Guide to Wood Floor Sanding

“You should take the approach that you are wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong” Elon Musk

These DIY guides were originally written in 2006 and are amended when I get the chance. These pages remain by far my most visited.

As mainly a one man operation I do not have the funds to pay for advertising. My first website iteration ranked number one on Google and Yahoo for floor sanding on merit in organic search. Now it’s paid placement. Please help me rank higher in organic search, you will be thanking me and supporting a dying craft.

I have invested hundreds of hours of work in to producing this website and these guides in particular. A backlink on your website, blog or forum post would be much appreciated. Please post some of my pictures on pinterest, houzz, Instagram or other sharing platform. Many thanks in advance to all those kind people who help.

Author - Toby Newell
Author – Toby Newell

French polisher and floor sander with over 25 years of experience in the industry. I started working with my Grandfather in 1986 aged 15. I constantly try to improve my knowledge and skills. Read Materials Engineering in Sheffield and attended the London College of Furniture. Have City and Guilds certificates in both Wood Finishing and Antique Restoration. I specialise in restoring period timber, staining and colour matching. I have published a number of articles on wood restoration and give advice on forums and to people worldwide via email. I always try my best to be honest, open and helpful.

The complete guide to floor sanding, preparation and finishing


This method is only applicable if your floor is relatively flat and in good, sound condition. It may not be suitable for very heavily bowed or cupped floors, very thin floors, heavily worm eaten floors, those where you wish to retain more of the surface patination, old period houses / cottages with old and delicate plaster work below the floor being sanded (the vibration from the heavy walk around machines can cause damage) If in doubt, always opt for the gentler hand finished method, see my guide to wood stripping, for advice on stripping floors by hand or see my services page on sanding floors by hand machines.

This guide is purely focussed on doing the best job possible, if you follow the instructions it is quite feasible you will achieve results that match and in many cases exceed that of the majority of floor sanding contractors. The industry today is characterised by high volume, low quality companies that cut corners to save time and money, we will not make this mistake. We will work smartly and efficiently using the best tools and the best materials with care and attention to detail and we will achieve a high quality good looking floor that will last. Doing the job properly may take a little more effort and cost a little more, but by making a larger effort now you will most probably save time and money in the future as your finished floor will last longer before it requires recoating. If a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing properly. For me there are only two ways to do a job, the right way and the wrong way. Incase you hadn’t worked it out yet, I am going to be showing you the right way.

To what extent you feel my help and advice is relevant and accurate is up to you, but I am lucky enough to have received feedback from people from all over the globe who very generously have told me that they have found my articles helpful. Some of you will have a little knowledge, some a lot, some none at all, I think it most useful though to assume that the reader has little or no knowledge and that everyone else can skip some of the sections if they wish. I am a big fan of the ‘Dummies’ books. This I suppose, is a kind of ‘Floorsanding for dummies’ article as I assume no prior knowledge yet go into great detail for those that are interested.

Back to top of the page

Debunking the myths

Unfortunately there are many myths, untruths and just downright perplexing advice and tips on how to sand floors out there. Many articles seem to have been written by people who have little or no experience of doing the job themselves, although of late things have been improving. Just because the article is on a well known or franchised site it does not mean that it is any more valid. Indeed on the internet you are just as likely to find relevant, useful and accurate information on a small obscure site as on Wikipedia, for example, which frequently falls below the mark (although still, in general it is a very handy and useful resource, just quite occasionally not all that accurate)

Many articles are the same, for research purposes, over the years I have read hundreds of articles, watched and even paid for videos, most of them were disappointing, some of them were so bad they were brilliant, like the old Channel 4 for homes article that stated after removing your skirtings (and half your lathe and plaster walls no doubt) you should fill your floor with PVA glue and sawdust, helpfully informing the reader that ‘do not worry if it hasn’t dried’ as ‘when you go over it with the sanding machine, the heat blast from the machine will dry it off’. Or, it would ruin the abrasive, the machine, your shoes, clothes, walls (which would be ok as you probably would be replastering anyway) you would lose your hire deposit and be standing there covered in glue, wiping the laptop screen to check you were following the instructions correctly. Thank you, thank you whoever commissioned and wrote that article, apart from quite obviously never having sanded a floor or even speaking to some one who had, you made my colleague and I laugh until we cried and fell on the floor. I am confident this guide will be slightly more accurate seeing as I have actually sanded a floor before. More than twice even.

Myth number one

Floor sanding is easy. It’s not. At least doing it well isn’t. Painting is easy right? Only if you take the time to prepare and take care to do a good job. What about tiling? That’s easy too. Don’t worry, we won’t mention the slightly wonky tiles and the uneven gaps. You see what I am saying? If you can mow a lawn you can surely sand a floor, as long as you are reasonably fit. Anyone can ‘mow’ the dirt off, vacuum the dust and apply a clear coating. Hey presto, it almost always looks better, you know, clean and shiny beats old and dirty right? The thing is, to do any job properly takes skill, effort, patience, care and experience, the more of each attribute you posses the better your floor will look and the longer it will last. The more care you take the more historical beauty you will preserve and even enhance. So, you don’t have the experience, maybe you have sanded a couple of floors before, maybe this is your first time, no problem, that’s where I come in. I will provide the experience and help teach you the skills, all you need to do is listen and provide the patience, care and effort. Together we are going to do a good job.

Myth number two

Floor sanding is very dusty. No it’s not. Necessarily. In most cases it should be less dusty than painting and decorating. Floor sanding creates vast amounts of dust yes, but nearly all of that should remain in vacuum bags, dust bags and bin bags, unless you are doing something wrong. I will show you how to sand with the minimum of dust.

Myth number three

We need to paint afterwards as the dust will ruin the paint work. I refer the honourable reader to the answer I made a moment ago. I would suggest painting before, it’s much easier to touch up the skirtings (which will probably get minor scuffs) than it is to sand and remove thousands of little specs of roller splatter / blobs / brush marks when your (or your builders’ / painters’) dust sheeting, masking or cutting in isn’t perfect. I would say painters make more dust and mess than I do around 95% of the time and we are going to be working like I do.

Myth number four

Remove the skirtings before hand, open all the windows, tape up all the doors, hermetically seal all pets and offspring in plastic. If you have skirtings and / or scotia moldings that are already off or not fitted yet, great, this is easier, but if they are already fitted, leave them where they are. By all means open the window if you are hot or if you want to ventilate the room when filling or coating with shellac but when sanding it is actually better to keep the windows closed, so any small amount of dust that you create isn’t blown around your house, especially when emptying the dust bags. The ‘open all windows’ myth is probably from a time when all you could hire were those horrible little sanding machines that created so much dust, if you didn’t open the window you couldn’t see what you were doing, literally. We will not be using those machines, we are doing a clean, hassle free and nice job. So the cat and children can remain sans plastique.

Myth number five

You should fill the gaps with glue and sawdust shouldn’t you? No. Paper mache? Nope. Ok string!. Mmm. No. Old. Old and old. In fact there are only three proper ways to fill the gaps in between the floor boards and another way to solve the problem. That is resin and sawdust, a modern take on the glue and sawdust that is much, much more efficient, gluing in tapered wood slivers for large gaps (expensive and takes time) and filling with acrylic mastic (which does look particularly hideous in my opinion, but it is possible) That’s it. Lifting the floor boards, cramping them tight with a board clamp, relaying and fitting an extra board or half board to fill the resulting end gap can be useful if you have very wide gaps and most of the boards are already loose, if not, lifting the boards will not only take a long time, it will probably create a lot of unnecessary damage (also the boards will move a little again after you re lay them) Non permanent filling utilises a product like Draughtex that you squash in between the gaps after the floor has been finished, a clever solution, but the gaps will be black.

Back to top of the page

Drum vs Endless Belt Sander

And the winner is… belt. No contest. Yes, amazingly in the day of the iphone it is still possible to hire a drum sander, which in this country will mostly be the stalwart Hiretech HT8 invented in 1974 and virtually unchanged since, by a hire company in Wembley. They are mostly built in the UK, which is a good thing and yes they are cheaper to hire and ok yes you may only be doing a small room but we are going for the best quality job with the least mess and for that you will need the more expensive belt sander. I started with no money, I did not always have the best machines and so yes, when I started I did use the trusty hire drum sanders and edgers, so I can contrast and compare. When I look back I cringe, I honestly cannot picture how I used to cope. As careful as I was I could not help getting dips and marks in the floor, divots, chatter marks, swirls you name it, you cannot possibly do a top job with a drum sander. Full stop. And do not even start with the dust.

If you want to see the type of sander we will be using see my dust free sanding equipment page here. Most of the other articles you will read will involve the drum sander, suffice to say it serves a purpose, for people who cannot afford anything better, but I believe we can, because we and our homes are worth it. The ease of use, efficiency and lack of mess make the extra investment worth it. Sanding is hard work make no mistake but by using the best machinery we can make it as painless as possible by working cleaner and quicker with greater reward at the end. Hey, you may even enjoy it. For a while.

Back to top of the page

Before booking your hire

Time is money, the longer you hire the machines the more money you will spend. Personally I cannot abide the parsimonious (I suppose all but the most curious of them will have stopped reading by now anyway) We will be hiring the best machines we can and lots of them, at the same time I applaud the frugal and the efficient, so we will only be hiring those machines for the shortest time possible. Do not be afraid to spend, but spend wisely.

I worked with my Grandfather for many years and learnt a lot from watching him. He rarely gave out advice, so it made more of an impact. There were basically only three things he ever said in regard to the job and business. One of them was that in restoration it was all ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’. So, before we start preparing the floor proper, let us prepare to prepare.

If you are sanding an area bigger than the average small Victorian / Edwardian London bedroom let’s say around 12 square metres (sqm) say a master bedroom, normally around 17 sqm or above then you would greatly benefit from a second person helping you, even if it it is to vacuum up and empty the dust bags when you can go for a break to stretch your legs. We are going to be doing a lot of vacuuming. If you have say a through lounge of 40 sqm or a large sitting room 25 sqm and hallway, 7 sqm it really makes sense to have a second person working with you as they can be doing the edges or working in the hall whilst you are sanding the middle or working in the main room. This will reduce the amount of time you have to hire the machines.

There is no point having the machines delivered and then have them sitting idle for half a day, or a whole day, whilst you repair and prepare the floor for sanding because then you will have to phone up and extend the hire for another day. Which costs more money.

Firstly do not assume anything, I cannot over state this point. I have seen it all. It is no good pulling the edge of the carpet back and thinking ‘yeah, it all looks ok’ because we are not just doing the edges, or the ok bits, we are doing the whole floor and the whole floor may not look as ok as the edges. I will not, can not, quote until the carpet is removed, because I don’t know when I will find a large slab of MDF in the middle of the room, or some boards that have been replaced with cut down plywood, or a lump of concrete where there was once a wall, all I know is that I will find them. Sometime. Don’t let that sometime be when you have already paid for your sanders and they are sitting in the room, waiting perhaps to go straight back. Unlike the hire cost which will stay firmly in the hire companies’ bank account.

So, the carpet has been lifted (I hope we are still wearing our dust nuisance masks by the way as the detritus from old carpets will be much worse for your health, especially if like me you have asthma, than all the sanding we are going to be doing) and all the gripper rod, underlay and hardboard has been removed or lino, tiles and glue has been scraped off. If you have old vinyl tiles glued to the floor or glued on underlay it pays to take a little extra time to scrape as much as the glue off as you can as it will likely gum up your abrasives almost instantly and abrasives are expensive. More expensive than elbow grease anyway.

Check for loose boards, the best way to do this is to walk up and down every board, if in doubt kneel down and tap the board gently with a hammer you will soon tell the difference between a loose board and a well fixed one, the loose boards ‘chatter’. You will need to lift these loose boards and relay them, any boards that you cannot relay and get a good fix with (for example perhaps the end of the boards are split) will need to be replaced with reclaimed boards, as will any boards that are broken or missing. Make a note of the width of your boards, their thickness and how many linear metres you will need, then check ebay or look online for a reclamation yard to find a good match. Unfortunately there are a lot of chancers out there, you are more likely to get better quality and genuine age from a yard where you can see what you are buying, with ebay you take the usual risks.

Now we have removed any floor coverings and their underlayments, ascertained how many replacement boards we will need and have ordered or collected our wood. We still have quite a bit of preparation to do which we will go into below. The preparation, in general for pine floor boards over 50 years old should take from half a day to a couple of days depending upon the size of the area, level of repairs required and your skill level (Although much as pieces of string can be many different lengths the repairs on a whole level of a house or indeed a whole house may take you close to a week, but we are talking in generality here) If you have a good condition recent tongue and groove board, block strip or engineered floor you may not need to do any repairs at all, so you may skip most of the cleaning, fixing and preparing section. Lucky you.

Now you have the wood for the repairs you can plan the sanding and book the machines in, remember to allow enough time to complete the repairs and preparation before the machines arrive, if you are working at the weekend book them for two weeks in advance so you keep one weekend free to get everything ready. If you are taking time off add a day or two extra before the machines arrive to get everything set up so you can hit the ground running.

Back to top of the page

What machines will I need to hire?

The only machines not required when sanding floors by hand machines only for delicate timbers or to preserve as much patination as possible are the large walk about belt sander and the screeder or trio finishing sanders as we will be using the edge sander to sand the whole floor and the dual action random orbital sander to finish. For more information on this topic, see our sanding floors by hand machines section.

You may already have a dust extractor, or not mind attaching your Henry to the machines with duct tape and changing the bags more often. You may also have a random orbital sander and a delta sander, in which case, obviously, you may not need to hire those machines. Otherwise you will need all the machines or their options, as described.

A final philosophical remark. Money. Pain. In floor sanding, as frequently in life the more money you spend the less pain you have to endure. If you have a small easy floor to restore then skimping on the correct tools will not entail so much of a hardship as the pain will be over relatively quickly. Otherwise the amount of money you spend is directly proportional to the amount of pain you will experience. When you start a large job you may smile at all the money you have saved. By the end of the job you may be willing to pay any amount of extra money just to make it all stop. The reason why I personally have invested thousands of pounds on the very best tools money can buy is not really for the benefit of my customers, although they do indeed benefit. It is most definitely for me and to reduce the amount of pain I have to endure. Sanding is hard work, no machine can make it totally easy but by getting the right tools you can make it eas-ier. Much easier, less frustrating, quicker and less tiring. The choice is up to you but as I have said this guide is based upon doing the best job possible in the most efficient manner possible and so I will only be describing the methods for using professional machines and NOT the smaller cheaper machines you may be used to or have seen on the TV or which are described in many other guides.

Required machines

8 in (200mm) Belt sander

Either Lagler Hummel, Bona Belt, Frank Cobra or Bona flexi drum.

May be a few Kunzle and Tasin belt machines out there like the Aries, Taurus or Sirio which are decent machines and certainly better than the smaller drum sanders but have worse ergonomics than the above, recently Bona has got Kunzle and Tazin to produce some of their machines for them.

Some people may still have the old Bona Universal 10 inch machines before Bona rebranded them.

Lagler invented the endless belt sander and it is arguably the best, simplest, most robust and efficient and easy to use. ‘Frank’ used to work as an engineer in Germany for Lagler and although I have never used the Frank machines I have seen them and heard they are good, Pallmann now brands the Frank machines and their Cobra looks to have excellent ergonomics although they are rare to hire. The Bona Flexi drum uses a smaller belt, which fits onto an expandable drum (rather than over the traditional roller and drum) so it is a belt sander, it is lighter and smaller than the other sanders which means it can be good for small rooms or tight spaces, it is not as powerful as the other sanders but it is still a very good machine and shares the same excellent dust extraction. It is not advised for large areas or very uneven or very dirty floors that require a more powerful and faster cut. There may be some Kunzle and Tasin machines out there which are more popular in the United States, they are Italian and decent machines, slightly cheaper than their German counterparts but not as reliable and to my mind much less ergonomic to use. They still get the job done though.


10 in (250mm) Belt sander

Bona Belt.

Bona, the Swedish company who invented water-based floor lacquers and the world wide market leader, by a long margin, in floor finishes bought the Universal sanding machine company around ten years ago and rebranded the machines Bona. Recently Bona have been working with Kunzle and Tazin (an Italian company) and so some of their machines are now rebranded K&T machines) they are good machines but in my opinion lag behind the Lagler Hummels. Pressure = force divided by area, so seeing as both the 10 inch Bona Belt and the 8 inch Lagler Hummel weigh around the same the Bona has a lower drum sanding pressure, the belts are more expensive and in my opinion is slightly less ergonomic, still a very good machine.6 inch (150mm) edge sander

Lagler Flip. Lagler Elan. Bona Mini Edge. (All velcro fixing)

All are excellent. The Flip gets my vote, very light and excellent dust extraction. The Elan is an older design, very light. Bona make good sanders. Either one will do.


