Refinishing Hardwood Floors - The Project That Almost Did Us In

Disclaimer: this post was written last week before we left on a trip. Now we are back and the floors officially look AMAZING. So read on with confidence that we finally got it right. 

Hi all, Jeremy here…writing to you on a fresh subject from our new place. As I type, Chandler is upstairs putting the second of three coats of sealer on our newly refinished hardwood floors. If all goes according to plan, the final coat will go on tomorrow morning and we’ll leave for vacation to let the floors set in all their newly refinished glory. Obviously from my first few sentences (and if you follow us on Instagram stories) you know that we decided to DIY the hardwood floors.

I’d just like to shoutout to anyone who refinishes hardwoods for a living: YOU GUYS ARE WORTH EVERY PENNY THAT YOU CHARGE! Man, this is not an easy task if you’ve never done it before. We read a lot of blogs that said it was simple, and while the processes are pretty simple, we ran into a lot of roadblocks along the way that threw us for some loops. I’m not going to write a step by step guide here. There are a lot of articles on how to DIY your hardwoods, and I don’t want to add to the confusion.  What I would like to do is to share a couple major mistakes we made, as well as some tips we found really helpful, with a bit of comic relief sprinkled throughout.

I love the show “Parks and Recreation.” I’ve seen every episode multiple times…I often play episodes in the background while I’m working. There are very few shows that make my laugh out loud while watching by myself, and P&R is one of them. In a certain episode, Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) explains that his criteria for dating someone involves a self-created list he called “the oh no nos.” If a woman commits an “oh no no,” that’s pretty much a deal breaker. For instance, rule number 3 on the “oh no no” list is “not loving ‘90s R&B music.” In the show, Ann Perkins commits this “oh no no,” and their relationship crumbles like a poorly baked scone. What I’m about to give you is the “Refinishing Hardwood Floors Oh No Nos.”

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1.     Sanding/Edging. Only reading one or two articles on sanding hardwood floors is a big oh no no. Sanding is a pretty simple concept, but there are techniques that are really important. I’ve included a link to one of the better articles I found (although I found it a little late) here. The part that got us was the edger…it’s not a super easy tool to use, so when you rent make sure you get all the tips you can from your local professional before diving in.

2.     Not doing all the floors at once is a big oh no no. Sparing you all the details, we got it in our minds that finishing half the floors in our first round of renovations was the best course of action. It was not! Wait until you can do them all at once. Just wait. Please. Save yourselves.

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3.     Using consumer polyurethane is an oh no no (in some cases). Minwax Polyurethane that you get from Lowe’s or Home Depot is a general-purpose poly. It’s used for anything and everything from furniture to floors. It is not specifically designed for floors, and because of this it is not as easy to use and may not yield the finish you want.

We had a pretty serious freakout when we finished what we thought was our last coat of poly. After it dried, it was really uneven and parts were INCREDIBLY shiny. Like, it looked as if we were gazing onto a sea of glass (with hardwood underneath of course). What we found was that while we had been using mineral spirits to keep the lamb’s wool applicator fresh, when it mixed with the polyurethane it diluted the sealer. This is actually a good thing! The portions of the floor that were more diluted looked the best, but again it was very uneven. So the caveat here is, if you decide to go with Minwax, dilute it. See below for further details.

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4.     Rolling Sealer. There’s a lot of conflicting information online regarding how to apply sealer to hardwood floors. I am here to clear all that up for you, but there are a few layers so hold on tight.

-       If you are using a consumer polyurethane (Minwax) from Lowe’s or Home Depot, rolling it on is a BIG oh no no. The lady at Lowe’s even said it would be ok, but it was not. After our first coat, we had a ton of air bubbles in our sealer and it royally freaked us out! Luckily these bubbles came out when we screened the floors with the buffer, but the cause of the bubbles was definitely using the roller. We switched to a lamb’s wool applicator for the second coat and it was MUCH better and actually easier as well.

