How to Sand Hardwood Floors: Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Nov 26, 2023

Nothing enhances the beauty of a home quite like a stunning hardwood floor. From classic oak to rich mahogany, hardwood floors never go out of style and can last for generations when properly maintained. But over time, even the most durable hardwood can show scuffs, scratches, discolorations, and other imperfections. Fortunately, sanding and refinishing offers a true restoration for timeworn hardwood floors, allowing you to revive their elegance for both your own enjoyment and an increased home value.

As the leading hardwood floor restoration company in the UK, we know how daunting refinishing your floors yourself can seem. Everything from renting the right equipment to knowing the proper techniques can leave even the most accomplished DIY homeowners feeling intimidated. We’re here to break down the process into ten easy steps for sanding wood floors so that you can approach this potentially messy but ultimately highly rewarding home improvement project with confidence, no matter if you are a beginner DIYer.

Laying the Groundwork for Success

Preparation serves as the foundation for all successful sanding and refinishing projects. Skipping this step not only risks damage to your home but also jeopardizes the final results you want to achieve. Follow these three simple but essential preparatory steps when dreaming of revitalized hardwood floors:

  1. Clear the space completely. Even seemingly lightweight furnishings can leave scuffs and dents when dragged across fresh floor stains and sealers. Remove all furniture, appliances, rugs, and knickknacks from the room before you begin. If possible, move items into an adjoining room to prevent return trips across your newly refinished floors.
  2. Protect doorways and baseboards from floor refinishing dust. Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to thoroughly seal off all walls, doorways, cabinets, and radiator covers bordering the room. The sanders spray out a large cloud of wood dust, so prepare for it to land anywhere and everywhere. Check for gaps around trim and under doors to prevent dust from creeping into other areas of the home undetected.
  3. Set all nail or screw heads below the wood surface. Pop up nails stick out just waiting to catch and rip your sanding pads. Walk through the space, tapping any protruding fasteners further into the flooring with a hammer and nail set. Vacuum up any detached pieces for a smooth, snag-free sanding surface.

Selecting the Right Sanding Equipment

Ask at any home renovation center about floor sanders, and they will offer up two options: drum sanders or orbital sanders. While both serve to smooth and resurface wood floors, distinct differences determine their suitability for your particular hardwood floor restoration project. Consider the following key traits when deciding on sanders:


Drum sanders:

  • Ideal for large, open floor spaces due to their 36-inch width sanding pad
  • Significantly more power and torque than orbital models, allowing for deeper abrasion
  • Require two people to manage safely – one to operate the machine and one to handle the cables

Orbital sanders:

  • Designed for smaller rooms since the sanding pad measures no more than a foot wide
  • Allow sanding flush to baseboards and into corners not reachable with bulkier drum models
  • Far lighter and more maneuverable for DIYers to control solo

For expansive living rooms, dining rooms, and hallways, drum sanders offer big muscle sanding capabilities. But for bedrooms and smaller enclosed spaces, portable “random orbital” sanders allow for detail work a heavy drum sander simply cannot match. Consider room size and layout before dropping hundreds of pounds on a rental you cannot reasonably operate.

Outfitting Your Floor Sanding Tool Kit

Floor sanding relies on using progressively finer grits of sandpaper to smooth and refine the surface. With each pass of the sander, switch to the next grit tier for evermore detailed polishing until achieving a satiny finish ready for staining. Stock up on these four essential grits before tackling your floors:

  1. Extra-coarse 36-grit removes old finishes quickly
  2. Medium 60-grit eliminates scratches and deeper marks
  3. Fine 80-grit starts smoothing the grain
  4. Extra fine 100-150-grit provides a final polish

While good-quality sandpaper serves as the star of your floor restoration show, supporting players like safety gear, dust containment, and finishing touches all play critical backup roles as well:

Safety first: Dust particles from sanding wood floors pose respiratory risks, making protective equipment non-negotiable. Wear safety goggles, N95 dust masks, and noise protection earmuffs whenever operating sanding machinery.

Clear the air: Station a shop vac nearby to contain the perpetual plume of sawdust kicked up by sanding. Better still, attach sanders directly to dust containment systems to trap particles before they even enter your airspace. Consider renting a dust extractor if undertaking entire home restorations spanning multiple rooms.

Finishing touches: Have on hand a nail punch, putty knife, tack cloth, mineral spirits, stain brushes, clean rags, and an inspection flashlight. These minor but mighty tools help set the stage for a flawless stained or sealed finish.

Mastering the Floor Sanding Technique

When prepped and equipped for the task at hand, executing a smooth floor sanding relies on three key techniques:

  1. Always sand with the wood grain
  2. Use broad, overlapping strokes
  3. Make progressively finer grit sanding passes

floor sanding

Tip the sander onto the drum edge, engage the motor, then gently lower the spinning sanding pad onto the floor. Apply even pressure as you smoothly push the machine forward, moving at a rate of about one foot every 1-2 seconds. Use long strokes spanning the entire width of the drum. Overlap each sweeping pass by several inches to prevent noticeable grooves or troughs in the sanded surface. Lift and reposition the sander as you reach walls and baseboard trim.

Begin with an initial heavy sanding using coarse 36-grit paper to remove old finishes down to bare wood. Take special care when sanding adjacent to walls and trim to prevent over-sanding that causes uneven edges and lips. Thoroughly vacuum up all dust before switching to finer 60-grit paper. Make another full pass over the entire floor to eliminate any deep marks and scratches. Repeat the sanding process using progressively finer 80-grit and 100-grit sandpaper for an ultra-smooth surface ready for staining and sealing.