7 inch (178mm) edge sander

Lagler Unico. Bona Edge. (Both velcro fixing) Any other 7 inch edger at a push, if it has velcro fixing system.

All are excellent, the Lagler Unico normally comes with a medium length ‘nose’ which is handy for getting underneath radiators, if you have a lot of radiators this can be an advantage (the Bona Edge may come in a medium or long nose version also) these machines are considerably heavier than the 6 inch versions. There are plenty of other 7 inch edgers around but few will have the excellent dust extraction of these two and the edgers make by far the most dust when compared to the belt sanders. Velcro is a must as it saves hours of ‘screwing around’ changing discs, the novelty of which wears off after the twentieth disc change.

Back to top of the page

If doing a through lounge or larger area and you want to save time, or you want to minimise time spent on your knees then you will need either:

Bona Trio. Triple 8 inch disc finishing sander. There is no other machine like it in the world.


Lagler Single, Bona Buffer, Bona FlexiSand (or other screeder at a push)

All these machines are used after the belt and edge sanding has been completed to remove the straight scratches and blend in the round scratches left by those sanders and to blend the interface between the two and to create a perfectly smooth finish. If this is not done not only will the floor not be as smooth as it could be (which will mean more lacquer will be required and possibly that the floor finish will start to fail prematurely as the fine scratches catch the dirt and can more easily be worn) This is imperative if you are staining as the interface between the round scratch pattern and the straight central pattern will show up as the stain will be absorbed at different rates highlighting (normally) a darker edge.

The Trio is an amazing machine but is heavy and expensive to hire, it has it’s own built in dust extraction unit, but it is the easiest to use by far.

The buffers, of which the Bona buffer is the most common is smaller and lighter and will need to be connected to a dust extractor or vacuum to contain the dust. Buffers take a little time to get used to as ordinarily the controls are counter intuitive, normally you push up for left, down for right, left for forwards and right for backwards. There definitely is a knack and will be a snap for all you budding helicopter pilots out there, for everyone else, the trio is simplicity itself you just gently push it where you want to go. If you do get the buffer then you really need the Bona or Lagler units and make sure they have their dust skirts fitted and in good condition.

If you have your own dust extractor, delta sander and 6 inch random orbital or dual random orbital sander then, obviously you will not need to hire these, otherwise they are essential.

Dust extractor

Many, many makes, popular ones are made by Festool, Fein, Trend, Hitachi, Nilfisk-Alto.

Essential, the clue is in the name, works both as an industrial rated vacuum which means you won’t risk ruining your Dyson or Miele and can be connected to your random orbital sander or buffer to reduce the dust they produce to virtually zero. I have owned Fein, Trend and currently have two Festools. You may need to hire from a different place as not all floor sanding hire companies rent them out, incase you don’t get all the correct adaptors supplied you may need to get creative with the cable ties and / or duct tape, which are always essential items when doing most jobs. You need an extractor. Full stop. Unless you like dust.

6 in random orbital / dual action sander

Festool Rotex RO150, Bosch GEX150 TURBO, Bosch GEX150AC, Makita BO6031 (now BO6040) Makita BO6030, Metabo SXE450.

First let me say two things. One of these type of machines is imperative to do a quality job as it smooths the transition between the edge and the middle sanding areas, especially if you do not want to hire a Trio or a screeder, as then you will need to go over the whole floor with one of these to get the final smooth finish, this is partly what makes the difference between an ok job and a good job, also they are very handy for sanding in between coats if you can hire them for an extra day or two (advisable if you have a large area to do as by then you will do anything to reduce the extra time spent on your hands and knees) If you stain without using one of these sanders to feather away the transition between the different sander usage areas you will get artefacts in your staining that you will see. Secondly you absolutely need to use a dust extractor with these machines as the fine dust they create will go everywhere. With an extractor they are amazingly dust free. Before I bought my buffer / screeder I used to sand every single floor with this type of sander to finish off and I frequently still do, which is hard work but there simply is no other way of getting the last scratches out, blending the transition area and preparing for staining.

I believe the Bosch GEX150AC is quite widely available for hire, I have the considerably more powerful GEX150 TURBO but either will do, any 6 inch random orbital will do it’s just that some are more efficient in terms of how quickly they will sand an area and how cleanly they will do it. I have used all of the above and they all do the job, the Makita BO6031 and BO6040 aren’t so good on the dust extraction.

Back to top of the page

Delta sander

Any one that is available will do, they are all similar. If you can hire a Fein Multimaster, they are considerably more powerful and efficient (nb. dust extraction for these small sanders is largely irrelevant as they are too small to have the power to suck up the dust, a much better idea is to hold the nozzle of the vacuum hose next to the sanding plate as you sand, it does a much more efficient job)

This is the only machine that you do not absolutely need as you can sand either by hand with your fingers, with the aid of a rubbing block or with a stick with abrasive paper glued to it or better still with negative velcro glue to it (so you can attach cut up part worn velcro sanding discs to it) of course a delta sander is much easier. Do not think however a delta sander is all you need for the corners, you will be best served by some sort of scraper to take off the majority of the dirt / bituminous black stain / lacquer etc and only use the delta sander to smooth out the scraping marks. Delta sanders are quite weak (even the good ones) and by placing a lot of pressure on a small area the backing pads heat up very quickly which means the backing pads do not last very long. If you do not scrape most of the corners out first, it is quite possible (probable even) that you will melt the backing pad just doing one room which may be a problem if you do not have a spare. (scrapers are discussed in what other tools will I need here)

Equipment I use (see dust free sanding equipment)

Belt sander

Lagler Hummel


Lagler Unico, Lagler Flip

Finishing sanders

Lagler Trio, Bona buffer (with quatro disc attachment)

Dust extractors

Festool CT22, Festool CT26. Numatic triple motor industrial vacuum

Random orbitals

Bosch GEX150 TURBO (main sander) Makita BO6030, Metabo SXE450, Metabo SXE400, Makita BO5012

Detail sanders

Fein Multimaster FMM250, Metabo SXE400

Back to top of the page

 What abrasives will I need?

Types of abrasives

Aluminium oxide (AlOx)

Colour: Large belts and edge discs normally red in colour, 6in Random Orbital (RO) discs are yellow, red, or green (almost all RO discs are Alox anyway)

Properties: AlOx is cheap abrasive, grains break easily to form irregular shaped new grains, wear quite quickly on hardwoods such as oak and blunted quickly by unpunched nails for example.

Usage: Best using coarse belts and discs to remove very dirty floors with paint, glue or bituminous stains for example as abrasive will clog up long before abrasive is worn away. In general if you can avoid these belts for coarse sanding as sharper belts will remove even sticky coatings better, it is perfectly ok to use these belts for fine sanding such as P80, P100 and P120, although on oak and other hardwoods you still may be better off with Silicon Carbide or Zirconia as they will heat up less.

Silicon Carbide (SiC)

Colour: Large belts and edge discs normally black in colour, Bona anti static can be green (RO discs only Festool do SiC holed velcro discs, v rare)

Properties: More expensive abrasive, stronger than Alox and cooler running, sharper grains shear to form sharp new grains (self sharpening) so abrasive stays sharper and cuts stronger for longer, good all round abrasive for softwoods from coarse to fine.

Usage: Good general purpose all round abrasive for edge discs you do not need the zirconia, these will be fine and are much preferred to AlOx as they last much longer, for belts they are fine for all but the toughest floors, hardwoods like old oak, quartered oak or where there are a lot of nails / tacks still in the surface (old pine)

Zirconia (Zirc mix)

Colour: All belts and discs that I know of are blue. There are three forms of (Zirc) Zirconia. Zirconia / AlOx mix, pure Zirconia and Ceramic Zirconia, in ascending order of durability and price. Almost all the Zirconia abrasives you will get from the hire shops will undoubtedly be the cheapest Zirc / AlOx mix.

Properties: Zirconia has similar properties to Diamond and is one of the most efficient abrasives available. Although with similar hardness to AlOx it is much denser (denser than Diamond too) and importantly is much tougher, so resists fracture much more. Unlike Diamond (which is an excellent thermal conductor) it is a very poor thermal conductor, this means it runs colder than all other abrasives which leads to less melting (and therefore clogging) of applied finishes / glues / stains / resin deposits (such as on pine) and less burning on hardwoods such as oak. It is in fact, so efficient that it has to be mixed with AlOx to get the best effect, especially at the finer grades (P60 upwards) because it is so durable the grains do not fracture and this can be undesirable in finer grades. Normal abrasives (SiC and AlOx) fracture and therefore become finer during use, so for example a P60 belt will become, partially at least, a P70 or mostly P80 belt with some P60 during use, this is desirable as in effect the belt is getting finer as it is used and you are effectively sanding with two different grades at the same time. Pure Zirconia belts can therefore still leave scratches in the wood at finer grades as you are mostly just sanding with the one grade i.e. a P60 will mostly be just P60.

By mixing the Zirconia with cheaper and more friable AlOx grains this smoother ‘dual grade’ sanding is maintained compared to the pure AlOx belts but with cooler running, faster cutting action and increased durability. When overall efficiency is taken into account these belts can turn out to be no more expensive than the cheaper belts. For information, Zirconia ceramic belts use fused Alumina which is even harder than Zirconia with Zirconia to give the hardest most durable abrasive this side of Diamond belt and are normally used to ‘sand’ hardened steel. You can buy them but the belts are very, very expensive and it is unlikely any hire company will sell them.

Usage: For old pine floors where you can not be sure you have punched in all the nails these are vital as they can ‘eat’ nails (in a shower of sparks, if they are not too proud in which case they will still rip the belt) and remain sharp. Also for hardwoods they remain cool and sharp much longer. I would advise using these belts (as I do) for all coarse sanding from P24 to P50 after which SiC or AlOx belts will mostly be fine (except on hard hardwoods where using Zirc is useful even in the finer grades.

I mainly use these mixed Zirconia belts as less time spent sanding means, less dust, less effort and quicker job completion, which means ‘more’ clean, ‘more’ easy and ‘more’ quicker. Sometimes less is more.

Back to top of the page

Abrasives summary

In descending order of cost, durability and speed of cutting and general performance: Zirconia (blue) Silicon Carbide (black) Aluminium Oxide (red)

You may not have a choice of which abrasives you get, it is however worth asking what abrasive they supply as there is a marked and noticeable difference between the lifetime of the AlOx and Zirc belts. I would, at the very least ask if you could have at least Silicon Carbide for the P24 to P50 grades, many companies will supply you with SiC for the coarser grades and AlOx for the finer grades as a matter of course and some will supply Zirconia belts at extra cost. It’s hard for me to advise as each case is individual, as a general rule of thumb even though they may cost a little more, getting the best abrasives you can will save you time and effort, which is a good thing. The more uneven your floor and the more stain, lacquer and nails / staples / tacks it has the more you will benefit from getting the Zirconia belts, especially over the much less durable AlOx, but do not fret if your company only supplies the Silicon Carbide, they will be fine. I mostly use the Zirconia.

It is important to note that most hire companies do not actually make much, if any money at all on their hire sanders as they are expensive to buy, run and maintain and have a much shorter life than tools owned by professionals (who tend to look after them better!) Therefore they tend to make the bulk of their money from the abrasives. It is wise to check the prices of the abrasives before you start and enquire how much abrasive does the hire company think you will need, in practice this can vary greatly but at least you can have an idea of the budget. Abrasives in general have become very expensive recently, so expensive in fact that the margins the hire companies make has been reduced as by charging their traditional mark up the abrasive prices would put people off. You should not be put off by the difference between the higher price of the quality abrasives used by the professional machines and that of the traditional cheaper hire machines, the hire companies are making a far greater mark up on the cheaper abrasives and you are getting much better value for money by using the higher quality abrasives on the professional machines, not to mention much faster work progress and much easier abrasive changing.

No one in their right mind enjoys sanding, not even me, especially after the novelty wears off and the pain starts to kick in, so get the best abrasives you can afford, if you are sanding a large area or a particularly difficult floor you will be glad you did. Depending upon the size of your project / your physical fitness / stamina / boredom threshold the longer you sand the less you will care about the money and the more you will want to make it stop.

Back to top of the page

What other tools will I need?

Good quality 16oz or 20oz claw hammer, I use my trusty Estwing, when it comes to hitting things hard you can’t beat the Americans.

Nail punch, preferably more than one incase they break, rubber coated cause less blisters than the bare metal knurled ones.

Vaughan Superbar® (also American) or similar pry bar / nail puller basically a thin wide bar is best and does less damage than a bolster.

Flat head / Phillips / Posi drive screwdrivers, if you have a lot of repairs or a lot of screws to remove then a rechargeable driver is obviously handy.

If you have a lot of old rusty screws to remove then a rechargeable impact driver is very handy, you can hire these as they tend to be expensive.

Wide nose pliers. Preferably with softgrip.

Good quality pincers, these are infinitely better at removing nails and large hardboard staples than general pliers as you get a much better grip and can rest the rounded edge on the board as you grip the staple / nail close to the board and use the floor as a fulcrum point as you pull back and push down to extract the offending item with much less effort. (They are first class levers using the floor as a fulcrum using your grip strength to transfer your body weight and movement of your arm into mechanical advantage. In lay mans terms, they act as a lever with the floor where as pliers do not so it takes much less effort to remove fixings with them) This is not a trivial matter if you have 2,000 25mm heavy gauge staples to remove. Although hopefully you don’t.

Nail / tack remover, I have several of these including my trusty upholstery tack remover which has outlasted many other iterations, again buy two as it is quite possible one may break.

Japanese cats paw nail remover / mini pry bar. Very useful. Do a google search.

Tungsten carbide scraper. Invaluable. Indispensable. I was one of the first people to be lucky enough to use one of the Linbides in the UK from the original guy who imported them, slow to catch on as the blades are so expensive. Do a search for Linbide, the original although Stanley bought the rights so also search for Stanley tungsten carbide scraper (they are identical) It will scratch metal, glass and make short work of bituminous stain and wood finishes. The blades are very brittle though and will get damaged on proud nails and screws so be careful but can still be used when ‘nicked’. The blades are very expensive but there’s a good reason for that, they work. I call it the ‘super scraper’ it has finally caught on now. Bahco also do good scrapers. I remember when I was 15, on my first job with my Grandfather, on the night shift stripping the limed oak waiter stands in the Palm Court restaurant of Le Meridien Picadilly with his trusty Skarsten scrapers, they aren’t so heavy duty but may still be useful. Basically it is very hard to ‘sand’ around radiator pipes, under radiators, in corners or anywhere the sanders cannot get without using these types of scraper. The blades may be expensive but could save you several hours of sanding with little bits of abrasive paper and bloody, blistered hands. At which point the blades may not seem as expensive.

Filling knives. For applying two part filler for spot repairs you will need a small one around 1 inch width, and a couple of larger ones 3 or 4 inch for spot repairs and if mass gap filling then one or two larger knives are handy. The larger professional caulking, taping and smoothing knives from a decorators centre will be good as they are comfy to use and come in sizes from 6 to 14 inches, I think around 6 to 10 inches work best. You will need at least two knives of similar size, one to clean the filler off the other.

I will not insult your intelligence, if you are fixing replacement boards then you will obviously know what you will need, either the money / promise of roast dinner to pay a carpenter / handyman / father in law or a saw or saws of some description if doing it yourself. If you have a lot of repairs then a Fein multimaster like the FMM250 or similar oscillating saw is invaluable as you can crosscut floor boards very cleanly whilst in situ. If you are repairing a tongue and groove strip or parquet floor and you need to remove strips or blocks to refix and re glue then an oscillating saw is almost a necessity and a sharp chisel as you will only be able to remove the wood blocks by cutting the tongues on each side, be careful if your blocks are laid onto concrete as this will blunt the blades. Forget the wood blades, these are very weak and break easily, you need the bimetal blades meant for wood and metal, they are expensive but very useful and will save you a lot of time.

If coating the floor with several coats of shellac you will need a nice zorino polishing mop as described in the French polishing section of the guide to wood finishing here. If doing just one coat you can get away with a nice large soft hog hair brush or failing that a synthetic brush like a Purdy.

