Here's a project that is a little more involved but well worth it. Shari and I refinished a hardwood floor together and, believe it or not, we were still talking to each other afterwards. No kidding. Here's the process.
Drum floor sander and edger
Drywall pole with sander or hand-held sander
Lambs wool applicator
Step 1: How bad can your floor be?
Before you begin, determine whether your project is simply one where you need to rejuvenate the finish or if you need to start from the beginning. If your floor is in relatively good condition and the main problem is surface scratches, marring, loss of shine or simply a dingy appearance, you only need to rejuvenate the flooring. Go directly to step 4.
If areas of your floor have been worn to bare wood, have chipping or peeling or deep stains or color differences, you need to start from scratch. Go directly to step 2.
Step 2: Hope you like sanding
You need to first go to your local equipment rental shop and rent a drum sander and an edger. The rental store should give you a brochure or video on how to operate the sander please read or view and follow the manufacturer's directions. They will also give you sandpaper (always take more than you think you need because you always need more than you think, and it will save you at least one trip back to the rental place). Purchase a variety of grit sandpaper, with plenty of 20-, 40-, 60- and 100-grit sandpaper.
Now, start with a 40-grit sandpaper if the 40 works, no need to use a 20-grit, and you'll remove less wood from the floor. If the 40 doesn't work, try the 20. You will drum sand the room first, then use the edger to sand the perimeter of the room as well as any hard-to-reach places. Change paper as needed to maintain a good removal of the old finish. Now switch to the 60-grit paper for the next phase of sanding and edging. You'll finish the process with the 100-grit paper, but this time edge first, then drum sand.
Extra sanding tips:
Always sand with the grain of the wood.
For the drum sander, always keep the sander moving when tilting it down to make contact with the floor. Be sure to walk slowly. It's a good idea to practice using the sander first on an old sheet of plywood to get the feel of it.
Start sanding in the middle of the room against a wall, and sand toward the facing wall. Each path is sanded twice once forward and once back.
Overlap each path by 2 inches to 4 inches until you have sanded half of the room, then turn the machine around and sand the other half of the room.
Step 3: Oh no! More sanding
If you see any swirl marks in the floor, you want to blend those out before you add your varnish. Using a drywall pole sander or a hand sander, sand out the swirl marks using an 80- or 100-grit sandpaper. Then scrape out the corners using a hand scraper. Try to get one with the narrowest blade width (a 1-inch works best). When all corners are complete, vacuum the room thoroughly.
Step 4: Putting on the sheen
Now you need to apply your finish coat, or varnish, allowing it to dry thoroughly. When dried, sand lightly with a 100-grit sandpaper on a drywall pole sander or by hand. Vacuum well and apply your second coat. Follow the same sanding and vacuuming steps for all remaining coats.
Extra varnish tips:
Apply thin coats for less bubbles.
Apply a minimum of three coats for the best look.
If you are staining the floor before varnishing, wait at least two days after staining before applying varnish.
Step 5: Wait, wait and more wait.
Allow the final finish to dry at least 24 hours (48 is better) before replacing furniture. Be extremely careful for the first two weeks, and wait at least that long before using a chemical wood floor cleaner.
This is a project that can have fabulous long-lasting results if you are willing to go through the whole process. You may wish to do this when the weather allows open windows because of varnish fumes.
Matt Fox writes this column with Shari Hiller. They also co-host the Home and Garden Television show "Room by Room."