Sunday, January 4, 2009

Divertimento - Floor Refinishing

One of our readers had a couple questions regarding refinishing heart pine floors.

Heart Pine Floors

Now, we're no experts, but we've not got some real world experience and I think a bit of knowledge. I think the questions asked were insightful, so I'm going to encapsulate them and our responses here (I'm hoping it's OK with Brian):

At 09:39 PM 1/2/2009, Brian asked:

I have been reading your blog for a short while and am also starting the process of rehabbing an old brick home in suburban Philadelphia. I am beginning the process of refinishing floors and need to strip some tough varnish off of pine flooring. I was wondering if you had any experience using chemcial stripper before sanding and could offer me any tips and product recommendations. Thanks in advance.


The short answer is to use a light stripper immediately before sanding. A furniture refinisher worked great. We used "Klean-Strip Klean Kutter Refinisher". This worked pretty well in the standard manner with a scraper in corners or funky low spots and edges, but we also used it in a nontraditional manner.

We'd brush it over a tough spot, say 3'x3' and then take the sander right to it immediately, while still wet. The paint and especially varnish came right up, even with the HD random orbital sander (great for first timers). Also, it kept the sanding disks from gumming up so quickly. Don't be afraid to have someone stand on the sander to work on the tough spots, too.

You may want to look into denatured alcohol as well. I've read that it works well, but I've not tried it. Still, it's cheap and if you can test in in a hidden spot, I'd give it a try.

BTW, that Home Depot orbital sander is great for keeping the dust down too. That's especially worth while if you're concerned about lead dust.

I hope that helps.


At 11:31 PM 1/3/2009, Brian wrote:


Thanks so much for the quick response. I have just a couple follow-up questions before we start the sanding process. Did you and your wife apply floor stripper to the entire floor and scrape everything in order to have a "clean floor" before sanding or did you only use stripper on the tough spots that the sander wouldn't put a dent in. I have one small room half sanded and had a terrible time with a HD drum sander. I would make a couple clean passes, gain some confidence and then the paper would load up with varnish and be trashed after about 4 minutes of work. Ideally I would like to strip the entire floor ( 2 upstairs bedrooms, a hallway and one large living room) and then sand with a random orbit 4 disc. Do you think I would be making more work for myself by stripping everything and then sanding or would it save me time and money in the long run. Our floors are very similar to your own although I have no idea if the varnish is the same. How did you deal with fumes and ventilation. I'd like to keep as many brain cells as possible and I've heard that chemical stripper is very carcinogenic and dangerous. Again thanks for your help and advice.


The Klean Kutter Refinisher was not too bad at all. I'd open a window or two. Maybe put a fan in, but you won't need a respirator or anything.

DW and I just brushed the stripper on tough spots and then sanded immediately while it was wet (key point). We did two 15x15 rooms in a day and a half with a faulty sander that way. The paint came RIGHT up with the refinisher but it was coming up pretty easily with the high grit paper. The varnish/shellac didn't come up easily at all and just turned gummy, so we hit it with the refinisher.

You can make the sanding disks last longer if you give them a light spray with WD40 before you start. You can just knock off the varnish and start again. (I'm told you can just open the dishwasher and spray the disks there since the detergent will clean it up--I didn't test this, however).

Now, I'm told that you can strip the entire thing first, and then sand, but I have no experience with it. I think I'd try it because if it is a pain or takes too long, you can just stop and go rent the orbital sander and make short work of it. I think you can do your entire sanding job in two days, easily using the refinisher and the random orbital sander.

I would talk with the smartest floor folks at your local HD about stripping the varnish. Often they've got some insights. By the time you're done with the project, you'll be intimate with about half the staff there. :)

Hope that helps.

Next up, Kitchen 2: Counter Tops and Sinks

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