Ten Simple Sanding Steps For Expertly Revitalized Hardwood Floors

Step 1: Clear and prepare the room

  • Remove all furniture, rugs, and decorative items. Carry smaller pieces into adjoining rooms to avoid tracking across newly refinished floors.
  • For heavy furniture that cannot be readily moved, use drop cloths and carpet runner strips to protect floors when removing.
  • Seal off doorways using painter’s tape and 6mil plastic sheeting. Tape all trim and baseboards bordering the room. Check for air gaps at floor level and seal thoroughly.
  • Vacuum and mop floors to remove surface dust and debris. Inspect carefully for any remaining nails, staples, or metal bits that could damage sanding pads.

Step 2: Set exposed nail heads

  • Walk the floor pounding down all popped nail heads using a hammer and nail set tool. Set any protruding fasteners at least 1/8” below the wood surface to prevent snags.
  • Countersink stripped screw heads by drilling pilot holes with a bit larger than the original screw diameter. Hammer screws into pilot holes using a block of scrap wood to prevent damaging screw slot surfaces.
  • Fill deeper holes around fasteners with wood putty. Allow putty to fully cure overnight before sanding smooth.

Step 3: Select an appropriate sander

For drum sanders:

  • Choose a heavy-duty model with at least 10-15 amps of power for substantial stock removal
  • Ensure the machine offers adjustable front casters for easier steering
  • Request an edging attachment for detail sanding along walls

For orbital sanders:

  • Opt for a model that allows switching between random orbit and forced rotation modes
  • Select a model with a dust extraction port to connect directly to vacuum systems
  • Consider a variable speed adjustment dial allowing slower sanding on uneven floors

Step 4: Gear up with safety equipment

  • Use goggles with sealed side shields that fully enclose eyes rather than basic safety glasses
  • Choose N95 particulate filtering facepiece respirators over basic dust masks
  • Use earmuffs or ear plugs rated for at least 20 dB noise reduction

Step 5: Connect dust containment systems

For drum sanders:

  • Attach floor model to automated dust extractors using 2.5” hoses
  • Position extractor nearby with hose slack to allow machine movement

For orbital sanders:

  • Connect sander dust port to heavy-duty HEPA filter shop vacuum
  • Use vacuums with large capacity filters to prevent frequent changes

Step 6: Buy sandpaper packs in multiple grits

Stock sufficient quantities of each grit to sand entire floor area:

  • 36-grit (4-6 packs) – Removes finishes, levels uneven surfaces
  • 60-grit (2-3 packs) – Eliminates deeper scratches, sanding marks
  • 80 or 100-grit (1 pack) – Final smoothing and polishing

Step 7: Sand the floor using broad, overlapping strokes

  • Walk the floor first without the sander on to map any uneven areas
  • Start sanding in the least visible corner and work toward exit door
  • Use smooth, even strokes the full width of the drum making 25-50% overlaps
  • Lift sander briefly between passes; never stop drum rotation while on floor
  • Concentrate weight at handle to prevent gouging if machine catches on humps

Step 8: Vacuum thoroughly between grit changes

  • Always vacuum floors, sander, and cord to remove every trace of dust
  • Use crevice tools around edges and detail brush attachments on machines
  • Wipe planks by hand with tack cloth strips before changing paper grit

Step 9: Do finish sanding with 100-grit paper

  • Attach 100-150 grit paper for final light sanding pass
  • Focus on smoothing any slight swirl marks, fingerprints, or handling dents
  • Hand sand difficult areas drum cannot reach using finishing orbital sander

Step 10: Clean and inspect floors

  • Dry dust mop then lightly damp mop floors when done sanding
  • Inspect work under bright light angled low across the floor
  • Address any missed spots, gaps, lips, or irregularities needing touch up
  • Allow floor to fully dry 48-72 hours before applying stain or sealer

Revitalized Hardwood Floors

The Devil’s in the Details

Hardwood floors comprise dozens of uniquely angled areas and inside corners not reachable with standard drum sanders. Edges, corners, and detailed sections require finessed finishing work with specialized tools to match the main floor’s refinished appearance. Bevel your expectations when tackling specialty sanding and plan accordingly.

Edge work – Because walls, cabinets, and door jambs present barriers to swinging a 3-foot drum sander, you will need to sand edges by hand. Rent an edge sander with dust extraction capabilities or simply rely on a manual hand scraper and sanding blocks. Take care not to remove too much material along walls, creating unattractive lippage between main floor areas and borders.

Corners and tight spaces – Detail orbital sanders allow maneuvering into corners and indented areas a drum sander cannot access. Use these lighter sanders for final smoothing and leveling of carved details, awkward angles, and other irregular edges. Be mindful of over-sanding into corners.

Stairs – Stairs cannot support the weight of hulking floor sanders. Refinish individual stair treads manually using hand scraping tools, manual sanding blocks, and corner detail orbital sanders. Focus on achieving a smooth, consistent appearance on the flat sections buyers see rather than obsess over hidden riser edges.

When In Doubt, Call in the Experts

Ambitious DIYers can certainly sand and refinish hardwood floors themselves, but the learning curve proves steep. From choosing appropriate equipment to mastering sanding techniques, many intimidating hurdles stand between the idea of saving money and the reality of living with a subpar result.

Why gamble on lackluster outcomes or even outright damage? Our professional team brings years of specialized hardwood floor restoration experience directly to your home. We handle all necessary floor prep, provide commercial-grade sanders, manage dust control, and perfect the staining or sealing finish of your choice. Most importantly, we stand behind our artistry with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Contact us today at 0800 335 7565 or fill out this form for a FREE survey for a free quote on renewing the timeless beauty of your home’s existing hardwood floors. Let us worry about finicky details so that you can simply enjoy the rich, revitalized woodwork for years to come. Here’s to re-discovering the natural warmth and splendor wood floors bring to any home!