When I laid eyes on our current 1950s fixer upper, I was able to look past the disgraceful kitchen and lone bathroom as soon as I saw those beatdown beauties. We happily bought abused 65 year old hardwood floors with the intention of refinishing them.
The smart thing to do would have been to get it done before we moved in, but our circumstances made that option too difficult. So a little less than 4 years after our premature move in date, my husband and I refinished one bedroom in a weekend for less than $200.
How to refinish original hardwood floors in a weekend
I’m hardly in the top 1% of DIYers, but I’m ambitious and I’m not afraid of the result being imperfect. For those reasons I’m calling this project a beginner skill because it’s pretty damn simple. Like anything though, there are techniques and know-how that make it easier and turn out better.
Regardless, it isn’t rocket science. The general idea is this: clear the space, sand the floors, pour some stuff on them.
But you already know that! And you’re here now which means you wanna know what steps I took and what we learned through the whole mess.
Sad, abused floors with nasty water damage and an unflattering color choice. This situation was ripe for a makeover. But I’m frugal AF and not interested in going over the top for these things. I like my projects to be as easy and affordable as possible.
Home improvement: but make it passive.
This is our current after situation.
The room is a mess and idgaf, but you can clearly see the difference in shine between the hallway and bedroom. The rest of our house does NOT shine. Like, not even a little bit. Overall the refinishing is standing up and still looks great one year later.
I think this is a good opportunity to let you know that the advice heard ’round the world is put a rug over hardwood floors or else.
These things high maintenance compared to laminate or tile, so their beauty is better off unseen. It’s one hell of a dilemma, but ultimately makes the cost savings that much more attractive. If they’re better off covered, why not just do it yourself and save THOUSANDS of dollars?
Anyway, here goes.
- pry bar (or flathead screwdriver + hammer)*
- wood filler
- a putty knife or two
- mineral/wood oil (I just used water lol)
- wood stain (optional. I like my hardwood naked.)
- epoxy applicator
- extension rod*
- 1 large jug of polyurethane (water-based dries faster than oil-based)
- 2-3 120 grit sandpaper sheets
- 1-2 220 grit sandpaper sheet
- large square sander (rented after prepping the room/floors)
*preowned essential supplies
Prepping hardwood floors for refinishing
Before getting started, be sure to:
- clear the room of all furniture and any other homeless items that always end up “stored” in spare space.
Anything, and seriously anything extra will just make the chance of getting a good finish that much harder. The tiniest hidden dust particles will ruin your effort and create more work.
Luckily, my kid brother had just moved out of this room so it was empty. Prime time!
You need the room as clear and bare as possible. And if there isn’t a door barricading the room, I would seriously consider creating one with a plastic drop cloth and some heavy duty tape or staples.
Since we only did one bedroom, we were able to close the door and keep it safe from the dog, baby, and additional debris while the sealant dried.
2. remove any baseboards (you want to see any gaps between the floors and the wall). It won’t be pretty.
The pry bar is only for removing baseboards or anything else nailed to or around the hardwood. Remember, you need those floors bare. The entire room was surrounded by the small gap between the wall and the installed floors.
I wanted to make sure I could sand to the absolute edges.
3. take a before picture! (see above)
4. patch imperfections/gaps with wood filler
Wood filler is addictive, and not in the permanent marker smell way (yay). Who knew how satisfying “filling wood” could be? This stuff covers cracks, dents, holes, etc. You can buy different colors to match your wood, but I’m pretty sure the “natural” color will stain with the floors. The one we bought starts pink and dries beige, so there’s no wondering if it’s ready or not.
On top of that, it’s cheap and easy to use. Just shmear it into any nook and cranny with a putty knife. Also verrrrrry satisfying 🤤
We didn’t bother renting the sander until the wood was all filled and patched and ready to go. That part took up about 3 hours in total. There were a LOT of cracks.
5. sweep, vacuum, and mop with water
While that dried, we bought the remaining supplies and rented a sander from Home Depot for 24 hours (1pm to 1pm). They required a $200 deposit, but the rental cost was $64.95.
