Refinishing Wood Floors

Refinishing a wood floor is a job l\ that takes care and patience. You’ll need to rent a random-orbital sander or upright drum sander and a disc-type edge sander. Ask the rental dealer to demonstrate the machines. A sander that uses 220 volts will work much better than a standard 120-volt machine; be sure you plug it into the correct receptacle. Sanding a floor with a drum sander requires concentration and smooth movements. If you allow the sander to dig into the floor, it will create an unsightly dip. For floors without heavy finish buildup or deep scratches, an upright random-orbital sander (also called a jitterbug sander) is a better choice. It doesn’t work as fast as a drum sander but is less likely to damage the floor.

If only the finish is damaged and you do not need to remove deep scratches, consider “screening” rather than sanding. Rent a janitor’s buffing machine, and buy circular screens to fit. If a home center does not have this equipment, check with a flooring supply store. Do this work on a day when you can open doors and windows to let out the dust. Wear a respirator to contend with fine dust, and seal off adjoining rooms with dampened sheets.

1. Remove the base shoe. After you have removed the furnishings, pry off the baseboard shoe molding—the piece at the very bottom. If there is no shoe, remove the baseboard itself. If the pieces are in good shape, number them on the back so you can reinstall them. Otherwise plan to install new molding.

2. Set popped nails. Any protruding metal will quickly rip up a sanding disc or belt. Use a nail set to drive any popped nails below the surface.

Drum-sanding techniques. Different situations call for different sanding techniques. For most floors use three sandpaper grits—sanding with the grain. It may take several passes with each grit. Getting nowhere sanding with the grain? Try one diagonal pass, but never sand directly across the grain. Finish up by sanding with the grain. Badly cupped or warped old floors may require four cuts—two diagonal passes and two with the grain. Be sure to always overlap each pass.

3. Sand the main floor. Make the first cut with coarse-grit sandpaper. Use coarse grit until you reach bare wood and most of the scratches have disappeared. With a jitterbug sander (as shown above) you don’t have to follow the grain of the wood. Use medium- and fine-grit sandpaper for the next two cuts. At each stage expect to use several sheets of sandpaper on each of the four oscillating heads.

4. Sand the edges of the floor. Use an edge sander for hard-to-reach areas. Work slowly, and finish with a very fine sandpaper so the circular lines will not be visible. In corners that the sander cannot reach, use a sharp paint scraper or chisel, always working with the grain.

5. Remove dust with a tack cloth, After each sanding pass, vacuum the floor thoroughly. Use a tack cloth after the last vacuuming to pick up the remaining dust.

6. Apply a filler. Fill in any holes and gaps between the boards using paste wood filler. Apply it first with a putty knife. Always work with the grain. When the filler begins to set, wipe across the grain with an old rag to remove excess. Let the filler dry overnight.

7. Finish with polyurethane. Apply two to four coats of polyurethane finish with a brush or a wax applicator, sanding with fine sandpaper between coats. Use a tack cloth to pick up all the dust between coats. Do not apply wax over a polyurethane finish.

Patching Resilient Tile

Caution! Asbestos Tile - Some older tiles contain asbestos, which is toxic if inhaled. If you are not sure, call in a pro for evaluation. If you must remove asbestos tile yourself, wear a respirator-type dust mask. Keep the area damp while you pry the tile out so fibers cannot fly through the air. Better yet, hire an experienced pro.

1. Soften the tile with an iron. Lay a towel on top and soften the tile with a medium-hot iron. Take care that the iron doesn’t overlap onto adjacent tiles.

2. Pry out the tile. While the tile is still hot, slip a putty knife under a corner and pry up. Make sure not to pry against the surrounding tiles.

3. Scrape away the adhesive. Use a putty knife or a paint scraper to remove all of the adhesive. If it does not come up, try heating the area again. You may need to sand away the last remnants of adhesive. Take particular care to remove adhesive from the perimeter of the patch.

4. Test the fit of the new tile. Be sure the new tile will fit and lie flat. If the tile is slightly large and you have to force it in, use a sanding block or plane to shave one or two sides until it fits properly.

5. Cut the tile to fit. If the new tile is too large, use a utility knife and a straightedge to cut it. Slice with several passes, then bend the scrap back to break it off. Smooth any rough edges with sandpaper wrapped around a scrap of wood.

6. Spread adhesive. Apply adhesive with an applicator (as shown above), a notched trowel, or a brush (check the manufacturer’s instructions). With some types, you must wait until the adhesive has dried to a tacky feel before setting the tile. With other types, the tile should be set while the adhesive is wet.

7. Soften the tile with an iron. Use the iron to soften the new tile. Protect the tile’s surface with a cloth.

8. Weight the tile. Set—do not slide—the new tile into position. Wipe away any squeezed-out adhesive using a cloth dampened with water or mineral spirits, depending on the type of adhesive. Weight the tile down for 24 hours before walking on it.

Solving Other Tile Problems - There are two basic types of resilient tile—commercial tile, which has flecks of color that run through the tile, and surface-printed tile, which has an embossed pattern.

■ Tears: Cheaper varieties of surface-printed tiles are easily torn. If this is a recurring problem, remove all the tiles and install tiles of a higher quality.

■ Lifts: Surface-printed tiles are often made to be self-sticking, but the self-sticking adhesive is not very strong. When installing a replacement tile, use tile mastic to enhance sticking power.

■ Scratches: Scratched commercial tile will often heal itself in time. If you fill a scratch with wax or acrylic finish, the damage will disappear eventually.

■ Burns: Scouring—plus some careful scraping with a sharp knife—also will remove shallow burns.

■ Stains: You can often remove stains by rubbing them with a mild detergent solution. If that doesn’t work, try a white appliance wax. As a last resort, scour stains with very fine steel wool and a household cleanser.

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