How to Refinish Hardwood Floors


This is how we restored the hardwood floors we discovered under my brothers ugly carpet in his home.

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My brother wanted me to make him some built in storage for his record collection but was concerned about weight. I went to check what type of subfloor was under the carpet and found hardwood! Which is super common in homes built in the 60’s and before.

The easiest way to check if you have hardwood hiding under carpet is to remove an air register and lift the carpet, there normally aren’t tack strips around the register so it’s easy to check without loosening the carpet.

Immediately my brother and his wife decided the carpet had to go, but one potential issue was this living room used to be two rooms. If that was the original floor plan, there would probably be a gap in the hardwood where the wall used to be because walls go in before flooring.

Before starting the removal I prepped the room by removing everything that would be in the way, including the doors. I like to put the hinge pins back in the jamb side hinge so they don’t fall out of the door when you move them and get lost.

From pulling up the carpet in the closets, we were hopeful the floor may just need a cleaning and not a refinish. So, instead of moving all of the furniture we moved everything but the most awkward pieces and put them on one side of the room. After lifting the carpet on the empty side, we’d shuffle the furniture and repeat.

The tack strips aren’t fun to pull up, but are actually pretty easy. The trick is to find the nails that hold them in the floor and get your pry bar right on them. If you try to lift between the nails, the tack strip will just shatter and you’ll be left pulling nails and with tons of splinters.

Discovering a big patch of vinyl flooring in the middle of the room that dashed hopes of not doing a full refinish. It looked like as some point when the room was still two rooms, someone made an entry way to the kitchen by building a half wall and putting vinyl down in the walk way. Then later someone knocked down the walls and tried to remove the vinyl, gave up, and laid carpet. Now we’re the suckers trying to remove this stuff, it was not easy. There’s really no fun part of removing carpet. If you’ve done it before, let me know which part you like the least.

Once everything was removed, including that pesky vinyl, we screen off the room to minimize dust travel. Instead of emptying the closet shelves, we just shielded them too.

We were right about expecting a gap in the flooring where that wall had been. I patched it by using some matching red oak and cutting out a spot in the flooring to match the patch. I used the boards to make my lines and as a straight edge to guide my cut. Some brad nails held the board in place and were easy to pull out before installing them. Some wood putty filled the gaps and brad nails secured the patch.

There were some holes in the middle of the floor from where electrical had been ran into the half wall. To patch those we used some similar sized oak dowel and used 5 minute epoxy to set them in place. Once the epoxy set I used a flush cut saw to trim them down, the sander will get them perfect.

Speaking of, sanding was what we did next. We rented a drum sander and edger from Home Depot and they made pretty quick work of the floors. We used a 36 grit drum first to remove the bulk of the old finish, then two passes with 80 grit to get the last of it, and finished with a 120 grit.

Next was lots and lots of cleaning. We swept at least 5 times, vacuumed, and used dust mops to get up as much dust as possible before laying down the finish. And it’s a good idea to wait a few minutes between each step to literally let the dust settle. And don’t forget to dust yourself off, else you’ll be scattering dust everywhere as you move around.

And finally, the most fun part, laying down the first coat of oil. We used an oil based floor poly with a wool aplicator, I’ll have links below. The nice thing is if you stay after it, you can actually lay both coats without having to sand in between. But if you want the best finish, it’s a good idea to go ahead and let it dry and give it a light sanding between coats.

I had to head home before we sanded and got the second coat of finish, but you can see the transformation this room had by removing the carpet, and how the wall patch blends into the floor. The only thing left is replacing the baseboards and setting the room back up!