If coating with water-based lacquers you will need a Purdy type synthetic brush 2 to 3 inches wide, I use 2.5 inches, for the edges and a professional roller for the middle, I advise spending more for the original Bona rollers, you can normally buy the rollers, telescopic poles and appropriate roller cage from the same outlets / online stores as sell the lacquers. A good quality roller will apply more finish in a smoother manner with less chance of leaving applicator marks in the finish. I am sure after all your hard work preparing, fixing and sanding at the end of the job you would not want to ‘lose the kingdom for the sake of a nail’. The professional rollers are thicker, larger and wider and work better. With my experience I could, if I wished, get a reasonable finish with a clean house broom, yet I still buy the best rollers, because it is easier to get the best finish and I have tried everything in between. You will need a paint tray or larger paint scuttle, or box with cut down bin liner in it (double the bag) or you can just pour the finish directly onto the floor, whichever you feel most happy with. If you purchase more than 3 x 5 litre containers of Bona lacquer they will probably come in a box that helpfully converts into its own lacquer scuttle courtesy of clever thinking, a rip tab and three plastic bags that are supplied in the box.

If you are coating the floor with oil then you, in general will need several bags of lint free clean cloths and a small brush for the edges although sometimes you can apply the oil with a mohair roller. You will need to follow the manufacturers instructions as I have little experience on applying these finishes so this is one isolated area where I cannot advise. More general information on staining and coating can be found in the wood finishing guide here and at the bottom of this page.

Extension leads. As heavy duty as you can get. Remember to check loadings and cross check with the label on the machines, all electrical equipment has to, by law, state what power input they require. Remember to fully unwind you extension leads otherwise the inducted impedance will drastically reduce the rated load of the extension. Make sure you have a few spare fuses.

Lights. If you have poor lighting, for example up lighters in a cottage or perhaps your lights are not fitted yet then you will need extra lights. If you just require extra lighting then a couple of strategically placed lamps can do the job, otherwise you will need to buy or hire flood lights. The old Halogen lights are cheap to buy or hire but I personally do not like them as they get very hot. In fact seeing as halogen lights are only 4% efficient it means that a 1000W twin floodlight is 96% of a 1 bar electric fire. These days you can get LED or fluorescent flood lights although you may need to order more units as they are not so powerful. In general you will need quite good light to see what you are doing, you will feel less tired and make less mistakes if the work area is well lit.

Back to top of the page

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

As a responsible human I am obliged to tell you about all the protective equipment you will need. Due to the (cue Daily Mail readers…) ‘health and safety gone mad’ you will probably get a basic PPE kit with your hire equipment. Some of you will ensconce yourself head to toe in Kevlar underpants and full face respirators whilst some of you won’t wear anything. I will tell you what I do, what you can get away with and what you really shouldn’t, whilst remembering the adage ‘do as I say and not as I do’ (until of course the person saying that winds up in hospital and belatedly starts taking their own advice)

Ear defenders, ear plugs

These are optional if you want to risk hearing damage and temporary hearing loss, in general most people will start wearing them after a while as the noise wears you down. The more comfortable you are the better you will work and the more you will concentrate. I would ask your hire company what they provide and if it’s only earplugs then splash out on some ear defenders. If you have more jobs to do around the house then I would strongly advise you buy the best, highest rated pair you can before you start. I would go for the Peltor / 3M Optime 3, the same as they wear on the flight deck of the USS Nimitz. The difference between these and the cheapo ones your hire shop will lend you is, well, massive. Much, much more comfortable sound wise and well, comfortable wise. I would say if you have a lot of nails to punch in on an old board floor then these are really a must have item, the human body is designed to instinctively flinch at the sound of a ‘bang’ suppressing this Pavlovian reaction is in itself tiring, not to mention the headaches. You WILL hit your hand with the hammer, probably. This will hurt, probably. The less you concentrate the more you will hit your hand, probably. After your throbbing hand is purple and swollen you will wish you bought some good ear defenders. Probably. They come in three different flavours, level I level II and level III with hearing protection (sound pressure level attenuation) from low to high, the cheapo ones are level I the ones you need are minimum level II (available at most DIY shops) or level III which should be available at Screwfix etc or online. They really don’t cost much compared to a bad headache.

Dust nuisance mask, dust mask

You will require one, any mask is better than no mask, for most sanding tasks you should not need to wear one, unless sanding with the edge sander on old uneven floors, or removing sticky bituminous stain. It is always advisable to use one when emptying dust bags as this is when a lot of the dust may be released. Wearing a mask all the time can be hot, annoying and irritate your skin. Everyone is different but I really prefer the Moldex range of masks as they sit away from your face and only contact round the edge rather than cocoon you in cotton wool. Some versions also come with mini one way valves that make breathing much cooler and easier. Again, higher comfort levels make you concentrate more and make the job seem like less effort.

Respirators (organic vapour) masks

These either come in smaller disposable form or a semi-full face form with fixed or replaceable cartridges. The basic essence of them is activated charcoal filters which break down any solvents given off when applying solvent finishes or using solvent fillers. I very rarely wear one of these but then at the time of writing I am ‘only’ 41 and my brain is still functioning although no one knows for how much longer, so I would strongly advise if you are filling your board floor with a solvent filler (which is best) you need to get one. You will still require good ventilation but a mask with rating EN141 for organic vapours (please check as regulations and standards are constantly changing) will stop you from feeling dizzy and killing more brain cells than is strictly necessary. After which you can sit down in the evening with a bottle of wine and kill your brain cells on your own terms. They are all reasonably cumbersome and uncomfortable, I use a Moldex twin cartridge respirator but any will do.


If you are a farmer, firefighter or Australian crocodile wrestler you may not need gloves, everyone else may benefit from using them. Again everyone is different, going to a local store and trying some on is really the only way. A pair of fingerless gloves like the Ringers gloves are very comfy and protective. When doing extensive repairs or punching in a lot of nails I sometimes use a pair of old motorcycle gloves as these offer great protection. Mine are signed by ex British superbike champion Niall Mackenzie, but that isn’t a strict requirement, if you know someone with an old pair of bike gloves, try and borrow them.

Protective suits

Not really required unless you are doing something badly wrong, they make you hot and tear easily. If you are sanding your floors totally by hand and they are very uneven or coated with lots of gunk then you may want to wear one (tying the arms around your waist still offers protection where it matters and keeps you a lot cooler.

Knee pads

Any are good, again there is no substitute for visiting the shop and trying some on, don’t just go for the cheapest go for the ones which feel the most comfortable, you are more likely to wear them. I find the simple, light weight expanded foam type to suit me best, I find the gel ones to be heavy and that the gel pocket inside moves after a while making them poor value for money. I have now invested in a pair of Bear Grylls type trousers (I think they are the same make) which have a pocket in the knee area for specially designed ergonomic knee pad inserts. All I can say is bliss. Well as close to bliss as you can get working on your knees. If you have a lot of work to do in your project check out Englebert Strauss and look out for their work trousers. The quality is top notch, £80 isn’t much for protecting your knees if you have a lot of floor level work to do and they should last for years.

Goggles, safety glasses

Your deafness may be temporary, your cough transitory, your dizziness may pass in a few hours, even your bruised hands will heal in a week or two. The spark of metal in your eyeball may never come out. And if it is in the vision critical part of your eye then your vision may be impaired. I rarely wear safety specs but am constantly aware of the danger I am in, I know when to look away from spinning belts or instinctively close my eyes but even I realise I should wear them more often than I do. The situation where even I wear them is when I am edge sanding an old board floor with hidden nails (hidden by black bituminous stain) / grit and plaster being vibrated from behind the skirtings when I am in a tight corner or alcove. Normally any sparks / nails / bits of wood grit or metal will be spun out at high speed along the skirting or into the room, when you are sanding in a corner or an alcove this ‘ejaculate’ has nowhere to go but bounce into the corner and ricochet back up into your face. My advice would be that when sanding with the large belt sander they are not required, neither with the screeder, Trio, nor with the delta sander or the RO finishing sander (unless you have the powered rotary action sander on powered rotary function and you are sanding in a corner) In general I would advise wearing them when working with the edger, especially with the coarser grades when the floor is dirtier. You should also wear them if checking the true running of the belt on the belt sander with the clutch up and the side door either off or open.

A place where I should really start wearing them is when punching in nails as this can create fragments and sparks that can easily go into your eye, I would suggest you might want to wear safety specs when doing this type of work. A colleague of mine got a wood splinter in his eye and was lucky to get away with it. Again go to your local shop and try some out, the more comfy they are the more likely you are to wear them, I find Bolle Tracker II comfy and in yellow double as excellent props for your Ali G fancy dress outfit.

First aid kit

Hopefully you will not be needing one of these but if you have a very old floor and a lot of repairs to do it is very likely you may get splinters / blisters / small cuts so something like Germolene’s antiseptic with local anaesthetic cream is very ahhhh, after you have removed a splinter with your tweezers / needle / new clean razor blade which can be ouchy. Plasters tend to come off working hands (you can try) but if you get blisters you may be better with surgical tape or plaster tape which you can wrap round. Savlon Dry Antiseptic Povidone iodine spray or similar is very handy to give your minor cuts and scrapes a quick blast whilst you continue to work (you can put plasters on after your bath / shower when you’ve finished for the day) You can just run your eyes under a running tap if you are flexible enough otherwise a fresh bottle of Optrex is always handy to flush out dust / foreign objects, a proper eye wash is not necessary. Butterfly stitches are always handy and covered with surgical tape or plaster tape will keep leakages to a minimum much better with constantly working hands than normal plasters alone. Hopefully, you will not need them. But having been in the Cubs and Scouts, be prepared and all that.

Back to top of the page


Mass gap filling can be achieved by using a solvent filler resin (nitrocellulose resin jelly) like Lecol 7500 (the best in my opinion) although there are a few other makes, I have tried many but come back to the Lecol, it isn’t cheap but it’s very good. There are water based fillers like the Bona Mix and Fill, this is water based but rusts nails, can go black when used with your filling knife, takes ages to dry and shrinks much more than the solvent fillers. I am a big fan of Bona products but this does not work for me, if you are sensitive to solvents you may want to give this a try as the solvent fillers give off lots of fumes and you will probably need to wear a respirator. Eventually these solvent fillers may be phased out but at present they are the best you can get. The amount you will need will vary greatly so it is hard to advise, you will need a lot less for a parquet floor than for an old board floor with wide gaps. Just as an example a medium size Edwardian / 1930’s room, say of 17sqm may require less than a third of a 5kg container of Lecol 7500 with very fine gaps whilst a similar size board floor with large gaps may require almost two 5kg containers.

For anything other than a small room with boards it is probably best to get two 5kg containers.

Spot repairing of ex-radiator holes large cracks, splits and larger holes can be filled with a two part polyester resin filler like Ronseal high performance wood filler. These types of fillers are chemically bonded using a separate catalyst (hence the name two part or ‘two pack’) They can be self coloured (if staining afterwards as the filler rarely takes the stain as well as the wood and will otherwise appear lighter) using pigments either raw powders or universal colourants like the ones used to colour paint (like Polyvine Universal Acrylic Colourant)

Back to top of the page

What finish do I need?

The finish is up to you, your options mostly are modern water-based lacquers which are the most durable and popular choice, modern oil or hardwax oil finishes which are much less durable but are easy to apply and traditional shellac and waxed finishes which are the least durable but more traditional.

You will need to check with the manufacturer but water lacquers generally advise three coats at around 10sqm per litre. Oils two to three coats at 25sqm per litre and shellac two to six coats depending on build required at around 15 to 20sqm per litre per coat.

Make sure you order enough as stopping half way through isn’t wise, for much more information on this see the Guide to Wood Finishing here where I discuss the relative merits of each finish along with a detailed description of stains and staining. For details on how to apply these finishes to floors see the section sealing and finishing below.

Back to top of the page


We have dealt with all our hire tools, other tools, brushes, rollers, poles, finish trays and scuttles. This is a list of all the other items you may need.

Bin bags

Buy the best you can, rubble sacks or garden bags are better so the little bits of wood / nails / abrasives do not puncture them. It is no good spending time and money containing all the dust and then trailing it through the rest of your house like a modern day Theseus.

If you are using your own vacuum and it takes bags have you got enough?

Cable ties

handy for all sorts of things including closing your rubbish bags efficiently, connecting your vacuum hose to your machines, for fixing around the end of your dust bags on the edger and the large belt sander if your machine does not come with ‘multiclip’ this will seal off the end of the bag whilst working and stop dust from coming out even if your tying skills are very good. Be careful when removing not to damage the dust bag (wire cutters are good for this)

Masking tape and gaffa (fabric) tape

For making, holding aerial / TV / telephone / internet wires off the floor (run them along the top of the skirtings and fix to the skirtings) Also for blocking off the letterbox when you are coating hallways to prevent your local pizzerias’ lunchtime offers being an integral part of your floor finish.


Always handy for wiping up spilt finishes and stains and for cleaning your hands.


Either rosehead or cut clasp sometimes called floor brads, these nails are flat so they do not split the wood and have a flat head with a tang that resists the movement of the wood and stops the nail from working loose. If you have the use of a Porta-nailer or similar then you can use the face nailing plate and the serrated sharks tooth nails. You can use a Paslode IM350 gas first fix (framing) nailer or similar but the annular D head nails will not hold the boards as securely as rosehead or cut clasp. Nails should be a minimum of 50mm (2 inches) but preferably 65mm if you have very old joists which may be a little worn / worm eaten / friable in places. In the worst cases you may need to use 75mm (3 inches) or longer screws. Oval wire nails of differing sizes are handy to fix down the ends of boards where the larger nails would split the wood, remember to double up and use two of these nails instead of one as they have less holding power. If you are nailing into fresh wood in hardwoods especially oak you may need to predrill with a small pilot drill to avoid splitting the wood.


Buy the best you can find, I advise Spax, Reisser, Paslode or Ulti-Mate there are some other decent brands but if you don’t know, stick to these, there is a surprising amount of engineering that goes into screws. In general buy the most expensive there is and they will generally be the best, the difference between cheapo Chinese screws made of Philadelphia and German engineered loveliness 4 pence. The difference between squeaky, broken, splintered bouncing boards and loose gap filler and a quiet, firm fixed floor? Priceless. Don’t skimp on screws. Cheap screws will also do an impression of plasticine under pressure and whilst you are spending half an hour removing half a broken screw with the pincers you may rue the saving of the 3 or 4 pence per screw.

Back to top of the page

Cleaning, fixing and preparing

As we know, the key to a good job is preparation, more specifically preparation, preparation, preparation.

We have prepared by researching the correct hire machines and abrasives, bought or booked in any other tools we will require.

By now any floor coverings should have been removed, any replacement wood bought, any extra tools have been borrowed / stolen / bought, including the finish we are going to apply (for help on choosing the correct finish see what finish do I need below or the guide to wood finishing here) this is the first stage of preparation.

Now we have to prepare the floor for sanding. This is another area where many floor sanding companies necessarily cut corners these days to cut costs, this is because cutting corners here is not always immediately apparent, but will often surface after a short while (after the cheque has cleared)

We will not suffer this problem. We are saving money by doing the job ourselves anyway and it is going to be hard work however we do it, so, we may as well do it properly. After all we only want to sand once. Not once every couple of years. This will be the second level of our preparation which will ensure we are ready to carry out the third level of preparation, the sanding itself.

Back to top of the page

Removing nails, screws, staples

Give your floor a good sweep and vacuum before you start. You can do these tasks in any order you wish but here I describe what I think is the most logical progression.

Because any repairs will need to be carried out on our hands and knees we want to remove any extraneous nails, screws, tacks and staples before we start as they can rip clothes and hurt your hands and knees even if you are wearing knee pads. Your nail or tack remover will be handy as will your Japanese cats paw for removing small nails and tacks, use your hammer with these removers to provide more pulling force, gently tap the end of the tool with the hammer whilst you maintain gentle lateral pressure and the natural curve of the tool will help lift the fixing. You may need to use the claw of the hammer and / or the superbar (flat pry bar) to remove stubborn fixings. Screws with mangled heads can sometimes be removed with an impact driver, sometimes the head is too damaged or has even come off, you can try punching them in or pulling them out with your pincers (try twisting them to undo them anti clockwise of course)

Screws should be removed, punched in or countersunk or they will rip your belts and damage your sanders.

