Fabulous Hardwood Floor Finishes

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Hardwood floors are tough and beautiful component of any home. However, with all the abuse that floors take, it’s not hard to understand why they’ll occasionally need to be refinished.
Refinishing a floor is a job that you can do yourself. The materials are readily available, the tools are inexpensive or can be easily rented and the results are always worth the effort. If you are thinking about giving your floor a new

Hardwood floors are tough and beautiful component of any home. However, with all the abuse that floors take, it’s not hard to understand why they’ll occasionally need to be refinished.

Refinishing a floor is a job that you can do yourself. The materials are readily available, the tools are inexpensive or can be easily rented and the results are always worth the effort. If you are thinking about giving your floor a new life, here’s where to begin.

Surface Prep

After removing all the furniture, throw rugs and anything else that’s been covering your floor, it’s time to give it an honest assessment. You need to ask yourself just how bad is it? Has the finish completely worn off? Are you seeing raw wood? Are there serious stains that need to be sanded out? The answer to these questions will determine your next step.

If the finish is just dull and there aren’t deep gouges or any other kind of serious flaws in the floors, the simplest way to prep the surface for a fresh new coat is to rent a floor buffer with a sanding screen. The screens gently rotate to take off only the top layer of finish and won’t damage the surface underneath.

If the floor is badly damaged, you’ll need to rent a floor sander. Typically, there are two types of floor sanders available. A floor belt sander is the tool most pros use. These tools are big, heavy, hard to maneuver and if you sneeze when you are using one, can damage your floor for life. We don’t recommend renting a belt sander for your floors. If they are that bad, hire a pro to do the sanding. Nothing short of using one of these behemoths every day is going to give you the experience to use one without making the floor look worse than when you started.

A better option for the DIY’r is a machine known as a U-Sand. U-sand is a four-disk random orbital sander that does a fabulous job sanding the floor and is goof-proof regardless of the skill level of the user. It also does a good job of sucking up the dust it creates making for a much neater job and smoother finish.

Even with these tools, you will most likely still need to do some sanding by hand in the areas tough to get to. You can also rent a disk sander that is designed to get into the edges of the floor, but keep in mind that these machines typically leave swirl marks that may need to be hand sanded out none the less.

Once your floor is buffed or sanded, it’s very important that you remove all remaining dust. Dust that is left behind will mix with the new finish making it rough. Vacuum the floor and or use a tack cloth to remove as much dust as possible.

This is also good time to check for gouges in the floor that might need to be repaired. If you find any, repair them now before the finish is applied.

Choosing a Floor Finish

Polyurethane is the finish of choice for floors. The finish is available in both latex and oil based versions. In our experience, the latex finish works well for cabinets, trim and furniture but just doesn’t have the abrasion resistance to do a good job on the floors. For those, oil finish is still delivers the best long term result.

The best way to apply oil-based polyurethane is to “mop” it on with a synthetic “lamb’s wool” applicator. This useful tool, available at any home center, looks like a sponge mop and lays down a silky smooth finish in a fraction of the time it would take to do it using a brush. For best results, use several thin coats and try to avoid heavy traffic on the floor for a few days after the finish is applied so that it can fully harden.

One note of caution; be mindful that drying time listed by the manufacturer can be “optimistic.” The actual time it will take your floor to dry, when impacted by humidity and temperature, can be much longer. Even after your floor is dry to the touch, it’s best to give it a day or two to get really hard before putting the furniture back on it and subjecting it to the wear and tear of daily life.

Painting Perfect Floors

Another great option for refinishing those beautiful floors is to paint them. This is an inexpensive trick to turn a not so beautiful floor into something unique. With paint, your options are truly endless and your only limits are your imagination. The best part about this project is that if you ever decide to go back to your original wood flooring you can.

Leslie Segrete, co-host of my radio program The Money Pit and a designer on TLC’s Trading Spaces, says floors can be turned from drab to fab by either stenciling a decorative pattern, faux painting a textured finish or even painting on a checkerboard pattern for cool graphic look. “The first thing you need to do is decide what type of design you want. If painting the entire floor seems a bit too adventurous for you, you can take this idea and create a painted area rug and even go as far as painting a decorative trim or fringe on the edge of your “rug”. Take a look around your room, is there a fabric in there you just love, or does your wall covering have a great pattern or even a small floral detail you can adapt into your painted rug. Your sources of inspiration are already around you,” she said.

Segrete says your rug can contain a center image with a solid background and a decorative border or be as detailed as that Turkish rug you saw in your favorite magazine. “Checkerboard patterns look great on the floor and definitely do not have to be your standard black and white, why not chocolate brown and robin’s egg blue. How about painting your child’s favorite nursery rhyme on the floor of the playroom? Or even quotes and sayings that just brighten your day as the border on your new painted floor.”

For best results be sure to prep your flooring. If you have bare wood you need to sand and prime it. If you have a varnished floor the area you wish to paint will need to be sanded to remove the gloss then primed and painted. Be sure to allow every layer of your painted floor to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step. Once all of your work is dry apply water based polyurethane, available in many finishes from matte to gloss, to provide a protective layer to allow you to enjoy your hard work for years to come.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s website at www.moneypit.com.

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