Side note: these things are stupid heavy… Getting it in and out of the car was terrible… for my husband lol. I was told to get away and I wasn’t about to argue.
At this point we turned the hardwood floors into wood-filler floors so it was time!
Step-by-step procedures for refinishing hardwood
Overall, it is a surprisingly simple process. But I wouldn’t say it’s easy.
If you want professional results, you gotta hire a pro. There are some undeniable some skills and serious patience involved. Frugal me was freaking out trying to time it all and get that sander back in 24 hours so I was going NUTS. But anyway:
- Sand everything with the lower grit (Rougher) paper
For our little room, this took a solid hour to get the whole room sufficiently sanded from wall to wall. we went until there was a nice, even, raw finish everywhere.
- Sweep, vacuum, and wipe down everything
For real though, like, everything. Window sills, blinds, closet shelves, door framing, WALLS. After working hard to make all that super fine sawdust, you don’t want to keep any of it. Because – if the sander snags a pile of leftover dust, it can form a pebble on the sand paper and seriously damage your floor. Work with clean floors ONLY.
- sand with the high grit (finer) paper to get a smooth finish
- sweep, vacuum, and wipe down everything
- with a clean mop or rag, wipe down the entire floor with mineral oil or water
the idea here is to trap and particles AND bring out the natural veining in the wood before staining/sealing. You could use a mop of some sort, but I wanted to minimize the risk of strange fibers getting left behind.
- *optional* STAIN IT. We did not do this because I like my wood nekkid.
- Seal it and let it dry – After the floor dries enough to walk on it, starting in a far corner, pour a fair amount of polyurethane and spread it around evenly with your *new* epoxy applicator. We attached ours to a paint roller extender. I did a very thin layer the first time around. That was the advice I received and it suuuuuucked. A light layer will barely “seal” the surface, but supposedly the pros do 3-5 layers. Supposedly. They are also being paid hourly so I’d do a ton of layers too! I’ll admit, the thick layers take longer to dry of course. Regardless, if I did it again I’d be very generous with first layer and leave it milky looking because…..
- Sand with the higher grit (finer) sandpaper – we’re sanding AGAIN! The reason being to get any bubbles (there will be bubbles) and even out the surface. Since I started with such a thin layer, this step was hardly necessary and ultimately jaded me.
- sweep, vacuum, and wipe down everything
- REseal it and let it dry – this is where I did a fat, juicy layer but should have taken it easy. Still NO REGRETS. I got a thick, pretty, sufficient seal job done. So it took a little longer to dry, but it looks goooood.
- repeat steps 8, 9, and 10 until desired effect or rental time runs out.
A few things to note
The first pass with the sander didn’t get all the wood filler up. But a wet rag does. Works like a charm, but don’t scrub too hard or it will work too well :/
Before | After
Patience has a price. Here’s me! Poor project posture and all. I started along the back wall and worked my way towards the door. Notice the giant jug? I just poured it from there and spread it around as evenly as possible.
This picture is from my second coat. Notice the milky puddles? Supposedly the pros don’t do it like that.. But the pros probably aren’t renting equipment either! I learned my lesson from the first, so-thin-you-couldn’t-see-it, coat. So I lathered that stuff the second time around.
Some after shots.
Would I do it again/finish the house?
After all of that one room was said and done (lol) we were not jazzed about doing the rest of the house. However, since we’ve waited so long, I’m reenergized to take on more of the house in segments.
Overall it is a worthwhile project. It’s not too physically demanding and it’s not very difficult in theory or practice. The hardest part is having a place to put all your stuff. You know? We live here. There isn’t a ton of spare space to completely relocate everything in one room for a weekend. Not without a much bigger cost.
My husband and I would absolutely be willing to pay professionals IF they handle all of the movement and can do it in less than 3 or 4 days. We would need to be staying elsewhere since the only rooms without hardwood are the kitchen and bathroom. So tack on a 3-night hotel stay and the costs just keep piling up.
Because of that, I’d prefer to handle it room by room and diy until I die. At the end of the day, I don’t wanna pay someone else to do something I can do with my hands.