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A wooden floor can be a superb and valuable addition to a property. Unfortunately, over time they can start to show imperfections which gradually ruin their appearance. Other wooden floors are discovered after years being hidden underneath carpeting, and need to be restored for their owners to enjoy. 

When dealing with an aging wooden floor, the best option to renew it is usually to sand the wood down. Some prefer to revive wood floors without sanding, though alternative methods tend not to work on deeper imperfections. Sanding, on the other hand, removes enough from the surface of a wooden floor to make cuts or splits disappear.

To sand a wooden floor, you would usually call a carpenter or flooring specialist. Although using a sander is something that you can pick up, it can take a lot of practice to use one correctly, and you do not want to make your floor any worse than it already is. To restore your wooden floor to a high standard, your best bet will be to book a wood floor restoration or sanding service with a professional.

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Whether or not it will be appropriate for you to sand your floor will depend on the state of it. There are certain imperfections which sanding will not be able to fix, or which could be made worse by it. 

Step back and take a look at your floorboards. If there are any of these imperfections, you should speak to a local flooring specialist or carpenter about how best to restore the flooring:

  • Wide gaps between adjacent floorboards
  • Gaps between floorboards and skirting boards
  • Large splits in floorboards
  • Different fixings holding the boards down
  • Loose floorboards

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Equipment for wooden floor sanding

Having the proper equipment for this job will be vital (you do not want to sand an entire floor by hand!) If you are sanding a large floor, you should rent a belt sander for the job. When doing so, make sure that the machine you hire is reasonably new and in good condition. Older or cheaper machines can do uneven sanding and also tend to leave a lot more dust. 

Of course, there will be some sections of the floor that a belt sander cannot reach. For these areas, such as those around the outside of the room, you will need a handheld rotary sander. For the corners, you will need a small sanding block.

Finally, you will also require safety equipment. Sanding a floor creates a lot of dust, and so you will want to protect yourself with goggles and a face mask. Depending on how loud your chosen sander is, you may also require ear defenders. To make sure you have everything you need, ask the sander lender what they recommend in terms of safety equipment.

Preparing a room for sanding

The next step is to prepare the room for sanding. Start by removing all furniture from the room, and then do the same with any curtains, sheets or floor coverings. This will make the job much easier, and you don’t want everything to get covered in sawdust! You should also consider sealing the door to the room so that the sawdust does not spread to other parts of the house.

Next, sweep the floor and vacuum it. If your floor is in reasonably good condition, you may want to try giving it a good clean before you rent a sander, as minor imperfections can sometimes be removed in this way. 

Look across your floor for any nails sticking up out of the room. You will need to use a hammer to drive these completely into the boards before you start sanding, or the nails will catch in your sander and tear the paper to shreds. The same goes for any old carpet tacks in the floor: if you find any, either remove them with a set of pliers or, if this is not possible, drive them down. If you find any loose floorboards, these may also need to be replaced before you start sanding.

If you have painted your wooden floor, this paint will need to be removed before you start sanding. The same goes for any finishing on the wood, such as oil, wax or polish.

Finally, ensure that the room is well ventilated before you begin.

Sanding a wooden floor

The amount of sanding that you need to do will depend on the state of your wooden floor. There are two common methods for sanding a floor: along the lengths and diagonally. A floor that is reasonably level and clean should only need a basic sanding along the lengths, while a rough, warped and heavily marked floor will also needed to be sanded diagonally as well.

One rule that you should have memorised before you get started is that at no point should your sander be turned on while stationary, as this will lead to uneven sanding. Instead, at the start and end of each path you walk with your sander, you will need to tilt and lift the machine before turning it on or off.

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Sanding diagonally

You will need to start by sanding your floor diagonally if it is in a particularly bad state. For this job, you will want to use a grit size of around 40 to 60 for your sander.

Start by standing in the corner of your room: tilt the sander upwards so that it is not touching the floor, then turn it on and start pushing it towards the far wall in a diagonal line. 

Just before you reach the skirting boards, lift the sander up and turn 180 degrees. You will then walk in the other direction, in a line parallel to your first path but also slightly overlapping it. You will need to repeat this until you reach the end of the room.

Once you have done this, head over the corner adjacent to where you started. It is now time to repeat the process, walking at right angles to your original paths.

After you have finished, use your handheld rotary sander to sand down the areas that your belt sander could not reach. You can then use a sanding block to do the corners.

Sanding along lengths

Sanding along the lengths of the room will give the floor a much smoother look when you come to finish. This is a necessary step once you have sanded your wooden floor diagonally, though if it was in a relatively reasonable state to begin with then you should be able to start at this stage.

For this step, you will want to use a grit size of 80 to 100.

Start by standing in a corner with your back to the wall. Look down the length of the long wall, then tilt up your sander, turn it on and walk down this path. When you reach the end, tilt up your sander, turn around by 180 degrees and walk back in a parallel line to the first one, again making it so that you overlap it slightly.

Instead of finishing off the room, turn off your sander once you finish your second path. Look back along your paths and pay attention to the floorboards you covered: is there a sanding direction that left a smoother finish?

If the answer is yes, you have just found the direction of the grain in your floorboards. You will want to follow this grain when sanding the rest of the room if you want to get a truly perfect finish. If not, you can just continue on until you finish the room.

Once you have finished covering the room with your belt sander, use your rotary sander to sand areas which were out of reach and blocks to sand the corners.

The next step will be to sand your floor along its lengths again, this time with a finer grade and starting in the opposite corner.

Lastly, look over your floor for any imperfections, fixing them as you go along with your rotary sander.

Cleaning after sanding a wooden floor

Now that you have finished sanding your floor, it’s time to get cleaning! Again, using a belt sander produces a great deal of sawdust, and so if you do not have a vacuum cleaner, or if your room is particularly large, you may want to have a professional cleaner handle this stage.

To start, sweep up as much sawdust as you can into piles, and remove them in plastic bags. You can then vacuum up any remaining dust, paying close attention to spaces along walls and in corners where it may have settled.

Unfortunately, the dust will not have just settled on your floor: use a soft broom to sweep the rest of the room, including the walls, door and window frames, skirting boards and any architraves or mantelpieces. Once the dust has settled for a few hours, you can vacuum up the rest of it.

By this stage, you should also be covered in sawdust! Check your clothes and hair before leaving the room, or you may end up trailing sawdust behind you. One option is change into a new set of clothes and bag up the ones you used for the job before cleaning them at a more convenient time.