Spacious and bright living room with beautiful hardwood floors.

How To Refinish Hardwood Floors

Originally contributed by • last updated 5/28/2021

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Francesca Tosolini
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1-2 daysPrep Time
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Hardwood floor refinishing may be a more ambitious project. But with the right knowledge, it can be such a rewarding experience.

The cost to refinish hardwood floors is undoubtedly much less than what it costs to rip up the whole thing and install new flooring. It’s even cheaper if you do the hardwood floor refinishing yourself.

Learn how to refinishing hardwood floors like a professional.

That way, you can completely transform your home without having to blow your budget on a costly restoration project.

If a new floor would cost $10,000, you can refinish the old floors for less than $1,000. And that includes all equipment rental, too. 

Why install new when you can make the old look better than new for less!

Let's Make It

Equipment

  • Large drum sander with dust bag
  • Orbital floor sander (preferably with vacuum attachment)
  • Floor buffer (preferably with vacuum attachment)
  • Rectangular finishing trowel
  • Lint-free cloth/spong/roller/lambswool applicator for stain
  • Vacuum
  • Edge applicator for sealant/finish
  • Foam applicator for sealant/finish

Materials

  • 40 & 80 grit sandpaper for drum and orbital sanders
  • 120 grit sandpaper pad for floor buffer
  • Wood floor filler
  • Wood floor stain
  • Hardwood floor sealer
  • Hardwood floor finish

How To Refinish Hardwood Floors

Baseboards must be removed before hardwood floor repair. Remove the baseboard first, then proceed with the following steps for a DIY wood floor restoration/refinishing.

01/11

How To Sand Hardwood Floors (Drum Sander)

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Sanding hardwood floors is the first step in the restoration process.

Part of the cost to refinish hardwood floors is renting heavy-duty equipment, and this includes a drum sander.

To start, use 40 grit sandpaper on the drum sander and run it parallel to the existing boards.

Move slowly forwards and backwards, not working over the same sport too much. The goal is to strip the flooring of its finish (sealant and stain) to the point where it looks like raw lumber. The stripped floors will have a lighter appearance.

Don’t run the sander too close to the walls to minimize damage. The edges will be sanded with a different tool.

With each pass, move the drum sander over about six inches until sanding the entire wood floor is complete.

Try to make the floors look as uniform as possible.

02/11

How To Sand Hardwood Floors (Orbital Edge Sander)

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Once finished sanding the bulk of the hardwood floors with the drum sander, switch over to using an orbital sander for edge refinishing.

With 40 grit sandpaper on the orbital sander, work your way around the perimeter of the room.

Slowly move the sander back and forth in the direction of the wood. Blend the edges of the room with where the drum sander has striped the wood down to the original floor until they both look the same.

Once the perimeter is sanded and the entire floor is stripped and looks uniform, you’re ready to move on to the next step in your DIY hardwood floor refinishing project.

Tip: Most rental companies offering drum and orbital sanders have a variety of sandpaper available that’s custom-fit to these machines.

03/11

Apply Wood Filler

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A quintessential step in hardwood floor repair is the application of wood filler. Don’t skip this step, as it not only makes the floors look better but protects them, as well.

Purchase an appropriate wood filler for the type of hardwood floors you are refinishing. Try to color-match the wood filler to the existing, unfinished, stripped wood. 

For example, if you have white oak wood floors, get white oak wood filler. 

Wood filler is a viscous material and will spread on the floors similar to how you put butter on toast.

Using a flat, rectangular trowel, spread the wood filler onto the entirety of the hardwood floor.

Trowel the wood filler onto the wood floors perpendicular to the boards.

When troweling, apply firm pressure to the trowel and work a glob of wood filler back and forth in a wavy pattern, similar to how you’d mop a room.

Move a glob of wood filler with you in this wavy, back and forth pattern, and work your way out of the room. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner!

Wood filler dries fairly quickly. While there is no need to rush the process, keep in mind that you can’t go back and re-trowel areas you’ve let sit for a while. Take your time.

The goal of wood filler is to get into all the joints, rough patches, cracks and knots in the wood. Doing so will protect the floors from water damage and establish a nice, even surface.

Wood filler is necessary for a hardwood floor restoration. If you’re already paying the cost to refinish hardwood floors with equipment rental, then you might as well do everything right and get your money’s worth.

Cover the floor entirely with wood filler. You want to fill all the joints, rough areas, crack, and knots, but try not to apply too much wood filler, as it will just mean more sanding later.

Having said that, if the floors do have excess in spots, and it doesn’t look perfect, that’s okay. The floors will be sanded again, removing these blemishes.

04/11

Resand With Drum Sander

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Once the wood filler has dried, it’s time to sand it off the surface of the flooring with the drum sander.

Use 80 grit sandpaper for the second sanding. This will keep the wood filler in any joints, cracks and knots, and get the floor closer to its final, smooth finish.

Sand the floor until you can once again see the wood that was covered with the wood filler. Pay special attention to areas with excess wood filler and remove it from the surface.

What you’ll be left with is a brand new-looking flat surface on which to continue the wood floor restoration.

