Q: In a previous column, you suggested that a homeowner use an orbital hand sander to refinish his floors. Wouldn’t using an orbital go against the grain of the wood and adversely affect the look of the finished floor? I have a similar small floor project to do and I want to be certain to use the correct sander.
A: If you use the proper procedure and the right sandpaper, your floor will turn out as smooth and shiny as glass.
Refinishing a small area of floor yields the same result as doing a large one, but the tools are different and the labor is lighter.
On large jobs, three tools are used to prepare the old hardwood floor for a new finish. A large drum sander cuts a wide swath on each path it takes down the field of the floor. An orbital edging sander is used to sand the sides of the floor close to the walls where the drum sander cannot reach. Finally, a sharp paint scraper is used to remove the old finish from inside corners where neither the drum sander nor the orbital sander can reach.
Increasingly fine grades of sandpaper are used to achieve a smooth surface suitable for refinishing.
The drum sander and the orbital edger are available at local rental centers. But these tools are unwieldy. They can easily get away from you. It doesn’t take much to gouge an unsightly chunk out of a floor.
The job is also very dusty, so clear the room of whatever you can and be prepared for some major cleaning when the job is done.
We have done this work ourselves with mediocre to acceptable results. We’ve also paid a pro to do the work. Our advice: For a big job, hire a pro.
But a small job like yours is another matter.
Hand sanders work just fine. Using one will take a little longer, but there will be less dust and you won’t gouge the floor.
If you buy only one sander for the job, a handheld orbital is the way to go. If you happen to have a 3- or 4-inch belt sander, use that for the field — it will make things go a lot quicker. But you’ll still need an orbital sander to get at the edges.
Don’t be concerned about sanding marks. If you go slow and use increasingly finer-grit sandpaper, you will come out with a mark-free job.
There are two levels of floor refinishing — stripping the finish or preparing the existing finish for a recoat. If you want to recoat, use the orbital sander only, even if you own a belt sander. The job will go quickly. Use No. 220 sander paper to scuff the finish and give it “tooth.” This ensures that the new coat of finish will adhere.
To remove the old finish down to the bare wood, start sanding with No. 60 grit and go to No. 100, then to No. 150 and finally to No. 220 grit. Use the belt sander in the field if you have it. It’ll make the job go quicker.
One final suggestion: Invest in a good pair of kneepads.