How hard can it be?

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Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2011
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Hi Everyone,

I'm planning to tackle hardwood floor refinishing in three bedrooms this summer. Once carpet and tack strips are up, here's what I'm dealing with:

100 yr old oak flooring, some gaps and cracks between boards, original varnish with paint splatter but never sanded and refinished to my knowledge, all three rooms connect to hallway which HAS been nicely refinished in a natural-look.

My questions for those with expertise:

1. How do I match varnish shades? Is it even possible? Will a threshold at each room be the best move?
2. Can I get the feel of a drum sander without gouging the first room insanely?
3. What progression of grits (and how many passes) have given you the best results?
4. Best product/method for filling cracks?


MM in Cleveland (OH)...home of the MLB-best Guardians!
It helps to learn the machine, so, I would start on a sheet of plywood, with 36g paper, and learn how the machine responds to handle pressure, both with the grain of the ply & across.

Now that you have experienced the machine, move to any room and try that grit, on about a 4' by 4' area there and with your hand, feel the results.

You may find, based upon the level of removal, you may need to drop the grit to 24, and this should also be the criteria for the edge sander.

You should make 4 passes with successively finer grit belts, with 100 as the final.

After the initial passes, the sanded debris, mixed with a varnish can be used to patch nail holes and light damaged areas.

For matching varnish shades, try products in a closet and remember, there will be some minor change, affected by aging.
It is not hard but also the first time is a learning curve. In my old house many years ago I removed a bunch of layers of flooring to get down to the original 100 year old floors with the hope of finishing them. I gave it a try with a rental drum and they came out pretty good with a couple woops. In the end the floor was patched several times over the years and just was never going to look good. The sanding did make a nice smooth surface to lay new flooring over.

In this house also way over 100 years old about 10 years ago I ripped up everything finding really nice chestnut flooring and I wanted to do it right. The rental places now had two options for stand up sanders the drum and the square pad vibrating model. The guy explained the drum was faster about 2-3 times faster but had a much less chance of doing any damage. I went with that and it allowed me to get closer to the edges and corners and I thought did a great job and is what I would recommend. They sent me home with the sander and a large box with a selection of 2x2 sanding sheets way more than you would ever use and you pay for what you used when returning the unit. The roughest paper looked way too rough but was what was needed to get the old varnish off. Then I worked my way down thru the finer grades. I found a point when the sandpaper stopped working well and kept using it a while longer to try and save some money. That made the process drag out a little longer.

I didn’t need to use much filler there are a number of ways to do that and some involve mixing the dust from sanding with fillers to tint them before working into the cracks.

I finished mine with a water based poly floor finish and made one mistake and listened to the old guy at Value Home Center. And put it on with a roller he recommended. The first coat looked perfect but then the second started showing clouding (air bubbles in the surface during drying. I did battle with the store and they ended up helping me make that better. The tool I ended up using that worked good was a deck staining applicator that has the fine textured pad that you screw a broom handle into. Any rolling action will put bubbles into the finish.

Staining to match is tough and something you have to have an eye for and you need to experiment and wait to dry and then poly over to see how close you are. Try it in an out of the way location or on some scrap flooring if you have some even if you have to buy a close oak sample to try on.

Good luck and take some pictures and show us how it turns out.
I had that same bubbling affect while staining a deck, applied with a roller. After, and while not set, I went over it with a dry roller, and that removed the bubbles.
I was intimidated by a drum sander, fearing gouging. So, I bought a 3 x 21 belt sander for a 12 foot x 12 foot room.

The sander, a very inexpensive ($50.00 US) Black & Decker Dragster, has a flip-up end cover so you can get all the way to the toe moulding. I considered the sander a throw-away, but I've used it often for many years since.

Starting with 36 grit, as Soonyb mentioned, I worked my way to 150 grit. (Overkill) For a 125+ year old floor, it took about a day to sand, fill and finish. The next room (same size) took a little less time.

Clean up was with my HEPA filtered Vacmaster vacuum.

For the gaps, I used a filler that is made for floors. It's like wood putty, but thinner. It was Rustoleum Pro Red Oak #138914 It matched the oak well and stayed in place all of these years. It closed open grain well, too.

The finish was a no VOC water based, but I don't remember the name. It is applied with a lambs wool pad and dries in hours. I think I bought it at Home Depot or Lowes. The product leveled like glass.

Matching Stain? I've no clue since I took all the finish off to the wood. I didn't stain the bare wood.

Hope This Helps!
Hey MM! Matching varnish can be tricky, but taking a small piece to a paint store might help. Practice with the drum sander in a closet or less visible spot first. I’d start with 40, 80, and finish with 120 grit. Wood filler or epoxy works well for cracks. Good luck!