Nails should be punched in to a depth of at least 3mm or removed. Clout nails (thin round nails with very large round heads) should be removed rather than punched in as they are likely to split the wood, in fact if you can easily and safely remove any nails with round heads do so as they will not hold your floor securely, these need to be replaced with appropriate floor nails, either rosehead or cut clasp floor brads or quality wood screws as appropriate. As stated in the what other tools will I need section pincers are invaluable for removing nails and screws. If working on very old floors your nails may be rusted into the wood to form an unbreakable bond and the nail will break before it comes out, in that case you will have to punch it in, but be careful, the head may collapse and the hammer may slip causing much pain. If you have removed a board or two you may find some nails are left in the joist, some can be removed whilst some old and rusted ones will not budge, in that case you will have to hit them from the side sometimes (alternating sides) repeatedly until they break (like bending a coat hanger until it snaps repeatedly bending a nail causes it to ‘work harden’ and become brittle due to the dislocations in the crystal piling up at the crystal grain boundary, basically hit it a lot and it will break)

Staples. There are two types of staples, normal common or garden staples staples, as used to fix down underlay, these can be removed if you find any but do not go mad, if you have a lot the large sanders will just eat them up. Then there are the large thick round wire staples used to fix down hardboard. Oh dear. You can leave them in, hit them flat with a hammer and sand them off but you will wear out your abrasives much quicker and your floor will look like a Pearly Queens jacket especially if you stain it dark afterwards. It is best to remove them if you can, it is hard work so budget enough time including rest breaks as your wrist and hand will probably hurt quite badly. Getting volunteers to share the job may be the answer.

Back to top of the page


Any glue, mastic or stuck on underlay should be removed as much as possible with your pry bar and tungsten carbide scrapers as these will gum up and waste your abrasives and as they melt under the friction of the moving abrasive will release smoke and fumes that are unpleasant and quite probably not very good for you. Washing the floor with water or white spirits (as is frequently suggested) is not necessary and in fact may be detrimental as white spirits will not remove all the gunk but may soften it and actually make it harder to remove by mechanical means. A good vacuum or three is all that is required.

If you are sanding an old pine board floor (the majority of floors) then you may want to clean in between. the gaps in the boards, this is imperative if you are going to fill them. If the floor has been filled previously and it is all falling out then you will need to remove as much as possible with a large flat screwdriver, tack remover etc. Experiment to see what works best for you. No matter how well you fill if the filler is sticking to old loose filler or caked in dust / old paper mache / string / mastic rather than the sides of your floor boards it will fall out, sometimes almost immediately. I do get funny looks sometimes when customers bring me a cup of tea and I am cleaning in between. the boards, but it simply must be done if you are filling. Even if you are not filling then gunk from in between. the boards can get pulled up by the rotating abrasive belts and damage the belts or leave marks on the floor and when you come to coat your brush may pick up dust that will leave a nice grey-black streak in your otherwise perfect finish. Nice. As you go along vacuum the floor and use the flat nozzle to clean every inch of the gaps, slowly.

Back to top of the page

Repairing board floors

If you have followed my advice you should have ascertained how many boards require replacement and will have ordered and collected those by now. You should have checked for loose boards, lifted any that were lose, removed any fixings and checked for services (cables and pipes) making a note if necessary on the board or adjacent board with marker pen or chalk.

If at all possible we wish to keep any damaged boards and indeed it is possible to salvage many cracked and seemingly broken boards by refixing them securely with the proper nails and screws and then filling the cracks or holes with two part (polyester) wood filler which you can self colour with rare earth pigments or universal stainer / colourisers which are available a art shops or online. If once you have refixed the board and you step on it and it feels weak or ‘bouncy’ you will need to remove and replace the board or section. Often the only boards you will need to replace are ones which have been worm eaten, have rotted or which are too thin (less than 17mm thick, unless you are sanding totally by hand machine) and especially where the ends have been damaged and you can no longer get a good fix to the joist underneath. If the end of the board is broken you do not need to replace the whole board, just cut out to the nearest joist (normally 400mm centres) and replace that section. If you have to replace two boards side by side, stagger the repairs by at least one joist at each end. On an old floor with lots of repairs a one ‘joist span’ repair is okay if done in a couple of isolated places, if the repairs are all concentrated in one place then using different length replacements and staggering where boards end will look better.

If you are filling your gaps afterwards using the resin and sawdust method then you can screw the boards into place, which is the most secure, make sure you counter sink them to at least 4mm, preferably more. The filler will cover the screws. If you are not filling then using floor board nails looks better and should be in keeping with the original fixings.

If any boards are lower than others when you fix them down (always ‘loose fix’ boards without fixings to check the height before you apply the fixings) then you will need to fit ‘shims’ or ‘packers’ underneath, do a web search for either, your local builder depot, Screwfix or Jewson etc should do them, Transpaks is one trade name. You may need to put different packers under different parts of the boards, in general any replacement boards should be 1 or 2mm above those around or flush, this makes the height difference easier to even up, if the replacement / refixed boards are below the adjacent boards it is very difficult to get them level, you may have to fill and / or feather the sanding, sometimes on very old floors or ones being sanded by hand this is unavoidable if the boards cannot be lifted but all other ‘sunk’ boards should be gently lifted and ‘packed out’ to the correct height which will make your sanding easier and look much better. Screwing gets a firmer fixing when using packers. When loose fitting with packers installed underneath note that when you have screwed / nailed the board down it will go lower, therefore you will have to fit packers such that when the board is loose fit on top it is slightly proud how much will depend upon your boards, joists and fixing method and you will have to experiment. If you are fixing with screws then you can check and if the packers need adjusting you can easily unscrew the board and adjust accordingly, a little extra time and effort here will pay dividends later when you start sanding as level floors are much easier to sand, especially for the inexperienced.

Back to top of the page

Repairing parquet block (and strip) floors

Although most people reading this guide will have board floors a significant majority of you will have parquet floors, lucky you. Most of the advice and techniques are exactly the same although the repairs obviously require different techniques.

There may be some modern parquet or block floors that have been laid incorrectly but almost none will require extensive repairs, normally the floor is either Ok or it fails spectacularly, most modern glues are so strong there should be little need for repair, if there is modern glue attached you may need to plane or machine the glue off as it is so strong and it will be very hard to remove the glue build up on the sub floor.

The vast majority of parquet block floors requiring repair are floors laid before the end of the 1960’s and these will almost exclusively have been laid in bitumen (or for any of our American cousins reading this, asphalt) depending upon the grade used this may have set either hard or semi-soft and it will either flake off or resemble thick black molasses, in which case it won’t. Bitumen (I talk about this quite interesting material a little later here) is a very long lasting material, unfortunately depending upon what grade and how well it was used the ability of it to hold your floor securely may not be so great.

With parquet floors you have to be very careful as they are often tongue and grooved, which means one block is connected to every other so if you try and prise one block with a chisel you may lift another twenty or so blocks at the same time. You will need to lift as few blocks as possible, to determine which blocks are loose on your hands and knees go round and (I hit the blocks with my hand but this may be painful for you) tap the blocks gently with a hammer and listen to the ones that rattle or sound hollow, be careful to tap very gently as some bitumen can be brittle and hitting them hard with a hammer can cause sections of the whole floor to lose adhesion. (which is why when I was conducting a site survey on a hundred year old Burmese teak parquet floor at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London I asked the project manager what the f*** he was doing by allowing a bunch of labourers to drop several tons of masonry directly onto the unprotected floor. I politely pointed out to him the cost for the restoration could be ten times as much and he immediately ordered people to clear the mess up. At least he asked me to rewrite the works specification)

You will need to carefully remove each block or section of blocks (if your floor has square edged blocks or the tongues have already been cut perhaps for access to the sub floor underneath then great, gently prise the blocks up with a Japanese cat’s paw / scraper / tack remover / chisel or similar) First you will need to cut the tongues with a fine saw like a Japanese pull saw, a floorboard saw with a rounded profile or an oscillating saw like the Fein multimaster FMM250 preferably with a 44mm bimetal blade or similar, if the gaps have opened up you may be able to get a chisel in between. but it is better to use a saw so as not to loosen adjacent blocks with the impact shock. Removing blocks will take a while and you may blunt many saw blades on the sub floor below especially if it is concrete (which it frequently is) unfortunately these repairs take time, the trick is not to make matters worse as frequently if many areas are loose then it is an indication that the whole floor may not be totally secure.

Once you have cut the blocks out you should note their position and mark them with chalk or a marker pen before removing and cleaning the adhesive, normally bitumen, from both the back of the block and the floor. An old blunt scraper is good to do this as a new one will get blunted by the concrete, use a sharper one on the back of the block, the bitumen may mostly flake off or come off in sticky lumps, either way it is messy and you may need to clean your tools with white spirits. Get as much bitumen off as possible, use a chisel or the edge of your scraper to score the back of the block. When gluing the blocks back in position you can use a two part polyester wood filler or a proprietary floor glue. If you have a large area to repair then you may want to get a 7 or 15kg tub, otherwise look out for products that can be applied by ‘gun’ this will come in a 600ml ‘sausage’ and will require the use of a suitable gun which is a bigger version of the standard mastic gun. Ideally you want a product that is flexible like Bona 850T which when cured has a very tough but flexible bond that allows the wood to move without creating stresses that could break the bond to the sub floor, these glues are not cheap but that is because they are engineered to last.

Back to top of the page

Strip and engineered floors including floated board floors

Strip floors are usually glued or secret nailed and should not have loose strips unless they have been removed previously for access. The tongues will need to be cut in the same way and glued as before, if they are laid onto a wooden sub floor then they can be nailed too.

Engineered or solid board (plank) floors that have been floated may have boards that have been cut to get access to services under the sub floor below, it is difficult to repair these as often the whole floor may rise and fall slightly and not sit perfectly level, all you can do is glue and pin these floors using a flexible strong adhesive, do not glue the ends of the boards.

Back to top of the page

Before you start sanding

Several pages in and we are nearly ready to start sanding, well it is the definitive guide to floor sanding after all. (I mentioned preparation didn’t I?)

To recap we have cleaned our floors including scraping in between. any gaps and any excess glue or gunk, removed and replaced or repaired any broken boards or blocks, levelled the floor, removed any extraneous fixings and punched in any nails to 3mm min and countersink screws to 5mm min. We have ordered our hire sanders, other equipment, bought or borrowed any other tools we require, bought our filler, if any and possibly bought our finish and application tools if we are finishing straight after we have sanded.

Before we start sanding we have to make note of any telephone or burglar alarm wires that may run just underneath the skirtings or run up in the corner of the skirting as these may be damaged by the edge sander or by scraping. Any TV, telephone, cable, internet or other wires should be tied together with cable ties or duct tape and then put out of the way using duct tape if necessary. Curtains may need to be puled back and lifted out of the way with large cable ties (or daisy chain shorter ones together) if the curtains are expensive you may want to take them down to avoid damage.

If you have not already done so you may want to remove any pictures and mirrors from the wall (if they are not screwed in place) and remove any breakable items from shelves. Not only can the vibration move these items but whilst you are concentrating on moving the sander you tend to look straight ahead and may forget that you are bumping into a shelf of your finest Royal Doulton porcelain. It is also a good idea to remove any ornate lamp shades or light fittings, especially before you start coating. The extension pole is long and again you will be concentrating on the floor.

Here is a cautionary tale involving coating Jay Joplings kitchen floor off of Harley Street with a colleague called Gary, a roller pole and a $287,000 dollar Bruce Nauman neon light artwork. Let’s just say the wood finishing company that was then employing us (separately I might add) had insurance. Which was handy. As moments after the project manager told us how much the ‘Double poke in the eye’ artwork cost Gary calmly walked up to him holding a few shards of glass and placing it into the site managers’ hand cool as a cucumber said in his best cockney ‘well, there’s around $30,000 of it then’ which coincidently was almost the exact amount it cost to repair. People were not impressed by his estimating skills. Gary is an excellent floor coater, faster even than I, but even he cannot keep his eye on two things at once. (the insurance company paid up, but not before Gary staged an embarrassing video taped reconstruction, this was before I branched out on my own and I made a mental note in large red crayon ‘buy public liability insurance’ also making a note to ‘never play Gary at poker’)

So, be careful and remove anything breakable / knockable-overish / vibrateable-offerish beforehand. Even if you don’t have millions of pounds of works of art in your house.

Keep all your tools near to hand, especially your screwdrivers and your hammer and punch as you may need to remove more screws / punch more nails in as the sander reveals more as it cleans the wood.

Back to top of the page

When your machines arrive

When your machines arrive make sure the delivery guy explains how to use the sanders and do not be embarrassed to ask him or her again, take notes if you must and ask if they have instruction sheets or if there is any information on their website. It is no good being the person at the back of the class scared to put their hand up, the company makes most of their money on the abrasives, the guy can spend an extra five minutes telling you how to operate the machines. The sanders should have been tested before they were put on the delivery truck but always make sure you try them either whilst the delivery person is with you or as soon after as possible. If for any reason one of the machines does not work if you telephone the company straight away it may be that the delivery guy can pick up the faulty machine and drop you another one off straight away, if you don’t test the edger for example for a couple of hours you may have to wait until the next day. If there is a hole in the dust bag and you have a large area to do call them and ask for another bag, if you have the machines for a day for a small floor you may be able to put some duct tape over the hole.

Make sure you have all your machines.

If the machines are already assembled get the delivery person to check everything is done up tightly and preferably to show you how to do this. Check you have enough abrasives and that if you are not supplying your own PPE you have all the safety kit you need.

Hummel and Bona Belt operating instructions

Being the general all round swell guy that I am I have taken it upon myself to copy the salient information from the two most common professional belt sanding machines’ operating manuals and provide them for you on two new pages below, I am afraid I could not find information for the Frank machines but some of the same principles apply, so if your hire company did not provide you with a copy of the factory manual do not fret, they are below.

Back to top of the page

Before you start the sanding ‘proper’

If you have ignored my advice and hired one of those awful little drum sanders with the paper sheets and no clutch then I’m sorry, no amount of ‘pre-practice’ is going to help you, because the we are going to practice how to use the clutch and those machines do not have one. You can still use the same techniques as regards all other aspects of the guide and good luck.

To everyone else here is where we start getting used to the belt sanding machine. The best way to do this is after the hire person has set up the equipment and show you how to use it is to first check out the relevant pages from the user manual, or their own printed guide, if they provide you with either. These machines are very powerful and whilst no more dangerous to your health and safety than any other power tool they can be dangerous to the health of your floor so it is best to get used to them before we start sanding for real.

I have helpfully created two web pages showing the important pages from the manuals of the Lagler Hummel here and the Bona Belt here all the important information is included without the complicated stuff you won’t need. Have a good look at the pages and print them out if you need to.

First let’s practice ‘ghost sanding’ walking up and down the room with the machine switched off, here we can used to the weight and the feel of the machine and how it handles, practice using the clutch and keeping the cable out of the way. Remember, if you stop for a fraction of a second with the sanding drum in contact with the floor you may leave a deep divot that you can never remove, so instinctively pausing to move the cable without using the clutch first could be fatal, to your floor.

Put any harness belt that came with the machine on, plug the machine in to the wall and make sure the power is off, we sand from left to right in the direction of the boards or the grain of the wood, fix the cable into any cable holder that the machine has and then work out how you are going to deal with the slack. If the cable is hanging out to the right for instance I wrap the cable over my right shoulder round my neck and then under my left arm where I hold it partially wrapped around my left arm with my left hand this way I have full control over the cable and can move it out of the sanding path. When the cable is hung from the left, reverse the process. Find out a way that is comfortable for you.

Now we have the cable sorted we have to establish a routine, it doesn’t matter is this is your first time or your thousandth time, with all complicated industrial machinery you require a routine, just incase. Any pilots out there will understand. Do the same ‘pre-sand’ checks EVERY time you change the belt or start the machine after stopping and you won’t injure yourself, your floor or the machine.

1. Check the clutch is in the UP position and the drum is not in contact with the floor, check this by moving the machine back and forward, it should move easily..

2. Open or remove the sanding drum side door, check the belt tensioning lever is in the correct ‘working’ position and that the sanding belt is firmly fixed. Also check the belt is fitted the correct way round (arrows should point clockwise) and is in alignment (not too far in or out with respect to the drum, you should not be able to see the edge of the drum) adjust if necessary then close / refit the door. Check the drum rotates freely. If you feel confident enough, when plugged in you can check the alignment of the belts on the Hummel by turning the power switch to the ‘test’ position, if you do this please wear goggles to avoid grit getting into your eye.

3. Check dust bag is firmly fixed and any cable tie or multiclip has been fitted to prevent excess dust escaping.

4. Quickly check all dismantling points with hand tightenable knobs or nuts are tightened and haven’t worked loose due to the vibration, check the alignment and fixing of the dust tube (long tube where handle is fixed to) by gently trying to move from side to side, tighten if required.

