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  1. #1
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    Default Polishing Floorboards - My Experience

    I recently bought a house and been doing many restoration jobs, big and small. I have relied on this web site a lot and the wealth of information it contains, and so I have decided to "give something back" and describe my experience in polishing my floorboards for those who have never done it before and are contemplating doing it. Hopefully someone out there will find it useful and informative.

    When we bought out house there was a combination of carpet, lino, tiles, and very scratched "polished" floorboards in the back rooms with an unknown finish. The carpet was in VERY bad condition, the lino quite ugly, the tiles straight from the 70's, and the exposed floorboards needed re-doing.

    With a limited slush fund for various big renovations, I decided to do many renovations myself. This included polishing the floorboards. I have never polished floorboard before, so I did a lot of research and reading before I started. Let me say from now that it paid off as I believe the floors I have ended up with are as good as anything I have seen, (even if I do say so myself). Attention to detail and A LOT of elbow grease also played a large part.

    I totally underestimated how long this job would take. I had about 90-100sqm of flooring to do. About 30% of that floor space consisted of ripping up carpet, 30% lino, 30% floorboards and 10% tiles. Ripping up the lino was VERY time consuming for reasons I will outline below. Overall it took me almost 3 entire weeks working solidly to finish my floors entirely. I think if I did it again with the experienced I gained, I think I could do it in 2 weeks. This is considering I did it all 100% myself.

    I should point out that in the end I did not save all that much money doing it myself. By the time I rented the equipment, bought the tools and various bits and pieces I needed (or more to the point, THOUGHT I needed), I probably didn't save that much money. However, I am satisfied the job was done very well, proud I did it myself, and lost 5kg in the process!

    Ripping up the carpet was easy. This can be completed within a day or two. If laid reasonably well, there will not be that many staples to remove and the tack strip comes off rather easily with a pry bar. The only problem we had was that after ripping up the carpet there were some very bad looking stains underneath. I fretted and fussed over these stains for a day or two. I wasted money on all kinds of bleaches, including various forms of oxalic acid that did virtually nothing to lift the stains. In the end, almost all of these stains managed to be sanded out, and those that remained are virtually unnoticeable once the rooms are furnished. So my advice would be that unless the wood is "stained" to the point where the wood is rotted, don't worry about it too much, they will probably sand out. If you are like me and think that you will not be able to live with a few dark spots in the finished floor, then I would say that in the end when the house is furnished, you probably will. If interested, I can email photos of the initial stains in the floor vs the finished result.

    Removing the lino was another story. Although the lino had protected the tassie oak floorboards from stains, the wooden board it was glued to was stapled to the floorboards using THOUSANDS of 2cm long staples that almost penetrated the entire thickness of the floorboards. It was a nightmare to get them all out. After initially failing to remove a handful of these staples, I went all around town looking for some special tool to remove them. I found nothing. In the end I bought an expensive hammer (made from good quality steel) and ground the "nail pulling" end down to a point and used this with a rubber mallet with reasonable success. (The method I used actually involved 3 tools. I would be happy to explain it further if someone else experiences this problem). In all, it took me the best part of 2 days to remove all the staples and another good part of a day to putty all the little holes left by the staples. (I hand-applied all floor putty as opposed to applying it like a slurry).

    Another job which took a long time was punching all the nails down 3-4mm deep. I decided quickly that I did not enjoy this job and so went looking to hire a "pneumatic nail punch". I found only one place in Melbourne, (in Heidelberg), which hired one, but unfortunately they did not have it there on the day, so I continued with a hammer and manual nail punch. Sitting on a floor punching in one nail at a time all day sends shudders up your spine and into your skull. I felt like my brain was floating in my skull by the end of the day. Not very nice. Use a heavy hammer and your arm gets tired quickly. Use a light hammer and the job takes too long. At the end of the day it is a time consuming job that just has to be done……and once again it takes a long time to putty up all the holes.

    By this stage I had spent about 1 week and not even started sanding yet. This was the next bit of fun.

    I found that most books/forums/websites that talk about sanding floorboards always emphasize how using the drum sander should be left to a professional because it is tricky to use and can quickly damage the floor. Yes, it can quickly damage the floor, as I found out only once when I did not lift the sander properly after stopping the machine, but other than that, it is quite easy and effective to use once you get the hang of it. After doing a small 3m x 3m room, I was quite acquainted with the operation of the drum sander. I had a drum sander with a good vacuum and hand-lever operated lifting mechanism. It was a piece of cake to use.