-       If you are using a true flooring sealer/poly (We used Poloplaz brand. We LOVED it), rolling is OK! We used a poly we got from our hardwood supplier for our topcoat and rolling it on worked great! Just make sure you’re using a roller with at least a 3/8th inch nap.

-       Lamb’s wool applicator always works. If you’re worried about rolling, just get a couple of these and you’ll be just fine.

5.     Buffing before the sealer dries is a big oh no no. This one is obvious and shows my general lack of patience during this process. I tried to buff the floors when they were still a little sticky. It completely gunked up my screen and the buffer started sticking and throwing me all over the place. We now have a fresh dent in our wall to show for it. My bad guys…

So if you’re still reading this, wow. I thought once we spilled the beans that we don’t actually know what we are doing that you all would turn your backs on us and leave us to our own demise. Well thanks for sticking with us. Next stop on the blog train, positivity station.

So back to Tom Haverford. While Tom takes his “oh no no” list very seriously, there are qualities in certain women that may cause him to overlook something on this list. He doesn’t have a name for these qualities, but for blogging’s sake let’s call them the “oh yes yes” list. So here is my “oh yes yes” list for refinishing hardwood floors.

1.     You save a lot of money. This is the reason we went with DIY on this project (and also because we didn’t think it would be this difficult), and oh yes yes did it save us some money. I haven’t tallied it all, but off the top of my head I think we must be under $500 total (tool rental, stain, sealer, accessories, etc). This does not include the new hardwoods that we bought, but just the price of refinishing everything. By my estimation, that saved us about $2,500 over hiring a pro. Not bad if you ask me!

2.     Talk to your local flooring professional (not just someone in the paint department at Lowe’s) before beginning this process. Oh yes yes, these guys are super nice and will give you tons of helpful and practical information! Don’t be afraid, they are happy to help. We went to the local hardwood flooring wholesaler, and they gave some helpful tips.

3.     This is a two-part oh yes yes. Should you go with flooring specific sealer/polyurethane? Oh yes yes. It makes a big difference. You can make Minwax work (see next point), but if you want ease and comfort and best finish, get the pro stuff.

4.     If you decide to go with Minwax (which you shouldn’t. Really, just please don’t), dilute it with mineral spirits. Oh yes yes, this can save you a lot of heartache. We did one coat with a 2-1 poly to mineral spirits ratio and one coat of a 3-1 poly to mineral spirit ratio. The 2-1 was a little thin, but 3-1 worked really nicely! We are still going with a true flooring sealer for the topcoat, but the Minwax worked fine for our first couple coats.

5.     Can you lay new hardwoods yourself? Oh yes yes. This was honestly the simplest and most gratifying part of the process for me (even though it’s technically not part of “refinishing” the floors). We had about 350 sqft of hardwoods we needed to lay. While it was physically draining, it was an easy job technically speaking. It definitely helps to have a partner lay out the boards for you as you go!

I have one more important life lesson from Tom Haverford that pertains to refinishing hardwood floors, and that is the concept of “Treat Yo Self.” You need to take breaks and relax. Tonight, Chandler and I went to Burger Shack as a “Treat Yo Self.” We just couldn’t muster the energy to cook, so to clear our minds we went and got the best fast food burgers/fries around. Sometimes you just need French fries covered in cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing. So whatever it takes to Treat Yo Self, do it.

So as we leave for vacation, our hardwoods are sitting and sealing. To be honest, this has been the most grueling DIY project we’ve ever taken on. I’m not sure if it’s because there are just a lot of layers to this house renovation and I’m taking out my frustrations on this single project or what, but there has been a lot of anxiety regarding these floors. At the same time there’s a lot of hope that when we return, the floors will be everything we wanted from the beginning. It’s been a long process and a ton of work. There have been tears, blood, sweat, cursing, and praying. But we are headed out, firmly believing that when we return we will have beautifully refinished floors.

Follow-up to come! But for now, au revoir!