Q: I live in San Francisco in a house that was built in 1962. There are hardwood floors covered by wall-to-wall carpeting throughout. I pulled up the carpet in the hallway to expose the floor. I am planning to install a laminate floating floor in the kitchen that I will try to match to the hardwood floor in the hallway.

My question is about refinishing the floor. It is a small hall, about 4 feet by 10 feet. I would like to do it myself. The floor looks very good except for the perimeter, where the carpet tack strips were.

Do you think a light sanding will do the job? Can I apply polyurethane or what would you suggest?

A: This is absolutely something you can do yourself. With a little elbow grease and some wear-and-tear on your knees, you can have a beautiful new floor in your hallway.

Sanding 40 square feet of floor can be done by hand, but you can make it easier on yourself by buying a small orbital sander for the job. The finish can be applied with a paint pad. Everything you need is available at the local hardware store.

Hardwood floors were common in the 1960s. Our first home in San Leandro, Calif., had hardwood floors throughout. Back then, wall-to-wall carpet was an upgrade. Times do change.

The finish on your floor could be polyurethane or it could be varnish with a wax coating. To remove any wax buildup, go over the floor with a commercial wax stripper. Then wipe the floor with lacquer thinner or acetone. This ensures a clean surface.

Refinishing is no problem. Fill the nail holes left from the tack strip with wood filler. Match the color as closely as you can to the surrounding wood. Then give the floor a light sanding with No. 220 grit paper by hand or with a sander. We’d opt for the sander rather than doing it by hand. Besides being easier on the body, you’ll get a more thorough job and electric sanders are relatively cheap. Orbital sanders are available for between $50 and $100. Also, as you do more home improvement work, you’ll find plenty of uses for this handy tool.

Once the sanding is complete, wipe the floor with a damp cloth to remove most of the sanding dust. You could vacuum, but we’ve found that the damp cloth works best to get up most of the dust. After the floor is dry, and this should take only a matter of minutes, wipe the floor with a tack rag. A tack rag is a piece of cloth, usually cheesecloth, which is impregnated with resin.

To finish the floor, apply three coats of polyurethane with a paint pad. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly before lightly sanding with No. 220 grit paper. Then apply the next coat. Make sure to wipe the floor with a tack rag before applying each coat.

We suggest that you complete your refinishing project before you buy your new kitchen floor. This will give you the best chance at matching the existing floor.

One last tip: a pair of kneepads would be an excellent investment.


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