    The edge sander was different story. Not only did I find it difficult to use, but also back breaking due to the fact that you have to bend down and use it. I first hired an edge sander from a company in Bayswater, Melbourne. I struggled with it for half a day. It would constantly run away from me and gouge the floor. I though this was due to my inexperience, but by the end of the day I refused to believe I was so incompetent using this tool. To test this, I went down to Bunning's and hired an edge sander from there. The Bunning's edge sander was 100% better and I obtained a very good result immediately. I believe that it is very important to ensure you obtain an edge sander with adjustable rear wheel height. This is important to control the contact area with the floor. As you progress from coarse to fine grit, you will want to control this.

    At this stage my advice would be not to underestimate the cost of the sandpaper required to complete this job. I sanded the floor using 40, 60 and 120 grit paper using the drum and edge sander. The drum sander would consume one roll every 9 sqm. For 90 sqm, that is 10 rolls for each of the 3 grits at around $8 each. That's AUD $240 worth of paper for the drum sander alone. The edger also chewed through paper and cost about another $80. Therefore, take this cost into consideration as well as the cost of the equipment hire. All up, I spent about AUD $400 on sand paper.



    ....continued below...

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  3. #2
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    In a way I found that the edger had more potential to damage the floor than the drum sander. The drum sander, (if done properly), leaves a nice consistent finish. The edger can leave swirls that can be difficult to remove. Remember that the edger actually removes a lot of material in relation to it's size. Therefore, take care with the edger. Try to keep it under control and not leave swirls. Remember that the only way to remove swirls left by 36-40 grit paper is to use 60-80 grit paper afterwards. If you jump from 40 grit to 120 grit, the 120 grit will not take out the scratches left by the 40 grit. It is for this reason you must progress up the grit scales.

    After sanding with 120 grit paper I was still not entirely happy with the finish as I could detect some swirls in the floor. (I am quite fussy). I hired a large rotary buffer and used 120 grit paper. I'm not sure if it was me, the sander, or the paper, but I found this to be a waste of time and money. After buffing, I could still see some swirls left by the buffer! In the end, I went over the entire floor using a small orbital sander using 120 grit paper. This got all the existing swirls out of the floor. It was hard work and required a good eye for detail and some elbow grease, but I think this final step in preparation went a long way in achieving the very good finish I achieved.

    For all corners I bought one of those small "mouse" orbital sanders. I bought the Bosch PSM 160 sander for $100 at Bunnings and let me tell you it was worth its weight in gold. I used this EXTENSIVELY (and still do for other jobs) and it was the sander I used to go over the entire floor as described in the previous paragraph. I also used this, along with a chisel set, to do all corners. It takes a while to get the corners level and looking good, but the mouse sander does a good job.

    At this point I noticed a problem with a handful of boards splintering. I only detected it while walking around with socks. Attempting to remove a splintered section revealed that the splinter would go deep into the wood and quickly become a large chunk of wood, rather than a splinter. I mulled over this problem for a while and contemplated replacing these boards entirely. The last thing I wanted was splinters in my feet after polishing the boards. Being tongue and groove boards, I was slightly hesitant to replace them. In the end I sanded the areas down, watered down some putty (not too much water) and applied the watered down putty over the affected area. I also used a small quantity of polyurethane glue in some areas I was particularly concerned about . I waited for it to dry and then sanded it down again. I repeated this between the first 2 coats of finish, and I haven't had a problem at all with splinters or the wood lifting.

    I decided to use the Wattyl 7008 2-pack polyurethane finish. In retrospect, I regret using this product for one reason only - Once the job is completed, it cannot be recoated. As already mentioned the floor looks great, the 7008 adhered very well and is a tough durable finish. But when the time comes to redo the floor because of wear and scratches, the 7008 has to be totally removed. I.e. We will need to sand down to bare timber again. There are other single pack products that can be lightly sanded and recoated. Not the 7008. This annoys me, because if the floor has a few annoying scratches, I can't simply re-coat.