5. Check quickly that the clutch mechanism is operating smoothly and correctly, by moving it up and down, sometimes linkages and connecting springs go, I had a link spring go once and if you don’t check you could damage your floor. The action should feel nice and smooth, you will get to know when using the machine how it should feel and if it changes at any time, stop and call the hire company for advice.

Now you have the cable sorted and your machine and belt are fixed and adjusted, tightened and working correctly we are ready to practice.

Start from left to right and practice walking at an even pace and especially feathering the machine, that is slowly lifting the clutch up whilst you keep the machine moving forwards or backwards when you come to the end of a sanding run. Practice this by lowering the clutch slowly as you start the sanding run and lifting it at the other end gently touch the wall, start moving backwards slowly as you lower the clutch as you start on your backwards run then lift the machine as you get to your starting position. Practice moving the machine over to start a new run position, you may need to zig zag the machine to line it up all with the clutch up of course, once you get the feel of the machine you are ready to start sanding with the machine on.

Back to top of the page

Belt sander technique

The belt sander works on both forwards and backwards directions. Due to the clockwise rotation of the drum the sander will try and pull away from you when moving forwards which you can brace to some extent if your machine comes with a harness belt which you attach to the machine. Conversely when moving backwards it takes more effort as you are pulling against the rotation of the drum.

A ‘sanding run’ means running the sander from one side of the room to the other, either forwards or backwards.

A ‘sanding pass’ means going forwards and backwards along the same stretch. It is important to sand on the forwards and backwards strokes as the backwards run cuts more aggressively and helps to take out some of the scratches of the forwards run. If you only cut on the forwards stroke the job will take you much longer to complete.

Apart from the reduction in dust and the ease of changing abrasives the main reason for hiring the more expensive belt sander is the clutch. If drum sanders were available with this simple addition you could do a perfectly good job with them albeit in a much dustier, slower manner, the key to sanding with the large sander is all about clutch control.

The clutch is on or near the handle and by moving it up or down you can raise and lower the sanding drum onto the floor. When the clutch is in the up position the rotating drum is raised from the floor and does not sand. When the clutch is in the down position the rotating drum is in contact with the floor and the moving abrasive sands the floor. When the clutch is in an intermediate position the sanding drum exerts less pressure on the floor and the sanding effect is reduced.

Back to top of the page


The machine is always started with the clutch up as per our (‘pre-sanding’ checks) you can only start the machine with the clutch up or it will blow a fuse.

Start walking slowly, a slow walking pace with one foot almost directly in front of the other as you slowly lower the clutch whilst still walking uninterrupted, this is ‘feathering’. Continue walking at the same steady pace until you reach the other end of the room as you get to about 2 feet or 50cm from the wall (or wherever you wish to stop) start to raise the clutch to lift the drum as you keep walking, as the machine gently touches the skirting the clutch should be up and the sanding drum disengaged. To start your backwards run start moving slowly backwards and after you are moving gently lower the clutch engaging the sanding drum, walk steadily backwards at the same pace and a foot or two before you reach the wall with your back (or wherever you wish to stop) slowly lift the clutch to disengage the drum, you have now completed one pass.

Easy eh? The more you practice the easier it will get, after you have practised your ghost sanding with the machine switched off fix a fine sanding belt to the machine say a P80 or P120 and practice your technique with the machine on, this way if you make a mistake getting used to the feel the resulting dip will be much less deep and easier to remove when you start sanding properly.

When you get used to feathering the clutch and walking, there is a knack to it, you will be able to go closer to the wall before you start feathering, after some practice if your machine has got a felt on the front you can gently nudge this on the skirting and start moving backwards without stopping.

Stopping walking, remaining stationary with the machine, hesitating for less than a second with the clutch down will leave a deep dip in the floor so if you need to stop for any reason raise the clutch straight away then stop the machine, try and make this instinctive. Often the cable can get in the way and the temptation is to try and flick this out of the way with your foot, naturally slowing down, but before you do that raise the clutch or there will be a dip even if you don’t stop completely but slow down too much. If you have to stop with the clutch up in the middle of a run, no problem, either walk back to the start of the run and go again or walk back a few feet and start from there feathering as you start walking, either is good.

Back to top of the page

Overlapping and sanding angle

In general you want to overlap your sanding passes by about 50% that means if your sander has an 8 inch belt you will move along around 4 inches every time. If you are rough sanding with P24 or P36 grits on a very old or uneven floor you may want to increase this overlap to 75%, that means moving along around 2 inches every pass (forwards and backwards) If you are fine sanding with P80 or P120 you can reduce this overlap to 25% or 6 inches along every time. You should always overlap 25% as sometimes the belt does not sand all the way to the edge due to wear / uneven floor / wear or clogging to the belt.

Instead of just going backwards and forwards over the same area a more advanced technique involves going forward straight and coming backwards around 7 degrees to the right so you are overlapping at a slight angle giving a slightly more aggressive cut.

You can of course sand at an angle of 7 to 12 degrees when you are on the forward run as well this will cut slightly cross grain and cut slightly faster whilst not leaving deep cross grain scratches. If I am sanding a board floor on an average sized room I sand across the width of one board along the whole length of the run if I need a more aggressive cut. When final sanding with the finest grade of paper always sand perfectly straight.

Back to top of the page

Diagonally or not

Always try straight sanding first as this is much safer for your floor. I know most guides you may have read or people you have spoken too tell you to sand diagonally but this is not the case. Sanding diagonally cuts faster and more aggressively but also leaves deep cross grain scratches that are very hard to remove, especially if your floor boards are uneven. The belts sanders are so much more powerful than the older drum sanders this is not required most of the time.

The only time you should sand diagonally is when your floor is very uneven or very dirty with a lot of bituminous stain or varnish on. Even so firstly you should sand straight to try and level the boards a little. I don’t like decaf or alcohol free beer, give me full strength, what’s the point of pussyfooting around at 45 degrees? If you are going across the grain, get it done. If I need to I go the full 90 degrees and sand across the grain, this levels and cleans the floor nicely but removes a lot of wood and puts scratches in the edges of the boards some of which you may need to remove with the edge sander although sometimes this is the only way, see rough sanding below for more tips on using this technique. Sanding at 90 degrees covers more of the floor and is quicker in small rooms. When sanding herringbone parquet is the only time when you should sand diagonally in the direction of (half of the) grain. You can sand straight across herringbone parquet floors when you are rough and medium sanding alternating each whole floor sanding pass at 90 degrees to each other but when you get to the last one or two fine sanding floor passes you should sand diagonally, I like to sand in each diagonal at least once.

You may find the video below helpful. The gentleman adjusts the belt alignment at 0.56s do not fret, you should not have to do this as the machine should already be set up for you, in the rare instance you do have to adjust it you can find detailed instructions here. Yes, I know, he is going diagonally, well he is sanding small finger block parquet which you can sand any which way you want, for old pine floors with the grain is best. Notice the speed he moves the machine, you may want to go a little slower when sanding old pine floors, for parquet you can move at the speed shown, as you go through the grades you can speed up, also note the action of the clutch lever at the handle. Although showing the Lagler Hummel working the general technique can be employed using the Bona Belt sander, Frank Viper, Frank Cobra or any other professional dustless floor sanding machine with a clutch. Thanks to Peter at KHR (Lagler UK importers) for posting all three Lagler videos, if you want to buy any Lagler machine Peter is the man to talk to and KHR is the place to go. It is where I get all my machines regularly serviced. They also sell abrasives and floor lacquers and Peter is one of the more knowledgeable and honest guys out there, I have no affiliation with KHR or Peter but if you call him do say Toby says Hi.

Back to top of the page

Below is another video showing the use of the Bona Belt floor sander, thankfully the muzak is slightly more relaxing on this one, but only just. They only show a dead flat brand new strip floor (of course) and yes, they are sanding diagonally again, but if you watch the whole video you will see they advocate diagonally for parquet and straight for board floors just as I do. Everyone has their own techniques, I prefer to finish with P80 grit on old pine floors, P100 or P120 is Ok on hardwood and parquet floors, most floor sanding in London will be done on old pine floors so P80 is fine to finish with. A note about P16 grit abrasives, you may want to try them but personally I have never achieved good results with them, in practice it tends to skip over the surface, P24 is cheaper and works just as well on 99% of floors and is more forgiving if you make a mistake, I would advise sticking to P24 as your first grade when sanding old pine floors. As a side note, using P16 on the edge sander can be very handy when removing bitumen or paint from very old and uneven floors.

Back to top of the page

Edge sander technique

An edge sander is a very simple machine, essentially it is a clockwise rotating disc with a large motor attached. You may have seen people in pictures operating the machine standing up, I have no idea how they do this, it hurts your back and because the machine is further away from your body you have less control over it. I am sure you will do what is best for you, whatever is the most comfortable to you is the best way but I find kneeling on the floor with the machine to be much easier on my back arms and legs and makes the sander easier to control.

Newton’s third law of motion

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The edge sander rotates clockwise, the abrasive grains cause friction with the floor which then pushes backwards in an anti clockwise direction, if you turned the sander on with out holding on it would flip backwards and left in an anticlockwise direction. We can use this phenomena to our advantage. Holding the machine at arms length standing up your body has to apply an equal and opposite force to counter this friction, with your arms, back and legs, this is very tiring, especially for your lower back. When you are kneeling down if you position yourself directly behind the machine you will not only have to stop yourself from falling over into the sander but also to stop the sander from moving to your left out of your hands. Now move your body position to the side of the sander on the left and slightly behind at the 7 or 8 o’clock position, now when you turn the sander on as the ‘reaction’ pushes back into you you can use your body weight to counter it. By placing one hand at the rear of the sander or on a handle and one on the front of the sander on top of the sanding plate (gently rest it do not push down) you can vary your position so that the reaction of the sander pushes against you as you push against the sander. It takes a little practice but it is possible that the reaction of the sander stops you from ‘falling over’ a little and your body weight counters the turning moment a little resulting in less input from your arms and back.

Back to top of the page

Little circles

Just like going to see the hygienist. Except without the balloons. Work with a small gentle circular motion, rest your hand on the front plate do not push down, let the sander do the work or you will just heat up the abrasive or overheat the machine. Move from right to left letting the reaction of the sander gently push you backwards or the other way if that feels more comfortable. When you want to get right up to the wall you can move in a straight line from one side to the other in either direction left or right, to get right into the edge especially on an old floor that has dipped at the skirting you may need to tip the sander forward a little. This will cut more aggressively, you may need to stand up to do this and hold the two handles, this is very tiring and the dust can escape from the back making this a little messy but sometimes this is the only way. If you wish to sand in places where the large belt sander has missed, because the edge of the boards are dipped for example, then this is the technique, be careful as the machine cuts very deep like this. If you have areas of bituminous (black thick) stain you may need to do this. Do not use a sanding disc for too long or it will just heat up and burn the wood.

Changing discs regularly will tire you out less in the end and will not cost you any more money, get to feel when the disc is no longer cutting and touch the wood you have just sanded, a blunt disc will make the wood hot and will be doing no useful work bar generating heat. Discs do not last long especially when sanding stains and finishes or on pine when you have a ‘pitchy’ board which can clog up the disc in seconds. You may find the video below helpful, the technique is very similar to the one I describe, sorry, not turned down the volume yet?. The video is for the Lagler flip edger, of which I have three but it demonstrates the technique that can be used with any floor sanding edge machine.

Back to top of the page

Bituminous stain (or what is that horrible black stuff on the edge of my floor?)

House built before 1930? Pine boards? Black stain 2 to 3 feet wide around the perimeter? Tried removing it with white spirits?

It’s probably a bituminous stain made from, give yourselves a shiny, bitumen or tar. Nice. Blame the Victorians. It was their idea of having a rug so large it would act as an unfitted carpet, what to do with the edge? Coat it with something very durable, washable and cheap and you can’t get anything more durable, washable and cheap than bitumen. As a by product of the coal refining process turning coal into coke the resulting tar was produced in vast quantities and this was used to make these ‘stains’ hence the cheapness, the durability, well you will find out, unfortunately when you start sanding. Seeing as if you have this stain it is possibly going to be an unpleasant, sometimes smelly, sometimes oh my god how many discs have I just used? type of affair removing it let me just tell you about bitumen, perhaps the romance will counter balance some of the horror.

Bitumen is durable. How durable? Well it started life as little creatures swimming in the sea hundreds of millions of years ago, so it’s been around a while. It’s been used by man for over 40,000 years, it has been found on Neanderthal tools from the stone age. Moses floated down the Nile in a reed and bitumen basket. The Egyptians used it in mummification (along with beeswax, cedar resin and salt) in fact, experts believe the word ‘mummy’ comes from the arabic word for bitumen ‘mumiyyah’ named after mount Mumya in Persia where bitumen was found. Seeing how effective bitumen was at making reed boats waterproof wooden boats were caulked with it making sailors clothes dirty hence the nickname for sailors ‘tars’ so, as you pull your hair out remember bitumen is our friend, your ride to work would be very dusty without it. Lovely.

Now let’s get rid of it.

No you cannot remove it with solvent stripper or white spirits and wire wool, you can get rid of some of it after hours of scrubbing wearing a respirator but the bitumen dissolves into the resin of the pine as it is similar in chemical make up (you can make tar from wood resin) so to remove all of it you will have to sand. You can scrape and I have tried that but with the extra effort you expend you will probably be better off just sanding. Another ‘quite interesting’ fact is that after you have sanded the black perimeter of your floor you may find it ends up being lighter, how so? Well some woods get darker as they age, some lighter, pine gets darker. Pine will patinate darker just being in the air but this is accelerated by the action of sunlight or the UV component of it. The UV component of light even penetrates through carpets, it cannot penetrate the black bitumen hence the pine underneath the bitumen patinates less and so remains lighter. This is the same effect seen when you sand your stairs when the middle which usually had a runner is usually darker than the painted edges which were stained or painted. There is nothing you can do to mitigate this unless you stain your floor very dark. Put it down to character.

Back to top of the page

Tips for removing bituminous stain from pine floors

There is no magic trick just sanding and lots and lots of discs. It’s a little expensive but it has to be done. Here are the top tips.

1. Run the belt sander across the grain (parallel to the wall) with a worn belt to remove some of the stain.

2. Sand any areas that do not have the stain first (if there are any) save the worn discs and re-use these to take off some of the stain.

3. The discs will clog up almost straight away so change your discs very frequently (every minute or two) as they heat up they will melt the stain rather than abrade it. Keep the discs in a separate pile, after ten minutes or so when they have cooled you can use the discs again being cooler you will get another half a minute out of them before they heat up again.

4. When the sander is just smearing the bitumen and depositing it back onto the floor, change your disc already!

5. Standing up, holding the sander by the end of the handles and tipping it forward and to the side (tip it up slightly to the left and push gently to the right do NOT tip it to the right or the sander will want to jump out of your hand) will give a more aggressive cut, although showering you with bits of dust and bitumen.

6. Use the coarsest discs you have, normally P24 is the best P16 if your company supplies them hardly work any better. Using a P40 or finer will generally just waste your time and money. It’s easy to use a whole box of 25 discs removing the bitumen in a room so make sure you have enough.

7. Sand afterwards with a clean disc to remove all of the bitumen and all the colouration if any remains, if you do not some it may pervade in the wood resin and after you have coated it may leach back out and leave white opaque patches on your floor, a phenomena often seen on a lot of floors finished by floor sanding companies (but we are doing a better job than them) this can be mitigated by using a shellac barrier seal, if you have bituminous stain you need to use a shellac barrier seal (not required if using an oil finish)

8. You may want to wear an oversuit if you have a lot of bitumen to remove as it can get messy. Swarfega is good at removing it from hands.

9. Think of baby Moses.

Back to top of the page

Radiators and ‘accidents’

Think ‘The harder I work the luckier I get’ or more appropriately ‘the smarter I work the luckier I get’ going through or not going through a radiator pipe, much like nailing into a pipe has nothing to do with luck, nor is it an ‘accident’ it is a mistake plain and simple. And yes, in the interests of research I have gone through one, well nicked one, when I first started many years ago (although I have never nailed through anything) It was my only one. If you use the edger like I suggest you will be able to control it much better and it should not ‘wobble’ around as much. Sand the edges of the rest of the room before you go near the radiators so that by then you will be more confident and have better machine control. Stop at a distance that you feel most comfortable with, I can go within half an inch but then I’m a smarty pants, you may want to stop at 6 inches or more, fine. If you can get to within 2 or 3 inches that’s close enough, better to do a little extra work with the scraper rather than call the emergency plumber. Scraper blades are cheaper. And less wet.

