Refinishing Your Hardwood Floor – Getting the Job Done

Your hardwood floor is prepped and it’s now time to finish it!

So, you’ve check out our article about assessing your floor’s needs and prepping to refinish. You’ve listened to our warnings about the unforgiving nature of the job, and you’re still feeling brave. You’ve bartered with beer and solicited the help of a willing friend. You’ve chosen and rented a sander, purchased your abrasives and gathered miscellaneous equipment to assist you in the job.


Electric Sander with Narrow Depth of Field

This article is about tackling the big day. We’ll cover the “start-to-finish” steps you need to get your floor looking like brand-new. 


Prep the Room

Needless to say, all furniture needs to be removed before you get started. And while you don’t need to remove baseboards unless you plan to replace them, you do want to remove shoe molding before getting started as well. Tape up any openings, including outlets, light switches and vent ducts, and make sure to cover your light fixtures. Finally, you’ll want to hang plastic sheeting or seal the door with masking tape in order to separate the room from the rest of the house. At this point, you may want to open a window and consider plugging in a fan for ventilation, especially since the door is sealed.


Beautiful modern apartment, room hardwood floor


Start Sanding

You’re going to sand in three stages, making numerous passes with each grit – start with your coarse abrasive to remove the old finish and most scratches, move to your medium abrasive and finish with the fine abrasive to gradually create a surface with the desired smoothness. Sand your floor as though you’re mowing the lawn, sanding row by row and allowing the sander to overlap your last pass by anywhere from an inch to half the sander’s width. Remember to practice up before starting, and begin with an area of the floor that will likely be covered up to get into a groove before proceeding.


You may notice that it’s hard to reach corners or get in close to your baseboards while using your sander. You can use a palm sander, or preferably a scraper to finish off your sanding job in hard-to-reach spots. Between each grit, you need to thoroughly vacuum up all of the leftover dust, and after your final sanding with 100- or 120-grit sandpaper, you’ll want to wipe the floor with a dry cloth or tack cloth after vacuuming.


Man using an electric sander on wood floor


Seal & Stain

Note: most floors don’t need a sealer coat, and it’s easy to find out if yours does. Apply stain to a small area that won’t be visible later on. If it takes evenly, you can probably skip this step. If it takes unevenly, a sealer coat will help you to get even coverage when you stain.


Even if you apply a sealer coat, you still have to take care to apply stain evenly on your end. You’ll want to execute this step carefully, using an applicator on one small area at a time (roughly 1.5’ x 3’), rubbing off all excess with a spare rag. Keep moving on while your leading edge is still wet to prevent unsightly stripes. Water-based stains will dry particularly quickly.


Wood Deck Staining


Buff & Finish

After your stain has dried, buff the entire floor with a fine steel wool, and follow up by vacuuming and wiping down one more time. Now, you’re ready to apply your finishing wax, polyurethane or varnish.


Assuming that you’re new to this whole thing, you may want to apply polyurethane with a high-density foam roller to ensure that you don’t lay it on too thick. This will prevent pooling, which will leave an ugly spot if not removed. Be sure to check the drying time on your finish, and apply the first two coats accordingly. Then, apply the final coat and wait 24 hours before bringing your furniture back into the room. Also, even a quick hop across the room will leave marks before the final coat cures.


Varnish brush strokes on a floor


So there you have it – the basics of refinishing your floor all on your own, at roughly half the cost of having it done professionally. Do you have any additional thoughts or tips for novice DIYers? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!

DISCLAIMER: Readers should keep in mind that any accounts of building a home presented in this article are written accounts by the authors, and are not necessarily reflect the opinions of the owners of this website. You proceed at your own risk if you attempt the activities described here. 

Images used with permission, courtesy of and

Next: Hardwood Flooring: Get That Expensive Look Without the Expense