    Another thing about the 7008 is that it is painful to use and, once opened, part B has a very short shelf life. I bought 2x 20 litre drums of part A and B (40 litres in total) and one tin of reducer. All up it cost $650 from Bunnings. The reducer is the only thing that gets the 7008 off and is required for clean up. Mixing the stuff is mildly annoying, but cleaning up is downright painful. I also found that once you get the 7008 on your sink, taps, floor, walls, or paint brushes, it is very difficult to remove. After a few days, it is impossible. I had to throw away all paint brushes I used for the job, even after I thought I cleaned them well. Besides all of this, I wouldn't hesitate to use the 7008 again, if it wasn't for the fact that it cannot be recoated. Next time around I would probably investigate some other single pack products that can be recoated, and that can be shelved after opening.

    To apply the finish I used a lambs wool applicator. I split the finishing job into 2 sections of the house which I completed consecutively, as it takes a little while to apply the finish and the 7008 has strict re-coating time frames. I learnt after a while that the best way to apply the finish is to pour it on the floor and then smooth it out using the lambs wool applicator at the end of the broom-length pole. Make sure to maintain a wet edge at all times. My floor required strategic planning to ensure I maintained a wet edge. For example, if you must stop coating a hallway to complete an adjacent room, then stop in the hallway a few feet before the room door. While completing the room, go back into the hallway periodically and do an extra foot at a time in order to maintain a wet edge. This is what I did and it worked out well. I cannot see any "dry lines" in the hallway.

    Also do not underestimate how much work applying the finish is. Using the 7008 involves mixing, applying, and a painful cleanup of all equipment. It also involved applying 4 coats, instead of the "standard" 3. Another thing is that between coats, light sanding is recommended/required. I used 180 grit paper and the Bosch mouse orbital sander. If doing a large floor area, this can take time. After sanding you need to vacuum the area thoroughly and then go over it by hand using tack cloth. Even after careful vacuuming, the tack cloth picks up a significant amount of dust, and so this step should not be missed. Tack cloth is recommended as it has minimal chance of causing adhering problems with the finish due to contamination. At this stage of the job, the LAST thing you want is for a coat to peel or flake off!

    I would also recommend using a shop-vac rather than a regular vacuum cleaner. After all was done, I ended up with 9 large garbage bags of saw-dust. With the sheer quantity of saw dust this job involves, I think a regular vacuum cleaner would quickly die. A shop vac costs around $100 from Bunnings.

    3 solid weeks later, (3 weeks of my "holidays"), I completed my floors and was very impressed with the result. So are others who have seen them. In retrospect it probably would have been much more cost effective to get it done "professionally" but I am hoping that my attention to detail compensated. I also feel like I earned a DIY "stripe"… if not a medal!

    Although this post is very long, I feel like I have skimmed over a lot of detail. I would be more than happy to share more information if you want to email or PM me. I will finish saying that even if you have never done it before, you CAN polish your own boards, but you must do your research, not take short-cuts, and pay attention to detail.

    However, do not underestimate the amount of work it takes. I believe that paying someone around $22-$30 per sqm to do your floorboards is actually quite a bargain in comparison to doing it yourself….unless you really want to.

    Cheers.

  4. #3
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    Top effort.

    I only detected one mistake, as I speed read your post. It's back breaking (the edge sanding)

    All you need to do now, is get the entire process down to within a week, get your materials cost (not including the 2 pac) to below $50, learn to handle-with diplomacy- home owners, builders,designers and I believe you will have your self a small floor sanding & polishing business.

    However, you will need to get your head 'round the punching of the nails.

    You can post photo's here, on this BB. No need to email them.

  5. #4
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    Great post Gooner.
    The only bit that really scared me as I gear towards laying and sanding about 80m2 of boards, is the sanding of the whole area using a "mouse" sander.

    Cheers.....obee.

  6. #5
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    Thanks dusty for pointing out my typo

    Once again, I think the hardest thing about doing it yourself the first time is that it is a learning experience as you go. I wasted money and time because of my lack of experience. I had some hired equipment laying around for a day or two idle while I figured out the best way of handling an intermediate step. I also spent around $150 on wood bleaches that simply did nothing to lift stains.

    Obee, by no means do I suggest doing 80-100sqm of floor with a mouse sander. I did it this way because it was what I had available to me at the time and didn't want to go and spend the cash on a bigger orbital sander. In retrospect, I should have. A bigger orbital always comes in handy. If I was to do it again, I would definitely sand the entire floor again with a hand orbital sander before finishing.

  7. #6
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    ..one more thing... Polishing the floors yourself has one large downside. After 3 long hard weeks of work I now find myself absolutely paranoid about my floors. I am constantly looking at the floor at different angles looking for new scratches or imperfections. When I find one, my heart sinks. When someone comes into the house I make sure to ask them to check if they have stones embedded in their shoes. If I am watching TV, my attention is often diverted to the floor to conduct a quick “scratch scan”. I am hoping that one day I will lay off the paranoia!

