Essential tips for sanding wooden floors

Sanding your wooden floors is the best way to bring out their natural beauty. All you need is some elbow grease, rented sanding equipment and patience. Here are some essential tips.

  • Wear safety glasses, a dust mask and ear plugs when operating sanders.
  • New floorboards should be sanded at 45° with 40-grit sandpaper. This will level out rough bumps and ridges.
  • To avoid damaging an old floor, check the depth of the boards before you begin sanding. Pull up a threshold from a doorway to reveal the edges of the existing boards and see how much timber remains above the tongue of the hardwood strip. If it's less than 3 millimetres (1/8 inch), sanding will cause cracks.
  • If you're removing old finish, you'll need a coarse grade of sandpaper: a 40-grit sandpaper is standard. Start with a belt sander. Get as close as possible to the edges of the room, then finish off with an edge sander. Don't be surprised if you have to repeat the process several times.
  • You'll need an 80-grit sanding belt to sand back the surface of a newly-laid timber floor, or an existing floor that's already been sanded to remove the old top surface. Get as close as possible to the edges of the room, then use an edge sander to finish. Finally, swap over to an even finer 100-grit sanding belt and repeat the process.
  • Go over the floor using a buffer with a 100-grit sanding screen. For areas that the buffer can't reach, sand by hand using a hand-held orbital sander with 100-grit paper. Scrape away any finish the sander misses with a carbide scraper.
  • Carpet tacks, staples and projecting floorboard nails will shred the expensive abrasive sheets a floor sander uses. Before you start sanding, inspect the floorboards carefully. Pull out any tacks you find, and punch nail heads well below the surface of the boards.
  • Sanding floorboards creates a great deal of fine dust, despite the collection bag on your sander. To minimize dust damage, and to make clean-up easier, take down curtains and remove lampshades, pictures and other fixtures in the room where you'll be working before you start. Tape plastic sheeting over heating and air-conditioning vents to keep the dust out of them. Plastic sheets pinned over door frames will help to keep the rest of the house dust-free.
  • Before the final stage of machine sanding, top up all the old nail holes with a suitably coloured wood filler. Wait for the filler to dry and then carry on sanding the boards.
  • Don't let a belt sander come to a halt while resting on the surface of your floor; if you do, it's likely to gouge the boards. Instead, tilt the belt sander at the beginning and end of each line of sanding, gently lowering it as you push it across the floor. It's a good idea to practice the technique using a very fine grade of sandpaper before you start with coarser sandpaper.
  • During each sanding and buffing stage, carry a pencil in your back pocket and circle around the areas that need more concentrated work. Deal with them before the next full round of sanding.
  • Empty the dust bag on your sander frequently. If the dust you're collecting gets hot, it can spontaneously catch fire.
  • Once the dust caused by sanding has settled, and immediately before varnishing the floor, clean the entire room with a vacuum cleaner. Then get rid of any remaining dust by wiping the floor with a lint-free cloth dipped in mineral spirits.

Follow these essential tips and you'll be better able to bring out your floor's natural beauty through sanding.

Essential tips for sanding wooden floors
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