Emptying the dust bag

Empty when a third to half full, the longer you leave it the worse the dust extraction will be as the dust bag acts like a filter and the more dust you will exhaust into the atmosphere when you come to empty it as fuller bags are harder to empty. It’s a trade off, save a few minutes in a day emptying the bag less or be cleaner yourself, have a cleaner workspace and house, it’s up to you. Place a bin bag around the bag before you open it and gently massage the dust out, make sure you open the bag to it’s full extent. On the first coarse passes of P24, P36 and P40 the wood is machined off in fibres rather than fine dust and this can clog the bag entrance so you may need to put your hand in and pull the fibres out. If you are filling your floors you will need a nice clean separate bag to keep the medium grade wood dust in (the edger dust from P50 or P60 onwards is good) Vacuum the opening and the outside of the bag before you put it back on the edger as any dust on the outside will be blown into the atmosphere when you switch it back on. Put back your multiclip or fix a cable tie to the end to reduce the dust coming out.

Back to top of the page

Rough sanding

The purpose of the rough or first sanding is to remove all existing coatings, discolouration and height differences ie to clean and level the floor, nothing more. We do not want to remove more wood than we absolutely have to so if you are unsure start off with a finer grade and see how you get along, if progress is slow move down to a coarser grade.

For sanding parquet floors and engineered floors you should try starting with P40 or P50, it may be that you have to move down to a P36 or even a P24 but sometimes parquet is less uneven than board floors. Engineered floors and floating floors can be easy to sand if they have been fitted correctly and then you can even start sanding with a P60 or P80, lucky you. Unfortunately most floors these days have been laid less than optimally, in fact I have only seen a handful of correctly laid floors which means that most will be up and down even though they may look flat before you start sanding.

For old pine floors you may want to try starting with P36 but it’s quite likely a P24 grit will be better. A good zirconia belt is required on these floors to give some protection from any nails you have missed or were covered with dark stain / dirt. As you see the nails exposed, say after you have passed over the whole floor in one direction with a grit then go and punch the shiny buggers in, it takes time but then so does does working your day job to pay for abrasives.

Back to top of the page

Sanding very uneven pine floors

If your floor has been sanded before, possibly badly, check the thickness, if it is less than 18mm and it is very uneven you cannot use this method at all and must sand by hand machine only if you wish to level it, you will not be able to get it perfectly level by hand but that’s the point, to level it you would make it too thin. This method is for floors that have not been sanded before or that are still quite thick, 20mm or over. If your floor is borderline you will have to adjust the number of passes and keep an eye on things.

You may wish to follow the crowd and sand diagonally or work out your own method, this is what I do. I don’t mess around with half measures, I go straight across the boards at 90 degrees. Much more efficient but potentially much more damaging so to mitigate I do this.

always sand straight for my first pass with a fresh P24 belt, this helps to even up the level of the middle of the boards and makes the cross grain sanding smoother with less likelihood of damage to the edges. I sand one board at a time in the middle of the board for each pass, if you sand at the edge the sander may dig in. I normally go over quickly with a P36 grit belt with the grain again in the middle of the board. Then I keep this worn belt on the sander and sand across the grain with the P36 grit, sometimes I will go over for another pass cross grain with the P36 grit, overlap around 75% and concentrate on the backwards run, watch out for nails as they will rip the belt much more easily when cross cutting.

After this I put another fresh P24 belt on and start sanding straight again, first in the middle of the boards overlapping 75%. Then I move onto P36 sanding with the gaps this time in the centre of the sanding belt, then I move to P50, sometimes two P50 passes are required.

So that’s P24 straight, P36 straight, P36 worn cross cut x1 or x 2, P24 straight, P36 straight, P50 straight x1 or x2. That’s a lot of sanding for sure but then some floors need it. You may need to adjust the grades and amount of passes you do to your particular floor, the above is an extreme example normally you want to sand a lot less than this.

A final note, do not sand into the basement to get rid of that one stubborn dirty patch, instead get the majority of the dirt off, all the dirt in the middle of the boards, if a few edges are worn or cupped then you will need to use the edger to get to them.

Back to top of the page

Dipping edges, hearths and bays and bitumen removal

Some floors dip at the edges be careful when cross grain sanding these if you see the sander dig in stop and do the section with the edge sander later on. Even if you are sanding with the grain the boards can dip or rise up at the edges of the room and by fire hearths so be careful, as a rule stop belt sanding 1 or 2 feet from hearths the sander can dig in and if you accidently hit the hearth with the machine you may chip it if you have a slab of something over it. If the sander does dig in and you notice a deep straight gouge stop sanding there, make a note to leave more space and feather the gouge out with the edge sander. You will still have to be careful with the edge sander.

For bay windows I tend to go diagonally into them but really you will be sanding most of the bays with the edge sander.

If you have bitumen you can go around the edge of your floor cross grain with the belt sander with a worn belt (as it will get clogged up) this will take some of the bitumen off using a worn belt and save your edge discs. Don’t worry the edger will get the sanding marks out, just make sure you sand out a little further from the wall.

Back to top of the page

Edge sanding

It doesn’t matter which you do first sometimes I do the middle, sometimes the edges. I would say doing the middle first is more logical especially if you are inexperienced as you will not know how far to come out with the edger. As a rule the belt sander is more efficient and easier to cover a larger area so you want to do as much as possible with the bigger machine. The edger is not just for edging, there will be some areas on your floor that are damaged or just too warped for the larger sander to reach, this is where the edger comes in. If you have an uneven floor and you do not want to take off too much wood then a technique I use is with the belt sander I go straight P24, across P36 then I fall back to the edger and go over the whole floor taking out the cross grain scratches with P24 then P40 discs. It’s very hard work but you can then finish with P50 and P80 on the belt sander and have a clean, even, scratch free floor which still has some wood left in it.

Come out with the edger to the interface line where the belt sander stops, go past this to blend this in, I come out at least a foot, normally around three boards or more, it’s a little more work but by blending the interface in and going out further it means when you come to fine sand the middle you can feather the sander even more making the ‘transition zone’ smoother. Fine sanding with the edge sander isn’t very productive as the friction it produces just heats up the disc which burns on oak and other hardwoods and gums up with melted resin on softwoods. You will probably want to start with P24, then P36 then P50 on pine (or P40 then P60 on easier floors) there is no need to sand with finer than P60 with the edger, you can try P80 and sometimes I do but frequently you have to move the sander very quickly and this can be tiring.

In general the finer you get the faster you should move the sander so that you do not stay in one place too long and create excess heat. With P24 and P36 you can go pretty slowly, with P60 and P80 you want to get your skates on mate.

Back to top of the page

Filling and spot repairing

 General considerations

Apart from staining, questions about filling, when to fill, how I fill and the merits of the different techniques form the second most frequently asked questions group so I will try and be as comprehensive as possible.

Wood is a natural medium, the series of capillaries that form the grain (small holes in the surface as seen in coarse grained timber like oak, teak and mahogany and even smaller holes that you cannot see with the naked eye in timbers like maple, cherry and pine for example) that once drew nutrients and water from the ground to the living tree absorb and release moisture at the surface and expand and contract within the body of the timber, the individual wood fibres themselves are hygroscopic, swelling up in the process of adsorption and then shrinking as they release their moisture. The majority of this expansion happens across the width of the timber so consequently larger blocks and wider boards will be liable to move individually by a much greater amount than smaller blocks or narrower boards. Thinner overlay parquet and thinner boards are more prone to warping and moving in general.

All timber therefore is liable to move, of it’s own accord, naturally, during the seasons typically expanding in the summer months when indoor humidity is higher and contracting in the winter when humidity is typically lower and especially so in modern centrally heated homes, to this extent any filling that you undertake will not remain perfect and some filler will work loose and fine cracks appear however diligent you may be, there are however steps you can take to minimise this natural movement and more importantly to reduce any unnecessary movement.

Different species of wood exhibit markedly different levels of hygroscopy, most woods ‘season’ to some degree over time and become more dimensionally stable, the method of cut of the timber also affects the subsequent amount of movement but the most important factor by far is the method used to fix the floor and in what condition the wood is when it is laid.

If you are choosing a floor then please consider purchasing a reclaimed floor, apart from the obvious basic logical premise that chopping down trees in vast numbers is generally not an intelligent idea for the planet we live on, reclaimed floors are normally much better seasoned, cut from more mature and slower grown, more ‘natural’ denser varieties of the species and sometimes cut more on the ‘quarter grain’ a method of machining that adds to the density and dimensional stability of the timber, meaning your floor will normally move far less and last far longer than a newer floor made from cheaper, faster grown, less dense and less seasoned wood. Of course, it will likely be incomparably more beautiful as well.

As a rule I mostly only lay reclaimed floors, unless I can use a known supplier of locally sourced timber like oak, I personally do not see the point of transporting new wood from Africa, the Americas and the East when there is still a ready supply of reclaimed timbers of infinitely better quality and we have such a wealth of quality oak and walnut here in the UK, France and Northern Europe, I have felt this way for the whole twenty five years of my working life and have no intention of jumping on any ‘green marketing’ bandwagons anytime soon, reclaimed timber (once cleaned and fitted) costs a little more to prepare and lay but looks better, will last longer and is the only real timber to use for anyone with a conscience, it really is a win, win, win choice. With a little patience I can source most species in parquet for around the same cost or lower as newer inferior timber.

Rant over. So, either you have sourced your own reclaimed timber of have an older period or newer contemporary floor, if the floor has been laid well onto a correctly prepared sub floor, joists or battens then filling will be more productive and any filler will last longer.

Most of you will have an existing floor which may or may not require repairs, the more thoroughly you undertake these repairs the longer lasting and better looking your filling will be. The idea is to fix the floor as firmly as possible whilst allowing a small amount of natural movement for the inevitable moisture related expansion and contraction, this involves making sure the sub floor itself is firmly fixed and that any loose joists or battens are refixed.

There are two main methods of filling, resin (including both resin and sawdust mix and stand alone wood filler resin) and wood slivers which can be bought or made yourself, the merits of both methods are further discussed below. Personally, after trying all the available methods, I prefer the resin and sawdust mix method, I use Lecol 7500 resin which I regard to be the best filler on the market. There are many, many similar solvent fillers, mostly cheaper, a fair amount of which I have tried and I still prefer the Lecol, for wood products you really cannot beat the Dutch or the Swedes. Bona, a Swedish company who invented water-based finishes in the 1970’s and whose products I rate very highly and frequently use produce their own water based filler called Bona Mix and Fill, this I have found only works on tiny cracks in dark coloured timber that is to be finished with a water-based finish as it takes a long time to dry and reacts with the natural wood acids and the applicator leaving black marks, try it if you do not want to use any solvent based products.

Spot repairing can be undertaken on gaps, old radiator holes and lost knot holes up to around an inch in diameter by using a two part catalysed polyester resin like Ronseal High Performance Wood Filler, fixing nails or screws into the side of the repair can act as mini ‘rebar’ as in reinforced concrete, toilet paper, torn off bits of the Daily Sport or old wallpaper chippings although widely used by many so called ‘flooring experts’ are not so effective. If the repair is much larger than an inch in diameter then it always better to see if you can ‘cut in’ a new piece of timber. I self colour my filer to make it easier on the eye as most fillers only come in a very limited range of colours.

Back to top of the page

 Parquet, block, strip and floated engineered floors

I cannot over emphasise the importance of taking extra care to undertake your repairs as best you can, for fixing your engineered boards, parquet, block or strip floors as well as you can, the less the repairs move the less the filler will move and the longer it will last.

For engineered floors that have been floated there is little point in filling as they tend to move around quite a lot, in fact in almost every case I encounter, floated engineered floors have been laid badly to varying degrees of ghastliness moving either a little, a lot, or a ridiculous amount, bowing and creating large gaps in the process, there is not much you can do at this stage so it is probably better just to spot repair the larger gaps or broken pieces and get straight down to the sanding.

For parquet, block and strip floors most contemporary floors should have relatively minor gaps although these may be slightly larger if the floor has been laid badly and near points of moisture ingress for example near French windows or doors for example. Older period floors or newly fitted reclaimed floors are likely to have slightly larger gaps, these are all normally fillable with the sawdust and resin mix with any larger gaps fillable via multiple filling and/or selective use of a two part catalysed polyester resin filler.

When to fill? If you have the dust from another job or an adjacent area that has been previously sanded you can fill before sanding if it speeds up the job for you, I always think it is better to rough sand and in most cases medium sand the floor before filling as not only will you have a good source of dust the floor will be much flatter and consequently much easier to fill.

Seeing as the gaps in block floors are normally smaller than those in board floors and that the small blocks and fine finish that a block floor gives you want to use very fine sieved dust from the latter sanding process which will give you a much better, cleaner fill, you may need to fill two, three or more times and spot fill some areas four or five times, using slightly coarser dust on larger gaps is advisable finishing off with finer dust over the top, remember to leave enough time for the previous filling to dry or it will all just sink, the time will depend largely on the ambient temperature, humidity and the dampness of the wood and sub floor As a rule I fill at least twice and then spot fill stubborn gaps, remember you are not looking for total perfection, just a good decent even fill (which should look reasonably perfect once lacquered)

I save dust from previous jobs or from adjacent areas or rooms, otherwise I clean my dust bag of all preliminary coarse sanding and use the sanding dust from the edger of P50 or P60 grit or finer, dust from the screeder, hand sander or Trio finishing sander is even better and should look like fine flour.

Before you start please make sure you are wearing a fume respirator with an organic solvent filter (which I believe is EN141 code for organic vapours) and open the windows, the resin is very volatile and it is not good to inhale the solvent given off for long periods at close range.

Mix the filler resin and sawdust in a shallow bucket or directly onto the floor, only mix enough that you can use within five minutes as it dries very quickly and in warm conditions, very, very quickly. If the mixture dries you can extend the life by adding some more resin to the mixture, but after a while you will have to discard the drying filler and make up a fresh batch. I use a bespoke Lecol filling blade, two of them actually, I also use decorators filling knives and wallpaper knives, the larger the better, 10 inch or 250mm I find is ideal and a smaller knife for mixing. There is an old gentleman from Crystal Palace with a very highly ranked website who shall remain anonymous who advocates the use of very small knives (and also the use of PVA glue and the fitting of MDF strips which I shall cover below) I purchased his evideo ‘tutorial’ as part of my research into writing these articles, oh dear. All I will say is, use as big a knife as you can and work fast!

In cold conditions you may have to wait overnight to undertake the second filling to allow the first application to dry, in the summer or in a well heated warm house in the winter you may be able to apply a second or third filler coat within an hour. I prefer to scrape the excess filler off and if possible lightly sand the first coat and give it a very good vacuuming before I apply the second coat to give an almost flawless finish, this is not strictly necessary but if you want the best result you are going to have to put a little extra work in.

Back to top of the page

Board, plank and fixed engineered floors

For the general resin filling method please see above as the technique is largely the same, the only difference being the gaps will likely be much larger, in this case it is advisable to use much coarser dust, P36, P40 and even P24 grit from either the edger (preferable) or the main belt sander, this coarser ‘dust’ more closely resembles interlocked long fibres which matt together and resists sinking through the gaps completely. It is a good idea to discard the first initial passes as often these will be full of dirt and grit and will not give such a smooth finish or look as good, it is also a good idea to do the second filling with a finer dust from the edger or from adjacent areas using P50, P60 or finer sanding dust which you may want to sieve to remove any grit and ‘bits’ a normal medium coarse kitchen sieve is fine and is what I use. Sieve the dust I hear you ask? Well, it all depends on what finish you want, clean sieved dust gives a more homogenous, stronger and better looking filler which will last longer, the majority of floor sanding companies only fill to say they have done it, frequently using dirty coarse dust which sinks and falls out shortly after they have cashed the cheque or gone down the pub with your cash, do not be like them, take a little extra time and care and your filler should last for years. Filling is a horrible job, you may as well take a little extra time to do it properly.

Most period pine floors will require double filing and most will benefit from overnight drying unless the gaps are very narrow in which case it is possible to apply two filling coats in a day. You will most likely have to spot fill some areas three or four times and undertake minor two part catalysed filling to larger gaps.

When to fill? If you have the dust from another job or an adjacent area that has been previously sanded you can fill before sanding if it speeds up the job for you, I always think it is better to rough sand and in most cases medium sand the floor before filling as not only will you have a good source of dust the floor will be much flatter and consequently much easier to fill. For plank and board floors this is even more important, I prefer to fill after I have the floor to P40 or P50 and not before, I also sand in between. to remove all the excess, this gives me a much easier filling task, uses less filler (which is expensive) and reduces the amount of time I (and my customers) have to endure the unpleasant solvent fumes.

