had the floor sander for an extra day)
- Floor sander = $122 ($69/day + $53 for an extra 4 hours)
- Floor edger = $45 (4 hour fee)
- Drum sander = $53 (4 hour fee)
- Sandpaper for the rental tools: $132.40
- 1 gallon custom stain = $125
- 1 gallon Stays Clear low lustre = $102
- 10mm microfibre roller = $7
Total: $586.40 CDN. (not including taxes)
Approximately $470 US or €394 Euro
In my case I saved 72% ($1,513) over having a professional refinish my dining room floor. Not too shabby for a 4 day project!!
And it is STUNNING with the wainscoting I installed last week.