{renovate} refinish your own hardwood floors

Happy Wednesday friends! First off, thank you for all the kind comments this week about our *new* floors! We're super excited about them!

I'm not sure how many people are crazy enough to tackle refinishing their hardwood floors without professional help. But, if we're crazy enough to do it, I'm sure there's others out there! For that reason, I'm compiling a how-to refinish your floors. I did a little research (after we'd torn up our carpet!), but there were so many things that reading didn't fill us in on. I'm hoping our experience will help at least one other person out there who wants to save their original hardwood floors.

We chose to go the diy route because this was a completely unanticipated project. In fact, we'd been talking about tearing up our hideous carpet for a couple years, but it seemed like too huge of a project. So, why now? Because a friend and I were bored one day watching the boys tackle the *real* project. Isn't that always the best way to start a project?

I was a little nervous, as our budget really was $0, but this ended up costing us less than $100 to accomplish. How crazy is THAT?! In comparison, when Young House Love paid to have a professional refinish their floors in 2009, they spent $900. And that was an amazing deal! I'm not saying this isn't a TON of work. What I want you all to know though, is that with a little elbow grease, nice hardwoods can be completely affordable.

So how where do you start?

  • Blade
  • Crowbar
  • Hammer
  • Scraper
  • Sander: ours is similar to this Ryobi. It was gift from my parents and it's awesome. If you're doing any work on your house, it's incredibly helpful to have a small electric sander.
  • 60 -100 grit sandpaper
  • Painter's Plastic
  • Dig your crowbar into a corner of the carpet and pull up (be careful of your moulding!) to loosen the carpet from the tack strip.
  • In small, manageable sections (carpet is actually really heavy), work your way around the room pulling the carpet loose from the tack strip and cutting the carpet into strips. We did the hallway in three sections and the back bedroom in four.
  • Repeat step #2 with the carpet pad. 
  • Pull up your tack strips. These will take a little work with the crowbar. 
  • Repeat step #2 with any surface beneath the carpet. We found linoleum between our carpet and hardwoods.
  • Using your hammer, very carefully pull up each nail and staple that was securing your carpet/pad/tack strip/linoleum to the hardwood floor. They hurt when you step on them and they'll wreak havoc on your sandpaper.
  • Assess the current state of your hardwood floors. If there is quite a bit of glue, you'll need to bust out your scraper and get to work. This is the part that took us the longest. We just considered it a great arm workout :). If there isn't glue, consider yourself incredibly lucky and proceed directly to sanding.
  • Once your hardwoods are clear of debris and glue, it's time to sand. Sand down your floor with 60 to 100 grit paper. We used 100 grit, because it's what we had on hand, and it worked so well. It really pulled up the remaining stains and glue.
  • It's at this point that, if you're sanding a huge area, you can consider renting a large sander. This seemed like more of a hassle than it was worth for our small area. And now you're probably thinking we actually are crazy! :)
{Left: hardwoods after carpet is pulled up. Right: hardwoods after removing glue and sanding.}
  • My recommendation for sanding is to limit the area in which debris can fly. We used Painter's Plastic to tape off all the door openings. Also, open as many windows as you can. And, of course, wear a face mask. Please. You don't know what nasty chemicals are hiding in your floors. Especially if your house is as old as ours.

  • Applicator Pads (3 - 4)
  • Broom handle
  • 150 grit sand paper
  • Sanding Sealer
  • Polyurethane: We opted for water-based finishes. This is completely up to you, but when Chris had done the hardwoods in the rest of our rooms - 5 years ago - he chose water based. We wanted to keep things consistent. I will say though, that I would recommend water based to anyone. We've been incredibly happy with the floors in the rest of our house and I had no reservations about choosing this again.
  • First, vacuum your sanded floors well. REALLY well. I also went over them with a damp rag. Just in case there was still dust that the vacuum didn't pick up. A tack cloth isn't recommended for this, simply because it can leave a tacky substance on the floor.
  • Tape off all vents. You don't want dust circulating when your floors are wet.
  • Note: never shake the sealer or the poly. Air bubbles will ruin your smooth finish.
  • At this point, you would apply stain. We didn't apply stain. Again, we were going for consistency and the rest of our wood floors are unstained. Make sure you read the directions very carefully on your stain. It's recommended to wait 72 hours between stain and poly.
  • If you aren't staining, now is the time to apply your sealer. This helps keep this wood looking great, and also raises the grain so you can start sanding and achieving the smoothest finish possible.
  • To seal: start along a wall. Plan your route so you're sealing yourself towards the door. Don't seal yourself into a corner! Going with the wood grain, pour the sealer the length of the room in small puddles. You'll see that a little goes a long way. Pull the applicator at about a 30 degree angle, the length of the room. Repeat until you've finished the room. Make sure to overlap the rows.
  • Let the sealer dry for up to 2 hours. Ours took closer to 3 hours, but I was a little heavy handed with the sealer in some areas. When it's fully dry, lightly sand the entire floor with 150 grit sand paper. Then vacuum, wipe down with a damp rag and you're ready for poly.
  • Apply the poly the same way as the sealer, described above. Use a new applicator pad for each coat. We applied three coats, letting each dry for about 2 hours in between. We also lightly sanded, vacuumed and wiped after each layer. Except the last layer.
  • Once you've applied your third layer of poly, do not walk on the floor for 24 hours. 
  • You can start moving furniture back in after 72 hours, but we actually waited 5 days. Paranoid. Rugs should not be placed on the floor for at least 14 days.
We had two people working on this project every Saturday for 5 weeks and this included painting the back bedroom. I really think that we could have completed the project in two full weekends, if we'd wanted to finish them up faster.

A very nice Home Depot employee photo copied this packet about hard woods floors when we asked some questions about supplies. We also talked through the process with a Lowe's employee one day (we're equal opportunity home improvement store customers). The back of the Minwax Poly we used also gave incredibly clear directions. Minwax's website also has a TON of useful info. 

WELL, if you've made it this far in the post, congratulations! I know this is an incredibly LONG post. If you decide to refinish your wood floors and have any questions, please let me know.

Make sure to check back on Friday. I finally finished my TURQUOISE lamps! :)


  1. You did an amazing job! 5 weeks takes patience.... but totally worth it!

  2. This is a very informative post, one that I will be filing away for when we have our own house someday :)

    Carpet tacks can be painful. Our current apartment has hardwood floors and we are pretty sure the apartment manager pulled up the carpet shortly before we moved in (no refinishing) because there were still tacks everywhere--ouch!

    And way to keep the cost down so low--you guys rock!

  3. Your floors are so pretty! I know it was hard work, but for $100, well worth it! Thanks for sharing how to do it (hopefully, one day, I'll have some of my own)!

  4. Oh if only there were hardwoods underneath my carpet and not a concrete slab. I would totally be pulling that up.

    And only 5 weeks? Impressed with how quick you did it.

  5. You did such an amazing job. I am looking at houses now too. I may need this.

  6. Jenn what a beautiful transformation. Congrats on a job well done. I will def. be bookmarking this post for future reference :)

  7. Jenn, my gosh from this post and the last one just staring at your amazing new floors...i am in awe! wonderful job, it must feel so great walking through your home and seeing the results from all the hard work you guys do!!! i mean i just get excited when i do a dust & vacuum but holy moly this is a whole nother level of accomplishment. congrats and major props lades.

    i've never tackled a home reno myself before but if i did i'd come to you for answers, that tutorial is the bomb, so thorough and filled with great tips. ♥


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