If your board is split do not fret, you can just fill the crack or if the split is an end split (finishes on a joist or batten) then as long as you can get a firm fix you can nail either side of the crack, be very very careful if you do not know where the services (pipe, wires) run, never assume, it is a pain but if you are not certain always carefully remove the particular board to check before you nail (sometime you can carefully pry the board up a little to take a peek with a torch) if the split piece breaks off, no matter you can normally stick this back using ‘mitre fix’ type superglue or by carefully nailing with narrow gauge nails, do not use large screws, only smaller narrow nails to avoid excessive splitting, if the board is still loose you either have the option of removing a section and replacing or ‘letting in’ a new small piece. Most cracks can and should be repaired rather than replacing as this lends more character and generally looks better than repairs which can often stick out and be a different colour even with reclaimed repairs. I have over 25 years experience as an expert colour matcher but as an antique restorer I think it is much better to try and salvage as much of an original period floor or artefact as possible, all it takes is a little extra care and patience, do not worry about a few extra nails and filling here and there, it’s all part of the history and character of the floor.

Back to top of the page

Alternative filling methods

Paper mache, good for the authentic Victorian look, need to do after finishing the floor, very carefully, messy and not very efficient, gets dirty, need to colour the mixture. PVA glue and sawdust, great before they invented flexible filler resin but now looks a little messy, a little time consuming and does not give the same mechanical properties and falls out quicker, buy the resin instead. Wood slivers, personally I do not use these very often, the gaps have to be reasonably large for this method to work adequately and gluing them on both sides reduces the amount of natural expansion room and sometimes these slivers split down the middle (as the glue join is stronger than the wood itself) giving rise to occasional but very impressive foot spearing splinter opportunities. If you do use wood slivers bear in mind the cost will be considerable and the job will take a lot longer, you can buy reclaimed wood slivers, much better than new wood and much easier than making your own. MDF wood slivers? Oh dear. Maybe not.

A novel idea. You may want to check out both and I have never tried either but the premise seems like a sensible one, you still see the gaps, which can be desirable, especially if the gaps are not too wide and are reasonably even in nature (I much prefer unfilled floors myself, not only because I dislike filling! I think they just look more natural and more in keeping with the period) but it should stop most of the problems associated with thermal and acoustic insulation. The cost is not cheap but filler also is not cheap, yet messy and time consuming, something worth considering I think.

Back to top of the page

Final sanding

Belt and edge sanders

Ok Not long to go now, we have got the worst of the work out of the way, from now on, if your aching body will let you, you can start to enjoy the process as you start to really see the fruits of your labor blossom. You should have already fixed down, repaired, filled and rough sanded your floor, you should have a nice, flat, fairly smooth filled or unfilled floor which is clean and already looks good. The next step is to remove the coarse and medium scratches we have put into the floor levelling, cleaning and filling it and to remove any filler. Your floor should already be sanded using at least the P40 or P50 abrasive grades.

It is a good idea if you have filled your floor with either the resin or sliver method (from which will be considerable glue residue) to use a worn belt or belts for your first few passes as the belt will likely gum up with resin or glue before it blunts, this makes sense as abrasives are very expensive and it saves on materials, of course if by now you just want to get the job over with using fresh belts whilst more expensive will be quicker. There is always a compromise here, I tend to use up the old worn belts, a worn P40 being an ideal grade, quickly then move straight onto fresh belts as my customers are usually more interested in me finishing sooner rather than worrying about my bank account. Worn belts gum up quickly so change them often and then move onto fresh P50 or P60 belts.

On pine board floors, as pine is soft and often highly resinous there is little advantage, in my experience anyway, is sanding to finer than P80 grade with the belt sander as you will not notice much difference and the belts will just gum up and start burning the wood. In fact many times you are likely to get chatter marks using finer than P80 belts on an old pine floor as the finer abrasive of the P100, P120 and P150 belts means the drum does not press as hard onto the floor allowing the boards to deflect slightly more (however well you fix the boards the joists will still move!) so my advice is to stop at P80, you may however wish to experiment yourself. On hardwood floors such as oak and mahogany then a quick pass or two with P100 makes more sense especially if you are staining as any fine scratches left in hardwood will show up when staining. On parquet, block and strip floors P80 is normally fine as it is essential that you use a rotational finishing sander to remove the straight lines, P100 does no harm on hardwood, the only exception being pitch pine parquet floors for which P80 should be sufficient, remember, wood finishing done properly is a craft not a science so you may wish to experiment, after 25 years I am still learning and refining my techniques.

If you have lost several brain cells and the consequent will to live after the filling stage and forgotten how to sand I empathise, refresh yourself with the belt sanding technique. The technique for the final sanding is exactly the same bearing in mind that you will not need to overlap your sanding passes so much and as the wood floor becomes smoother and the abrasive finer friction will increase so you will need to work a little faster to avoid burning the wood. Check the abrasives often too, on pine they will clog up with resin normally much quicker than the abrasive blunts so you will need to change belts more often, there really is no point sanding with a clogged up belt you are just heating the room and burning electricity.

When fine sanding using the edger you will have to move even quicker, this can be quite taxing, especially in the warm weather! You may need to wear gloves as the discs get so hot they could easily burn you, change the discs often and move quickly and lightly over the surface. P60 is fine on pine with P80 on hardwoods although some old oak is so hard the wood burns easily with the finer discs, so you will have to experiment (remove burns with a fresh disc once the area has cooled by moving quickly over the burnt area) remember to feather the interface between the belt sanded area and the edge sanded area by coming out around 250mm or 10 inches from where they meet, yes, it is extra work but it is worth it, especially if you are staining, unless you are a fan of two tone finishes of course.

Back to top of the page

Finishing sanders (buffer / screeder, trio, random orbital)

When applying a clear finish (no staining) to a pine board floor you can get away with without using any finishing sanders, this is the methodology that most floor sanding companies undertake, whether they are staining or not but my personal opinion is, if you have come this far you may as well go the whole way and do a job which looks great. If you are staining any floor or sanding a parquet floor then you really do need to use some sort of finishing sander or you will see lines in the parquet and your stained floor will have scratches, swirls and darker patches. It is up to you. Coating a clear finished floor without finishing sanding will still look good, it is just that it will look better, feel smoother and last slightly longer if you do it, stained floors will possibly look quite poor, remember, it is all in the preparation. I would therefore advise that everyone take the time and effort to do some finish sanding. It is always good to do finish sanding in good light, additional floodlights are a real advantage even in the daytime as they really help to show up any scratches you may have missed. I have an extremely powerful head torch that costs hundreds of pounds, I would not bother with normal head torches as they are too weak to be of any use, if you have a powerful LED helmet torch for your bike this could be a good time to use it.

If you are sanding several rooms or your room is large like a through lounge or big reception room then you may want to use either a buffer / screeder machine like the Bona Buffer, Bona FlexiSand or a Lagler Trio as this will reduce the amount of work you have to do on your hands and knees. The Trio is a heavy machine designed primarily for larger commercial jobs and is only really required if you have a large relatively flat area like a large parquet floor or a contemporary wide board, block or fixed (not floated) engineered floor. For older pine floors which still may not be perfectly flat and whose joists may deflect under the weight of the machine. The Lagler Trio can be tricky to use as it can vibrate or ‘jump’ on anything other than a very flat surface. If you are sanding old pine floors then I would point you towards a screeding machine, it is lighter and although tricky to get the hang of when starting off is a breeze to use with a bit of practice.

Back to top of the page

Random orbital sander

For small floors like a hallway, kitchen or bathroom or small bedroom you can get away with just using a random orbital to go over the whole floor, this small sander is cheaper to hire and doesn’t really take any longer on small areas. Make sure you connect your sander to your dust extractor or at a push to your vacuum cleaner like a Henry with duct tape. Dust extractors really are a must if you have larger areas to sand they make the whole job so much cleaner. If you have finished your sanding with the large edge sanding machine up to P60 grade and with the floor belt sanding machine up to a grade of P80 then you can start your finish sanding with your random orbital sander using P80 discs. On old pine floors you can start and finish the finish sanding with P80, if you are staining a pine floor or for all hardwood floors you may want to go over the floor again with P100 or P120, there really is no need to go any finer, indeed if you are applying a coloured oil finish e.g. Osmo, Trip Trap or Blanchon etc. you do not want to go too fine as the surface will not have enough key to ensure an adequate and even distribution of the pigments, always read the instructions. When staining pine using water stain or with shellac I normally just do a good even sand with P80.

Pay special attention to the edges and the interface between the edge sanding band and the central straight belt sanded area. The circular marks of the edge sander go across the grain and so tend to show up more than the straight parallel marks of the belt sander, you may not be able to see any but they may show up when you coat the floor and especially if you are staining the floor. Change your discs regularly as the blunt and get gummed up with resin (especially on old pine floors) or you will just be heating the wood, one disc should only be able to do around 1 to 2 square metres so make sure you have enough. Do not force the machine into the wood, rest it on the surface move it around slowly along each board or small area letting the abrasive do the work. Work systematically in small areas overlapping the previously sanded area slightly to ensure a thorough and even sanding this is very important if you are staining as any ‘misses’ will show up as darker patches later.

The video below shows the use of the Festool Rotex RO150 a 6 inch Random orbital sander with rotary function, it is worth watching to the end so you can see how smoothly it sands up to the edge of a wall and especially so you can see what benefit using a dust extractor can be. If you cannot hire a Festool machine then any 6 inch random orbital sander works in a similar way, for example the Bosch GEX150 turbo is a popular alternative to the Festool as a hire machine.

Back to top of the page

Trio finishing sander

If you are hiring one of these machines please ensure you take the time to read any instructions supplied and do not be afraid to ask the hire company delivery driver to show you how to work the machine making quick notes where necessary. Replacing the plastic dust bag in the central unit can be fiddly but is simple enough, changing discs is by way of velcro and self explanatory the only point to mention is how you start and stop the machine. Unlike the belt sander there is no clutch, you will have to act as the clutch by gently lowering the machine to the floor with the machine running to start sanding and then tipping the machine back with the machine still running before switching off, all you need to remember is to do this slowly but firmly, you may want to practice a few times with the machine switched off as it is quite heavy and you want to learn the balance of the machine. Once the trio is on the floor it is a pleasure to use, compared to the hard work of the belt floor sander and the floor edging sander the trio is a breeze by comparison, if the machine judders it means it has found an uneven patch, go gently over the patch a few more times to even it out. Start at one side of the room and walk very slowly along one length (with the grain if possible) overlapping your passes by up to 50%.Any areas you cannot reach you can do with the random orbital with the same grade of abrasive.

You may find the video below helpful, note especially how slowly the gentleman walks with the machine. The video also shows the using of mesh screens with backing pads.

Back to top of the page

Buffer / screeder sanding machine

A buffer / screeder machine like the Bona buffer or new Bona FlexiSand is cheaper to hire and lighter to carry up stairs than the Lagler Trio. They are normally take either 16 or 17 inch abrasives. You can either use the double sided abrasive discs, mesh screens or if the machine comes fitted with a multi disc attachment which will use either 5 inch or 6 inch discs. I prefer to use a multi disc attachment on my Bona buffer but mesh screens work well, you should not need the double sided abrasive discs and I would not recommend them as they can leave scratches in the wood. You will need to fit a sanding sponge underneath the mesh screen if you are using the screens, your hire shop will provide these. Make sure the hire shop provides you with the dust skirt which is important if you want to keep dust to a minimum, attaching the buffer to a dust extraction system likewise reduces the dust to virtually zero although a vacuum like the Henry with a long hose can be used at a push but is not ideal. You should only require mesh screens of P60 to P100 as the meshes are a little gentler and if using a multi disc version, of P80 to P100. You can use P120 abrasives on hardwood and parquet but do not go any higher or the floor may be too smooth to provide a good key for the stain and / or finish. This is especially important to remember if you are applying an oil finish.

Using a buffer machine takes a little practice, the idea is to start the machine with the handle at waist height braced into your body and to make very subtle gentle movements a small movement at the handle produces a large movement of the machine base. At first the operation is a little counter-intuitive, unless you are a pilot for to go left you gently push upwards and to go right you gently pull down, to go forwards and backwards you gently move forward or backward, it’ s like riding a bike after a few minutes you will have got the hang of it. A useful way to remember the movement is Lower Left and Raise Right. Once you have the hang of it place the mesh, if you are using them, on the floor in front of you and gently lower the machine with the sponge attached directly onto the screen, start the machine directly in front of you and gently move it to the left in a 45 degree arc then gently and slowly move it to the right in a 45 degree arc the other way, slowly move forward this way and then back again, a couple of slow passes over each area are normally required for a decent finish, do not rush. Get down on your hands and knees and inspect the floor to check if it is perfectly smooth. Any areas you cannot reach you can do with the random orbital with the same grade of abrasive. Remember unlike the Lagler Trio finishing machine you always start the buffer / screeder whilst it is in contact with the floor and stop it whilst it is still in contact with the floor. When you first change abrasives the cut will be stronger so to avoid uneven sanding go over the point where you started with the fresh abrasive a few times again when the abrasive is partially worn this will give a nice even finish.

Back to top of the page

Staining and colour matching

Staining is covered very thoroughly in my guide to wood finishing article, for floors you want to work smartly but not too fast you make mistakes, having a helper to speed things up is virtually a must. Another must is ensuring the ambient temperature is not too high, cooler temperatures are better, direct sunlight is also a no no. It is imperative to keep a wet edge to avoid patches, overlaps and brush marks and the lower the temperature the easier this is to do. Staining a floor takes probably the most skill and the longest time to learn, I and several of my colleagues are employed by other companies specifically to stain floors and colour match, it is something that is very rewarding but impossible to teach in a written article. My Grandfather was a master colourer, also an artist in his own right, it is also my area of special expertise and something that gives me the most satisfaction, it is not that I would have to kill you if I could impart this knowledge to you rather that it is mostly intuitive, I can ‘see colours’ (like some people can see dead people) and mix them in my head knowing what pigments and translucent dyes added to the background wood will give the exact colour when finished, unfortunately you will have to do some experimenting and trial and error! If you have a few new pine boards (preferably not!) or even reclaimed pine boards that are a slightly different colour to match in to the rest of your floor you should test out a few colours until you are happy with them on the area to be matched, wait until it is dry and then resand clean with P80 abrasive on a random orbital sander, you may have to do this several times. There is no other way. You cannot judge a colour from a tin or a chart as the background colour of your wood affects the finished colour, that is why I do not buy stains, I make them myself, bespoke for every floor I do. I have a colour chart of infinite shades, handily, in my head. When you are happy with your colour to match it then carefully mask around the boards and apply the stain.

A free bit of design advice. Over the whole of a room colours tend to look darker than in a small patch, be aware. In corners and at night the colour will get much darker and slightly redder and will look lighter and more yellow in the daylight. Also, the colour of the ambient light affects the colour both of the lights and the wall colour, so if you are doing the floor via fluorescent site lights and later will fit halogen down lighters be aware you run the risk of making your stain colour too warm (red) staining your floor whilst your walls are unpainted or white and later painting them a nice Edwardian green be aware this might make your floor look a little cold (green) I much prefer the natural look wherever possible and if staining try and keep it on the lighter side, if you have a change of heart re sanding the floor is the only option, which is not really an option is it? So a lighter stain is normally easier to live with and grow to like than a darker one. Just my opinion.

Back to top of the page

Sealing and finishing

A lot of detailed information on finishing can be found in my guide to wood finishing, some information on the relative merits of different floor finishes can also be found on FAQs page so please check them out.

If you are applying a clear coat finish you will not need to seal in any stain you have applied and you can either apply your oil, hardwax oil, or floor lacquer directly to the bare wood, or if you decide to follow my preferred method, apply a coat of shellac seal followed by a water based lacquer.

You should always follow the instructions with the following caveat, professional lacquers like Bona Mega and Junkers Strong have application documents that can be accessed online that tell you how to apply the product and what the site conditions should be, they tend to be quite accurate. DIY based lacquers, the type found in B&Q and Homebase et al do not tend to be quite so good, the fault many of them have is to underestimate the amount of coats you need to apply or the amount of finish you have to apply, this is a purely marketing rouse to make it appear that their product is easier or cheaper to use although you should still follow their application advice. In general avoid coating in very cold conditions where the ambient temperature inside the room is less than around 12 degrees centigrade as the finish may not cure properly, conversely do not apply the product in temperatures much exceeding 25 degrees centigrade and never in direct sunlight, remember to close blinds or curtains in advance of coating as the floor will get heated before you coat. A small amount of air movement is desirable but not so much that foreign objects, dust, flies, leaves, pet hairs etc are brought into the room.

