Like many old houses, mine was born with fine oak hardwood floors that were later covered up with carpet. I learned there are several ways to uncover and refinish them, but that you’ll likely only hear about one option from the hardwood floor people who offer refinishing services.
That option is sanding them down completely to bare wood, then restaining and coating. I’m figuring this is because it’s how the refinishers make the most money. I got three quotes from $1,200-2,400 to do this for a 300 square foot room.
For my floor I felt like this was going overboard. Not only would it cost a lot and create a huge dusty mess, it would remove all the patina and character it took my floor 50 years to get. I liked the color, and apart from the tackstrip and some glue, the floor didn’t appear to be in terrible shape. When the refinishing contractors wouldn’t agree to work with me on a less drastic solution I called around to some floor maintenance people and found a guy who quoted me $350 to clean the floor and apply a protective “resin” finish with a buffing machine, provided I remove the carpet and tackstrips first.
The carpet was easy to remove and haul out in rolled-up strips. If you decide to do this, cut your strips small enough width-wise to fit in your vehicle.
We used a crowbar to (gently!) remove the tackstrip. Don’t underestimate how long this will take you. It took us the better part of a day. We also had to fill the tackstrip holes. I tried several different approaches here. Ultimately what worked best for me was using Elmer’s stainable wood filler which doesn’t have a color. I then went over each filled hole with a Minwax stain pen, using either the “Red Oak” or “Golden Oak” color, depending on the shade of wood where that particular hole was. Anal? Yes, but also effective.
Carpet now gone, that left some fine dirt, glue, and sticky bits of carpet padding. I wiped it down with a rag that was just a tiny bit damp, and then carefully used a scraper to get up the glue. Only some of it came up, but I figured the floor guy would fix that.
My assumption proved true but not without some pain. He started the job by using a product called MB1 from Stone Care to mop the floor. After that nearly all of the floor looked cleaner and better except for the glue, which stood out even more now and didn’t want to come up. After trying a bunch of different ways to clean off the glue, we determined that scraping was the way to go. Done gently, it didn’t remove the old finish coat.
After scraping, Ken used an abrasive buffing pad to clean the floor again, using the big heavy rotary buffing machine.
After that he removed the cleaner residue with a slightly damp mop.
Next, he applied two coats of a product called “Light N Natural” by Bruce floor products. He said it was resin, but looking this up now online it appears to be wax-based. He applied it with a rag that he laid over the sponge mop. Odd.
Finally came another round of buffing with the big rotary machine, this time with a smooth cotton-like pad. By the time he left the floors were OK to walk on, and that evening they were OK to move furniture back onto them. We are pretty pleased with the end result, and as soon as I find the motivation, I’m going to move on to the hallway and the den, and I plan to do the cleanup myself this time.
My main advice to anyone redoing their floor is to keep an open mind about all the options. Also, knowing what sort of finish coat is on the floor will help you get a good end result. I was able to clean mine up pretty easily given that the floor didn’t already have a polyurethane coating on it. From what I’m told, nothing will stick to old poly.
- Great “This Old House” piece on restoring wood floors, with information about screening.
- April 8 NYT essay on the beauty of banged-up wood floors.
- Another NYT story from 2000 with wise advice about refinishing wood floors.