Last Wednesday afternoon, as I was hurtling towards my death hotel in a New York City cab, I scrolled through my Instagram feed. Linda had posted a photo of the wood floors under her carpet and was wondering if refinishing them would be a doable DIY project, as the cost for somebody else to do it was quite high. Those of you who have been here awhile know that Matthew is quite handy (heh), and that we’ve (he’s) spent ten years renovating our house, so I left the following comment on her photo.

I say you get JB to email Matt. Wood is his thing. (Heh.) But no. He’s the guy everyone calls when dealing with wood. (That didn’t sound any better.)

(I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)(Also, I’d been traveling for twelve hours, and was borderline delirious.)

Linda emailed Matt (he and JB email each other about their hunting escapades)(Linda and I email each other about how much it sucked that she wasn’t in NYC with me to face BlogHer together) and when I got home I asked him if he had replied to her and JB. He did, and it was awesome, and he’s letting me share it. Enjoy.


Those floors look great! Why people choose to cover with carpet I have no idea. But hey, I am a wood guy. :)

$2000? WOW! Depending on how many square feet you have that’s crazy. Too bad I didn’t live closer. I would totally give you guys a hand with this project.

This is a project, I think, most people can do.

Before I continue let me crack open a nice cold Widmer Brothers beer. I have to say Oregon does produce some of the best beers I have tasted!

Anyways, I will start at the beginning and give you a little rundown of the process.

1. Tear out carpet and underlay (if there is any). Pretty simple work. Nothing can go wrong here. Just labor. Rip, pull, and roll. Piece of cake.

2. Remove the tack strip. This is the prickly strip around the outer edges of the room. Although you can find some in a transition (from one room to another). This is pretty easy too. The tack strip will be nailed so it may take a little more effort. Hammer and a pry bar are all you need for tools. Careful though, you want to maintain the wood below.  *wink*

3. Remove staples. If there was underlay you most likely have staples. And depending on the dudes who installed there could be a lot. All you need to do is pull ’em out! Simple pliers are all you need here.

4. Once the floor is exposed and there is nothing poking out of it, it’s time for the real fun. POWER TOOLS! Off to the rental center … one of my favorite places.

5. So now you are going to sand the floor. Strip it right down so you can apply a new stain (the color part) and clear coat (the protective part). There are 2 types of sanders: a drum sander, and a square-vibrating sander. You will want to get the vibrator it’s way more effective (hmmm this email could go way off track here, couldn’t it? *wink* ) Yes the vibrating sander is preferred because as newbies you want to minimize the possibility of saying “oh shit, I just sanded a hole in the floor!”. Plus the square sander, in my opinion, keeps the dust down. (We’ll get to that in a bit). Rental dude will hook you up with some different grit paper. You won’t really need coarse grit, but you will need medium and fine.

6. Back to the house.

7. First the dust. Even though I feel this machine does keep it fairly minimal, it still produces dust. You will want to protect, remove, contain however you see fit. I have in the past just removed items in the room, or taped off rooms with plastic and used a fan to pull out any airborne particles (back to the rental center if you do this, btw, to rent a fan). One thing I have done which is super smart, if you have forced air heating/cooling, is to shove something in the vents.

8. OK, time to sand. First go to somewhere pretty inconspicuous to practice/get the hang of it. You’ll find out pretty quickly how it works. You will want to move with the grain of the wood (in the case of the picture up and down) but again, because of the vibrating nature, a little left to right won’t hurt.

[Ed note: Haaaaaaaa.]

9. After your first sand (removing old clear coat and stain) you will want to see if you need to fill any holes. You know those tack strips, the nails that held the carpet down, might need to be filled. I say, “may” because depending how close they are to the wall your baseboards might hide it. In that case leave it. Wood fill is at any home building store. Just let them know what you are doing and they will direct you. To get a real good look at the floor and the state it is in you may want to remove all the dust. I usually shop vac it. Sweeping doesn’t get it all.

10. Last sand. After prepping the floor you will do another sand. This will use the finer grit paper. Usually 100 or 120 or 150. Keep going over the floor until you are happy. You may need a palm sander ($50-$100 at Home Depot) to sand the really tight spots.