  8. #7
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    Gooner. Yeah I've got a Bosch PEX 400 AE sander and will use that if I need it. I will however buy a small mouse sander for all the other fiddly bits that will more than likely need a spruce up. How are they, price wise for new pads?

    And I know what you mean about the paranoia thing.
    I spent a lot of time and money last January doung a complete kitchen makeover and it has taken this long for me to stop looking for problems.
    I think that's probably a good trait - as long as you can eventually let go !!

  9. #8
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    Terrific post, Gooner

    Could you elaborate on the method & the modified hammer (pics?) you used for pulling the lino staples, and any other tips & tricks you can think of. Threads like these are invaluable for others looking to follow in your footsteps & tackle their own floor.

    I also think you should post up pics of the finished job for us all to ooh & aah over.

    More info for the thread - these are available locally & could be the go for a lot of nail pulling.


    Cheers................Sean


    The beatings will continue until morale improves.

  10. #9
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    An excellent post...thank you.
    Chris
    ========================================

    Life isn't always fair

    ....................but it's better than the alternative.

  11. #10
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    ......small mouse sander for all the other fiddly bits that will more than likely need a spruce up. How are they, price wise for new pads?
    A pack of 10 pads cost around $8.

  12. #11
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    Had most of a small house done professionally this time last year, about 9-10 squares total. Cost was $1600 with bare floors laid in the late 50's then carpeted over. Sanded and punched/filled on friday, first coat Monday, second coat Tuesday, back finishing interior on Thursday. Found about 4 raised dust spots and 1 insect print when finished, otherwise perfect. About 200 litres of collected dust, all machines had there own extractors built in, probably vacuumed about 10 litres (loose) of the floor before coating.
    Hardest part was getting into the schedule for the contractor. Can pass on contact details if people PM me.

  13. #12
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    Gooner, what year was the house built, in which you sanded the floor? Having no experience in the field whatsoever, I am cautious about sanding the hardwood and pine floors of my 1917 house, as I have heard on numerous occasions that sanding will do more harm than good... Any advice?


    cheers

  14. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Classical Dj View Post
    Gooner, what year was the house built, in which you sanded the floor? Having no experience in the field whatsoever, I am cautious about sanding the hardwood and pine floors of my 1917 house, as I have heard on numerous occasions that sanding will do more harm than good... Any advice?
    The house was built in the late 1970's. Most of the house has had carpet, lino or tiles the entire time.

    I am not qualified to give you advice on your floors. I did do a lot of reading but did not go specifically looking for advice on polishing old floors.

    What I do recall reading is that sanding using a big drum sander can be quite "traumatic" on floorboards and can sometimes cause the wood to split. This may subsequently result in surface splinters that run deep into the wood. I would imagine that older floorboards may be more prone to this. I would think that it may be better to sand older floorboards using a smaller sander… but I am only guessing.

    Nothing that a professional could not answer properly…….

  15. #14
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    Well done Gooner.

    After reading that I think I've a lot more understanding of how a professional really earns their $, and why there seem to be a lot of cowboys that do it cheaper and stuff it up so badly.

    I've heard of a really good floor sander/finisher that does the whole area on their hands and knees with a Festo orbital sander... only!

    The attention to detail of a good floor guy must be quiet something.
    Cheers,
    Clinton

    "Use your third eye" - Watson

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/clinton_findlay/

  16. #15
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    grooner thanks for the informative and great post

    I am in or should i say still in the process of renovating an old 70 s homeswest house with jarrah boards and have removed walls and a concrete floors and added 13m2 of recycled boards to create a bigger kitchen .
    some of the old floor was covered in particle board and lino that had been nailed down with small nails every 5cm apart . the best way i found to remove these was to use vice grips and a spare floor board to roll the side of the vice grips on to create some leverage if needed ...

    i was going to do the sanding myself .but after doing a lot of research and reading your post i have desided to get the pros to do it ...the one problem that know doubt is the reason you and most people do the job themselve is you really don't know how good the person you are getting to do the job is and if they really care about the finish as must as you do . and how many sands and coats they will do

    any references for the best jarrah board sanding company in perth would be apreciated At present i am leaning towards using a company called Dempsey and using a water base semi gloss ...

    thanks again

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