Redo or Renew?

Uncovering the beauty of your hardwood floors

While Mike Frentz and his brothers were growing up, he can remember his father refinishing the wood floors in their family home.

Back then (we won’t say how far back), wood floors were finished with lacquer that only lasted a few years under the comings and goings of a big family.

"I can remember him refinishing those floors three to four times during my adolescence," Mike says. "Every year it was a different room and it was a big ordeal. If it was time to refinish the living room, we had to move all the furniture out of the room for a week or so. It was quite a production."

Nonetheless, Mike remains fond of hardwood floors – with one caveat: "I like them when they’re finished and looking nice," he says. "If they’re done right and well taken care of, they’re very livable."

Fortunately, lacquers have gone by the wayside and refinishing and maintaining wood floors is much easier these days. That’s a plus in Royal Oak, where many of the homes were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s and are graced with solid hardwood floors, not the laminates of today’s construction.

Mike says it’s a common scenario when people come into the store looking for help with their floors.

"Probably the number one situation is that they’ve just ripped up the carpeting and found oak flooring that could be beautiful, but they don’t know what to do with it."

Underneath that carpeting homeowners usually find two things: old carpet padding that is sticking to the floor and scratches and stains that need to be removed.

Refinishing options
If you’ve decided to go ahead and refinish your floors, you’ve got two options: hire a professional or do-it-yourself.

"The easiest is to hire a professional refinisher," Mike says. "They’ve got professional machines – they’ll come in, sand off the top sixteenth inch of the floor and be in and out in a few days."

If you’d rather save a few bucks or invest the time to proudly say you refinished your floors yourself, then Mike offers these tips on how to go about it:

1. Before you start
Move all the furniture out of the room.
Tack up sheets of plastic in doorways to keep the dust from invading every room in your house.
Make sure you’ve got adequate ventilation and wear a partical mask or respirator.

2. Sanding the floors
You’ll need to rent a floor sander from any local equipment rent-all center. While you’re there, go ahead and rent an edging sander too (we’ll explain why later.)
Floor sanders are powerful and hard to maneuver, so take care when its time to sand the finish off your floor, Mike says. "A floor sander is actually a big spinning drum with sand paper on it," he says. "If you let the machine rest in one place to long, it’ll leave a grove in the floors."
Set the drum down where you want to begin sanding and pull, not push, the sander in an even manner across the floor, moving with the grain of the wood.
"You’ve got to be careful and pull it evenly or your going to get waves across the wood."
Once you’ve finished the main part of the floor, you’ll notice that there is a 2-3 inch strip around the edge of the room that the drum sander couldn’t reach. That’s where the edger sander comes in.
An edger sander has a small disc with sand paper on it that reaches into those corners. Just remember to apply even pressure and follow the grain of the wood.
Once you’ve finished sanding down the finish on the floors, sweep up or vacuum as much of the dust as possible.
Then finish removing all the dust by rubbing your entire floor well with a tack cloth. Also, clean up any areas where dust has settled, i.e. window sills, mantels, and stairs, so that it does not get on the wet finished surface.

3. Staining the floors
The next step is to consider the color of your floor.

"Sanding the floors will lighten the color of the wood," Mike says. "You need to decide whether you like it that color or whether you want to darken the shade."

If you do want to enhance the color of the floor, Min-Wax® stain is the way to go. Available at Frentz, this line of stains come in a vast array of shades, but Mike suggests one of three shades to give your floors a look that is authentic to the time your house was built:

Puritan Pine (#218) is the lightest of the three shades; Golden Pecan (#245) is a bit warmer tone; and Provincial (#211) is the darkest of the three. "Golden Pecan is the nicest on an oak floor, I think," Mike says, "because it brings the grain out and really shows the nice wood."

One quart of stain will cover about 200-square-feet of floor, depending on how porous the wood is, but one quart ought to be enough for the average room, Mike says.

4. The final finish
Polyurethane is to today’s wood floors what lacquer was when Mike and his brothers were growing up. The advantage of polyurethane is that it lasts much, much longer.

Mike recommends using Min-Wax’s semi-gloss polyurethane product.

"The gloss is too shiny and reflects light too much, " he says, "and the satin tends to look too dull, like the floor needs to be waxed."

Semi-gloss, on the other hand, gives just enough gloss without being too shiny.

One gallon of polyurethane covers about 400 square feet so you should be able to get about two coats out of it – the minimum number of coats Mike recommends.

The more coats you put on, the longer the finish will last, he says.

Even with two coats, under normal conditions, your new finish should last 10-15 years while the finish in high-traffic areas will last about five years, "unless you always take your shoes off," he says.

To preserve the finish, Mike says it takes a good three to four days for the finish to fully cure. "Most products say the floor will be dry in eight hours, but just by walking in your stocking feet you can leave impressions on the finish."

5. Maintenance
Once you’ve refinished your wood floors with polyurethane, the hard work is over. But unless you want to do it all over again sooner than you need to, its important to take good care of your floors, Mike says.

Just take a damp mop and clean your floor using either Murphy’s Oil® Soap or Min-Wax® Hardwood Floor Cleaner.

"That will keep the floor shining and clean looking.