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In response to a question from a fellow GrownUp, in this feature I am going to explore the idea of sanding wooden floors. Now there are two ways of doing this job, the first one involves looking in the Yellow Pages for a professional to do the job for you; the second is to do it yourself. I warn you now that if you are going to do it yourself, it is not a job for the faint hearted! It’s a fairly easy job, but it does create a lot of dust that no matter how well you cover things up it will get everywhere so good dust masks are a must. (Check at your local hardware store for the correct mask, cheap throw away cotton ones are no good for floor sanding). You will also need earmuffs, so if you do not have a pair yet purchase a set while you are getting the dust masks. Sanding machines are very noisy.
Most hire companies have floor sanding machines available, they are larger versions of the belt sander you may have in your workshop; the biggest difference, other than size, is that they have a long handle to allow you to operate them standing up. A word of caution about floor sanding machines is that the moving belt must never come into contact with the floor whilst the machine is stationary. The reason for this is fairly obvious in that the belt would dig a large groove into the floor. Most machines have a system that allows you to switch the belt on so that it is rotating but it will not touch the floor until you activate a lever. As you release the lever start to move forward, once the belt engages with the floor it will start to move forward under its own power. Make sure you fully understand how to operate the machine you are hiring before you even think about starting on your floor boards.
However there is a lot of preparation to do before you go rushing out to hire your floor sander. To start with the floor must be clean and any old glue (if you have removed a floor covering such as vinyl) scrapped off, clean off any thick layers of old polish, repair any damaged or loose boards and then you can start punching the floorboard nails. The reason for this is that the nails will become exposed as you sand down the boards and exposed nails will rip the sanding belts to pieces very quickly. To punch the nails you will need a hammer, nail punch and most importantly something to kneel upon as you will be spending a long time on your knees while doing this job. Take your time and make sure that you punch every nail below the wood surface .Once this is done we can start to prepare for the ‘real’ part of the job!
By the way make sure you remove all the furniture from the room you are working in, if you did not then now is the time to do so. Also you will need to seal the room as best as you can from the rest of the house. I use plastic drop sheets (these are very inexpensive and available from your local hardware store paint department) down the walls and over the doors and windows held in place with masking tape. A good tip here is, where practical, seal doors on the other side to where you are working sticking the plastic drop sheet to the floor with masking tape. Obviously you can’t do this with the door that you will be using as an exit, for this door use rolled up newspaper as a dust excluder.
Now you can use the floor sanding machine that’s been standing in the corner waiting your attention. As I mentioned before, its most important that you get the hire company to show you how to use the machine you are hiring as they do vary. Plus you will also need to hire an edging sander; usually hire companies rent these two machines together anyway.
Using this machine requires you to follow the basic rules of sanding:
(1) You must sand along the grain and not across it.
(2) Start with a course grit and work up to a fine finishing grit belt, the coarseness of the belt will depend on how badly marked is your floor.
Stand against a wall that allows you to look down the length of the floorboards, position your machine so that it does not touch the skirting board running along the boards you are working on, switch on, lower your belt and move forward. Move forward at a steady pace, do not stop in one place with the belt working on the floor this will cause damage to your floorboards. If you need to stop, as you will need to when you get to the opposite wall from where you started, lift the belt. Now you will work the same surface, this time walking backwards to where you started from, so lower the belt again moving backwards slowly to the starting point. At the starting point you will have to lift the belt again and change position to complete the strip right up to but stopping just short of the skirting board again. This is necessary as when you started your back would have been against the wall and the machine in front of you leaving an un-sanded area.
Repeat the whole procedure along this strip as many times as you need to get the floorboards ready for smoother grit belts. When the first strip meets with your approval move to the next strip making sure that you lift the belt whenever repositioning the machine.
You will now have a perfectly sanded floor except for a narrow band around the edges of the room where the sanding machine could not reach without damaging the skirting boards.
If you had taken my advice about hiring the floor sander and edging sander together then we can proceed, if you did not then you will have to pop down to the hire centre and get one! Do not use your handyman sander because in most cases it will not be powerful enough. Edging sanders are professional machines made for the purpose. As these machines can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer please make sure that the hire centre staff show you how to use the one you are renting. When using the edging sander make sure that you take care not to damage the skirting boards. Stand back now and admire the beauty of the wood you have exposed, do this for a few minutes because now comes the hard part, dusting! Sweep or vacuum the floor and any exposed surfaces that dust has settled upon. Carefully take down any dust sheets you may have erected fold these carefully and take outdoors to shake the dust off. Now you will need to dust and clean the whole room before attempting to apply any finish to the floor. A tip I picked up a long time ago was to use a number of lint free cloths and carefully go over the whole floor (including the skirting boards) to get rid of the last particles. Use one cloth until it gets full of dust then place it in to a plastic shopping bag, then use the next one until it needs to go in the bag and so on. If you run out of cloths you can reuse one of the ones from the bag providing you shake it out well before using (not in the room of course!) Wash the remaining cloths for use on other projects.
When you are absolutely sure that all the sanding duct has been removed the next stage will be to apply the finish of your choice. I cannot place enough emphasis on the importance of cleaning the sanding dust because once you start to apply the finish any dust left will mix with the finish and produce a very rough surface.
Finally remember my advice at the beginning if you are not confident, get in an expert it might save you a lot of money in the long run!
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