Again, don’t use the drum sander too close to the walls to avoid damaging them.

05/11

Resand With Orbital Sander

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Work around the perimeter of the room with the orbital sander to remove the wood filler on the floor’s surface in these areas.

Use 80 grit sandpaper on the orbital sander during this second floor sanding.

Blend the edges with the rest of the floor, sanded with the drum sander, until they look the same.

Use the orbital sander also to get any other hard-to-reach areas. These include junctions, vent openings, ledges, things of that nature.

06/11

How To Stain Wood Floors

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It’s now time to start staining your hardwood floors. As the floors cover a large area, it’s imperative that you are happy with your choice of stain.

Tip: Test out several different stains to see which will work best for your DIY wood floor restoration project. Create a color palette on the actual surface to help you decide. Once you have selected a stain, simply sand the color pallet away.

You can also mix different stains to achieve the desired finish. If you mix your own, you can contact the product supplier and tell them your specific ratio proportion. They will then mix it for you in a large container to keep the stain consistent throughout.

Thoroughly vacuum the floor to remove any sawdust or residual material left on the surface from the sanding process. Hardwood floors need to be fully cleared of debris and as clean as possible before staining.

Once you have selected your stain and cleaned the flooring material, apply it to the floor following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Use a lint-free rag, stain sponge, roller, or lambswool applicator to apply the stain to the floor. 

Work in the same direction as the grain of the wood. This will be in the same direction as the flooring pieces. 

Cover the entire floor with stain and allow it to dry completely.

After waiting for the first coat to dry, we recommend applying a second coat for uniform coverage.

Following the second coat, you can apply more coats until you reach the desired finish.

Info: Remember that the more coats you apply, the darker the stained wood will become.

07/11

How To Apply Hardwood Floor Sealer

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After staining the hardwood floors and allowing them to dry completely, it’s time to apply the first coat of sealer.

Info: A sealant is not only necessary to protect wood floors, but it also adds richness to the wood and gives it a brilliant sheen. 

To apply the floor sealer, first, work your way around the perimeter of the room. 

The sealant around the edges is applied using an edge applicator. Spread the sealant out evenly across these areas.

With the edges done, use a large foam applicator to apply the sealant to the rest of the hardwood floor. 

Pour a pool of sealant on the floor and then use the applicator like a squeegee to spread it out evenly.

You want the pool of sealant to be in front of the applicator and leave a nice thick coating behind as you move it throughout the room.

Work in a wavy, serpentine pattern to cover the entire floor, working your way out of the room.

Tip: Follow the manufacture’s coverage guide to make sure you’re using the exact amount of sealant they recommend to avoid over-applying.

Do not walk on fresh sealant. Once the entire floor is covered with sealant, don’t go back into the room(s) for the day.

If you are working on other projects around the house during a renovation, stop for the day when applying sealant. Even if they don’t seem messy, other activities can kick up dust particles that can ruin the freshly applied, glossy finish. 

08/11

Sand Sealant With Buffer

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When sealant dries, it can easily capture airborne material on its top coat. It can also form tiny air bubbles, which will need to be removed.

The sealant also needs to be prepped before the final floor finish is applied.

Using a floor buffer (orbital polishing machine), lightly sand all areas that are coated with sealant with a 120 grit sanding disk.

Tip: If you don’t have a sanding disk for the floor buffer, you can tape pieces of 120 grit sandpaper to the buffer head.

Take the surface layer off the finish so that the next layer can be bonded to it while also removing and debris, imperfections, bubbles or blemishes. 

Tip: If you don’t have a floor buffer, you can use a smaller orbital sander. It will do the same job; it will just take a little longer.

The last sanding with the buffer during the DIY hardwood floor refinishing project will leave the floors with a hazy appearance.

09/11

Vacuum The Floor

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After sanding with the floor buffer, vacuum up all the fine white particles of sealant left on the floor from the previous step.

Spend time vacuuming as the floors need to be completely free of any debris before proceeding.

10/11

Apply Wood Floor Finish

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Wood floor finish is applied exactly how you applied the sealant.

Apply floor finish to the entirety of the floor using an edge and large foam applicator. 

Use the same technique of squeegeeing the sealant towards you as was utilized in the initial application to apply the finish.

Allow the finish to dry thoroughly.

Tip: Remember to work your way out of the room towards the exit!

11/11

Apply Final Coat Of Finish

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Apply a final coat of finish using the exact method as before and let it dry.

Info: Some sealers have built-in floor finishes in them. If not, after the final coat of sealant is dry, you can apply floor finish.

Floor finish is applied using the same technique that is used for sealant.

Once dry, reinstall your floor vents and enjoy your gorgeous new space!

The Cost To Refinish Hardwood Floors Is Undoubtedly Worth It!

The final result is stunning hardwood that looks like it’s right out of a magazine. You won’t even be able to tell it’s the same floor!

Next time you’re thinking about changing your flooring, remember that you now know how to clean old hardwood floors to make them look new. Probably even better than new.

Now go and use your knowledge of how to sand, fill, stain, and refinish wood and hardwood floors to transform your home into something spectacular!