Contrary to popular opinion you do not need to wipe over the floor with white spirits, or a damp rag or a tack rag for the first coat as we will be sanding the second coat anyway and this makes no difference to the overall finish. Don’t waste your time. You will need to vacuum thoroughly, I vacuum twice, including all skirtings, ledges, dado rails, doors, shelves, myself and my socks, whether I can see any dust or not, in fact it is good protocol to sand the adjacent areas to the room you are coating to avoid ‘tramp through’ when you move in and out and to avoid dust from adjacent areas blowing into the cleaned room. Keep your socks clean! Or put on a fresh pair, you should not have been wearing shoes since you started finish sanding anyway.

For oil and waxoil finishes the method may vary as many of them have very different coating techniques, for shellacked floors and water based lacquered floors I apply at least 3 coats and never usually sand the first coat. Why? Well because when you apply the first coat the grain of the wood is raised, making the fibres stand on end, your lovely perfectly smooth floor will a little feel rough, do not fret, this is a good thing as this gives an excellent ‘key’ to the second layer, a large part of the durability of any wood finish depends upon it’s adhesion especially it’s ‘intercoat’ adhesion. Sometimes if you pick up a lot o dust in the primer coat or you can see lots of hairs in it then it is prudent to give it a very light ‘flick’ with the sandpaper to remove some of the debris, just do not sand smooth. Once the first coat is dry vacuum thoroughly again and apply the second (penultimate) coat, after this has dried you can now lightly but thoroughly sand the floor. If you are going for a traditional shellac and wax finish you should gently use P180 stearated silicon carbide sanding paper by hand or wrapped around a cork block, do not use a power sander of any kind as you will just melt the finish, its all elbow grease I am afraid. For water based lacquers you can either sand with P180 or even P240 either by hand or very gently with a random orbital sander with P240 grade. If your floor is very flat and very large, parquet for example you can even use a P150 mesh screen on a buffer or Bona’s scrad system, but be careful, move quickly and do not rest in one place too long, if you have stained the floor be aware it is easy to burn through the finish and remove some of the colour, sometimes sanding by hand is the safest option.

Before applying the final coat vacuum again thoroughly and now, if you wish you can use a tack rag or a damp lint free cloth, like an old bit of terry towelling to remove the fine dust that the vacuum misses, if you do so, please vacuum again to make sure you do not leave any bits of the towel / rag on the floor. I know it’s a lot of cleaning but the cleaner your floor the smoother it will look and the longer it will last. We have come this far it would be a shame to cut any corners now.

Back to top of the page

Water-based lacquer

Developed by Bona AB of Sweden in the 1970’s less than 6% VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds – normally obtained from fossil fuels) approx. 40% solid content mostly made from refined maize starch, solvent is water, very environmentally responsible, zero fire rating. Virtually no fumes and virtually odour free.

Most waterborne varnishes in the DIY stores are acrylic based for interior use, some are polyurethane-acrylic copolymers for exterior or floor use and only some professional lacquers are 100 percent polyurethane either single component normally being self catalysing (oxygen cross linking) or two component (‘two pack’) with an isocyanate-based catalyst. Acrylic and acrylic-polyurethane copolymers are relatively soft and can be problematic to sand and do not offer high durability. Professional 100 percent polyurethane lacquers are several times more durable, harder and easier to sand and are perfect for almost all domestic uses. For areas that get very heavily used, for people with scratchy pets or for people who just want the peace of mind in having the absolute best and longest lasting finish available then two component polyurethane lacquers like Bona traffic HD and Junckers HP Commercial both of which I use, may be the best. I only use the strongest two component finishes for commercial jobs.

You may find the video below helpful with water based lacquer application techniques. After 3.05 there is a very useful demonstration on correct application technique, or rather what incorrect techniques to avoid. The video explains far more succinctly than I would ever be able to explain. Even though the video is produced by Bona, the world leaders in floor lacquer and inventors of water-based finishes I do not agree with their coating technique fully. I would suggest applying more finish at the edges with a larger brush and coming out further and always rolling the finish in front of you rather than side to side, only if you have a very old pine floor that is still slightly uneven or one that you have sanded by hand then apply the finish from side to side initially but quickly even up in the direction of the grain, in front of you. I prefer to work in smaller sections, I would suggest in the video for example, coating half the room down the left hand side from front to back then coat the other half on the right hand side. I do not advocate the use of Bona mix and fill unless you have very small gaps as shown (around 1mm or less) for pine floors Lecol 7500 or a similar solvent filler works much better. I also do not advise applying a water-based lacquer directly to the wood surface unless a very light colour is desired on light woods such as maple, beech or ash etc. Applying a shellac based seal like Mylands shellac barrier seal will give a much warmer, fuller finish with more clarity and depth.

Finally, personally I do not use any water based primers. Primer is cheaper and not as strong as the top coat finish they are normally thinned out less advanced versions of the top coat typically acrylic or acrylic/polyurethane co polymer rather than pure polyurethane of top coat formulation. and is not required if you are using shellac seal as a primer coat. Even on light floors when just using water based lacquer I always use the more expensive top coat, it sands easier and is stronger. The only time a slightly softer more flexible ‘primer’ coat is required is when using a two part top coat like Bona Traffic, in this instance having extra flexibility underneath is good, in this case I still don’t use a water based primer, instead preferring to use a slightly more flexible single component top coat, this costs a little more but gives all the required flexibility and a stronger more easily sandable finish. The main reason why people use primer is to save money, even on large commercial jobs I use this method, which has been approved by Bona’s technical director, whom I have talked to at great length many times when providing specifications for large commercial projects. You could however wish to follow the manufacturers instructions to the letter it’s just that you do not have to and you may find sanding the primer coat slightly easier if you don’t. Either way you should get a good finish.

Back to top of the page

Shellac and waxed finishes

Shellac: Resinous exudate of the Laccifer lacc beetle from India and Sri Lanka, harvested from the twigs of trees on managed estates, melted, sieved and dissolved in wood alcohol (methylated spirits) approx. 25% solid content organic and natural resin totally non toxic, used to coat smarties, fruit, chocolates and headache tablets. Solvent methylated spirits, 90% ethanol (alcohol) 9.5% methanol (to avoid consumption) ethanol and methanol produced from natural gas or from fermentation of starch and sugar based crops, also from food waste. Mostly and increasingly sustainable as South and now North America adopt the bio production route of ethanol as a bio fuel. Very environmentally responsible. Flammable. Fumes given off during drying may be unpleasant but not harmful. Wax: Mixture of paraffin wax, beeswax and carnauba wax softened in 10 to 20% naphtha (white spirit) or pure turpentine. High quality waxes contain mostly beeswax (from honeycomb) and carnauba wax (from nuts) and little or no paraffin wax (from fossil fuels) and are very environmentally sustainable especially as very little is required for a large area. The cheaper the wax the more refined fossil fuel (paraffin wax) they contain. Pronounced but normally pleasant, sweet odour. Used in conjunction with shellac (above) Shellac traditionally applied to fill the grain and apply a protective sheen, then waxed to smooth out the lustre and provide a replenishable protective surface (application of subsequent maintenance coats of wax serve to increase protection and clean surface at same time)

It dries in about ten minutes and is ready to sand, although the longer you leave it the better it will sand. The shellac sealer will help fill up the grain of the wood which reduce the sinking in of subsequent coats limiting the amount of ‘top coat’ you need to apply whether that be lacquer or wax. Apply with a good quality soft brush, polishing mop, or rag. Use a generous amount and work quickly. The only exception to this is oil finish, you should not pre seal any timber that you are going to oil as this will reduce penetration. Whilst shellac will go over oil finishes and pigmented oil type stains there really is no need as only wax can then go on top and you could just as easily just apply the wax without first applying the shellac (or just apply clear oil finish) For really intricate areas just thin the sealer with meths and apply an extra coat. You should sand in between every coat you apply as a matter of rule, it may be tedious but if you want great results you have to put the effort in. I would use P240 or P320 for inter coat sanding.

More details on how to apply these finishes and what brushes you will need is covered quite extensively in my guide to wood finishing, so please take a look there. Shellac and wax finishes look great on period floors, especially very old pine like early Victorian or Georgian pine and oak and elm or pitch pine floors in country houses, just bear in mind that the floor finish will not be so durable as the more modern lacquers and so may not be ideal for kitchens, bathrooms and if you have pets and / or children. You can apply as many coats as required until you develop the desired lustre and depth, there is no hard and fast rule as different woods absorb different amounts of finish, as a general rule you want to apply more shellac and less wax as shellac is slightly stronger, builds a shine quicker and is much, much easier to apply, waxing by hand is hard work! do not however be tempted to use a buffing machine, it will melt and damage the finish, it is just bucket loads of elbow grease again I am afraid. Two to three coats of shellac is a minimum followed by a thin coat of wax, typically I will apply three to five coats of shellac and one to two coats of wax.

Back to top of the page

Oil and hardwax oil

40% to 90% oil content (typically around 50%) naphtha (white spirit based) solvent from fossil fuels normally 50% plus. Oils refined from natural plant and nut extracts with some paraffin oil refined from fossil fuels. High solvent content, strong and unpleasant odour (similar to gloss paint) flammable. Although 50% of product largely plant derived, processing required consumes much energy and fossil based solvent is very high. The majority are not very environmentally sustainable due to their very high fossil-based solvent content (unless at 90% oil concentration) Driers and plasticisers are added to aid film formation. Although heavily mismarketed as environmentally sustainable they are, in essence, high oil content (long spar) varnishes with alternate chemicals substituted for the traditional polyurethane and alkyd resin film-forming components to promote, film formation, quick drying and water/UV resistance. Their true environmental impact is therefore only medium and lies between water based, shellac & traditional waxes (low) and volatile solvent based (high) NB Traditional oils like Tung oil (from nut of Chinese tree) and Linseed oil (from Flax seed) take far too long to dry to be practical, boiled Linseed oil (effectively an early varnish of sorts with driers) dries quicker but is weaker and still not suitable. Two hundred years ago people waited weeks for their floors and furniture to be finished! These days people expect (and can only afford) a slightly quicker service. The marketing of these modern ‘Green’ oils preys on peoples wish to make an effort to be environmentally responsible, whilst alluding to the traditional oils of the past (which were very ‘green’ as they had virtually no solvents at all) to which they bear little resemblance. Coupled with the facts that modern oil finished floors only last a fraction of the time of the water based lacquer finished floors before requiring refinishing and that they require constant maintenance I find it upsetting that they are dishonestly marketed as being ‘green’ when, frankly, many of them are not.

Widely misrepresented as having greater strength and water resistant properties they need to be maintained regularly at least every year, preferably every few months in a high traffic use area or commercial environment. They have a warm, full and deep appearance when first applied (although the wood does darken considerably over time) but they do yellow over time as solvent based varnishes do (only slightly less) and quite a bit more than water based lacquers that deepen and mellow in a more natural (less yellow) looking way. Recently attempts have been made to address this problem with more UV resistant finishes. Applied in a thin coat to low traffic areas these finishes can give a beautiful result.

They can be technically very easy to apply by hand via brush and cloth, albeit very slow and care must be taken to ensure a thin even film is applied. Application via bespoke floor application brush requires more skill as the oil has to be distributed correctly as wiping off is not normally undertaken, this means a thicker coat can be applied giving a much quicker build but a certain amount of skill and experience may be required not to overload the brush and leave excess finish which dries showing up application marks, drips and patches. Application via buffing machine normally via cloth placed over sponge and sometimes buffed with a sponge is faster but may require more skill and experience and can be messy to adjacent skirtings. Oil finishes are more easily ‘spot repaired’ soon after they are applied or after a longer period if only a thin coating has been applied. Before long the wood darkens and patinates and any sanding of a ‘spot’ area is in danger of exposing fresh lighter wood making the repair stand out although the finish itself should still be able to be blended in. Individual boards or blocks may be masked individually and sanded carefully back to the wood using many sanding sheets as these will clog up very quickly. Larger areas may be partially sanded using white spirits and fine sandpaper or scotch pad sponge and lots of cloths, this removes the surface layers and many of the scratches/discolouration but leaves an amount of oil and colour in the wood, after the white spirits have dried overnight fresh colour or clear oil can be applied.

On floors the oil and hardwax oils give relatively poor durability as the film is quite weak and the thickness of applied film is very thin when compared with other finishes. They do soak well into the wood and therefore work well on naturally oily timbers like teak, rosewood and traditional European walnut and indeed are an excellent choice for reclaimed hardwood parquet for example as oil finishes are the least fussy of all finishes and will sit over contaminated timber much better. Modern floor oils and hardwax oils were developed and widely marketed quite recently to reduce material and labour costs by enabling them to be applied by the unskilled and not to offer any move forward in quality. If you require a bright or very pigmented colour finish in a very lightly used area they can give very pleasing and striking results. If you require a clear coat finish and a measure of durability then you may be better served by a coat of shellac followed by a quality water-based lacquer in a satin or matt finish which mimics an oil finish in appearance very well if not applied too thick. Modern crown cut cheaper and quicker grown oak which to us traditionalists can appear boring and plain when compared to older denser and much more beautifully figured quarter cut oaks are especially suited to coloured oil finishes as the deep oak grain provides a nice figurative contrast and the obscuration of the sometimes plain modern oak timber with pigments is not such a hardship and indeed sometimes a bonus. Just remember the resulting finish will not be as durable as a traditionally stained, shellacked and lacquered floor.

As a safety precaution, as with cellulose rags, all rags should be placed outside to dry for a few hours before putting into a bin as theoretically they are capable of auto ignition (catching fire spontaneously) this obviously is not a regular occurrence under normal circumstances but peace of mind is worth a few extra rags.

Back to top of the page


Please see the FAQs page for more information. In general modern water based lacquered floors require just normal dry cleaning and occasional wet cleaning with a sparing amount of water and neutral mild non-bleach detergent like Bona’s Floor Cleaner (it’s not expensive a little goes a long way and it is designed specifically to be used modern floor finishes) as and when required, they require no waxes or polishes. Oiled and hardwaxed oiled floors require regular maintenance normally with a wood soap and then periodical recoating, regimes vary so follow the manufacturers advice. Shellac and waxed floors cannot be wet washed so clean any liquid mess up ASAP, just dry cleaning is required and a periodical rewaxing every year or so.

Back to top of the page

Sanding floors by hand machines

Article being finished. Please feel free to contact us for help and advice.

Back to top of the page

A job well done

If you follow some or all of my advice you should end up with a result that you can be proud of and one that you can expect will be better in every aspect than that which the vast majority of floor sanding companies currently offer, this is because you will have taken care and pride in your work and not cut corners in time, materials or method, something that unfortunately is sadly rare in todays world, especially in the construction and associated industries. Once your body has recovered you can sit down with a glass of red wine/vodka/methylated spirits admire the fruits of your labor and say to yourself ‘I did that!’ or if you are feeling lazy, invite some friends round and when they say ‘Wow, what a nice looking floor!’ just smile, slightly smugly. If reading all of this makes you feel like you need a lie down or you do not think you can devote the time to achieving a lovely result, well, you can always ask me for a quote, yes I may cost a little more than the average ‘flooring professional’ who, ever eager to promise you the stars, promptly proceeds to mow your floor into oblivion (presumably whilst they stare up at the stars) I always aim to undertake any job I do as if it were my own home, you know, like you would, and apart from the parting of a little cash you still get to smile, slightly smugly, as when your friends arrive and go ‘Wow, what a nice looking floor!’ you can tell them ‘I found him!’ Which in todays world is no mean feat in itself, after all, for whilst the queue to enter the building industry is never ending, true craftsmen are an endangered species, there really aren’t many of us left.

If after a lie down and a mental pep talk you still wish to proceed then I applaud you, the job is hard work and frequently frustrating, but if you follow my advice and work methodically and patiently you should end up with a result that gives you a lot of pleasure and pride, remember as in life, when the going gets tough remember the bigger picture and what your floor is going to look like when it is finished. It is also worth noting that if you are restoring an older period building, whether listed or not, that you are far more likely to take love and care of that building than the overwhelming majority of builders and ‘flooring professionals’ it is likely you will not save much money over their ‘cheaper’ jobs as you will be doing the job properly, which costs a little more, but what you may very well be saving is the character, history and integrity of your home and our shared heritage and that is something no amount of money can buy. For inspiration you can see my gallery, following my advice you should end up with a floor that looks similar, if you require any more advice feel free to contact me but bear in mind I receive quite a lot of requests from around the world so patience may be required and most of all… Good luck!

Back to top of the page