11. Go get a beer. This now completes the hardest work! (Actually, I do need another.)

12. Remove the dust off the floor. This is huge. Again, I shop vac it. Wipe your hand on the floor … you shouldn’t get dust.

13. Stain. I have always just clear coated my floors but this is what I have learned from people who have stained. If you need to buy more that one can of stain make sure the cans are from the same lot/batch. Even if they are from the same lot/batch you will still want to mix the cans together. This ensures that the same color will be everywhere. I like oil based stains. If you are unsure about stain choice see if you can find a sample of the wood you have (I can’t tell if that is fir, oak or other from the pic) and do some tests. Remember, even after applying the clear coat the stain could look different. So, do stain and clear coat tests. I’ll talk about clear coat in a second. Once you got the stain apply it on the floor. Again start somewhere inconspicuous to get the hang.

14. Clear coat — this will protect your floors. Don’t worry about batch numbers or mixing here. There is no color. Again, I like the oil base stuff BUT it does smell as it cures. Keep the house vented! The application for this stuff is pretty easy. You kind of “float” it on. It’s not brushing or rolling … you kinda use a broom-like pad and push/pull the stuff around until it covers the area. I can share more later, but it’s really easy. I’m a 2-coat clear coat guy but you can do as many as you want depending on what kind of protection you’re after. For the clear coat, make sure you get the good stuff. Any wood-flooring guy in the area will let you know.

15. Crack open another bottle — you are done!

I’ve done a lot of wood floors and it’s really not that difficult. It is work, and you do have to be patient. One thing for me, I always remind myself that I am not a professional and shouldn’t expect a professional, House and Home look. I also know that a House and Home look is big bucks, which we don’t have. In the end to be able to say hey, I/we did his is pretty gratifying! Plus on a wood floor if you really shit the bed, just put down a throw rug … works every time.

Sorry for the long email. I’m now into my second beer and have become quite verbose. Instead of my drunk kitchen I could do a my drunk workshop spinoff …

Hope this helps your decision process. :)


Honey really needs to start a blog, I think.

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  1. Hannah August 9, 2012 12:27 am edit

    Very informative! Rob & I refinished the wood floors in our house, too. Including ripping up the ugly yellow/orange 70’s carpet and scraping the black underlay off with fish slices (which we later disposed of!) as some bozo had GLUED the underlay onto the native timber flooring. Duh! Thankfully that situation only happened in 2 rooms, and in the rest of the house, we found the underlay stapled onto the floor as per normal. MUCH easier to remove.
    Lots of hours of hard work, but fun when you do it together :-)

  2. Sharon August 9, 2012 12:40 am edit

    Your husband cracks me up! I know nothing about home renovations, but that kind of a project actually sounds fun. I definitely plan on having mostly wood floors whenever I am finally able to afford a home of my own. :)

  3. Ashley S August 9, 2012 1:00 pm edit

    That’s an excellent tutorial!

  4. Camels & Chocolate August 9, 2012 1:10 pm edit

    We actually close on our house tomorrow(!), and the first thing we’ll be doing before moving in is replacing the fugly carpet in the two spare bedrooms with hardwood that matches the rest of the house (built in 1900!). This is when having a husband who installed floors for several years, then worked as a general contractor, then a painter and then an electrician definitely comes in handy =) Will only cost us materials (and we’re going to use recovered barnwood, which is cheaper) and of course time.

  5. Sundry August 9, 2012 4:49 pm edit

    This is cracking me up all over again. Matthew FTW.

  6. JennyBean August 10, 2012 12:49 pm edit

    So funny :) I agree, he needs to start a DIY/Home Improvement blog. He could call it The Holy Lumberjack. Or something. I’ll be quiet now…

  7. K August 13, 2012 3:18 pm edit

    Great post! We have hardwoods on the main level but I was thinking at some point they may have to be refinished due to dog claws. Thanks for the step by step!! Doesn’t sound too terrible.

  8. hillary August 22, 2012 1:52 pm edit

    this is hilarious (and very informative!)

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