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attic, part 6: refinishing the floor

03.05 - 04.05 it's not a "mistake", it's "character"

click to see the full photo galleryThere's a reason that every time we mentioned that we were refinishing our hardwood floors ourselves, we were greeted with incredulousness. Turns out that it's every bit as backbreaking, messy, long, and arduous and you might expect it to be. And I say that as the one who didn't have to do any of the work -- with the exception of cleaning it with a tack cloth between sandings, I did exactly nothing on this project.

Once we'd finished taping and sanding/mudding the main room and sanding the closets, we decided it was time to sand down the floor even though we wouldn't be refinishing it until we were done texturing and painting. The idea was to completely wrap up as much of the sanding projects as we could in one go since it's so much work to clean up and we wouldn't want it causing problems during our finish work later on.

The floor was in reasonable shape when we first started working on the attic, though it acquired a grimy layer of sawdust, drywall dust and dried drywall mud over the course of the project.

Underneath all of that, though, we knew there was treasure just waiting to be discovered. The floor is made of fir, as is most of the rest of the woodwork in the house, and it has a wonderful varying grain that's quite lovely. We rented a floor sander, an edger, and a huge stack of sandpaper of varying grits and then over the course of three days, Sal worked from morning to late evening to get the floor to its bare beauty.

We then covered the floor using big rolls of brown paper (a tip from a friend) and proceeded to texture, prime, and paint the walls of the main room, prime and paint the eave closets, and install the vinyl floor tiles in the closets. Using the paper made cleanup very easy when we were ready to get back to the floor and in the meantime, let us work worry-free on our other projects.

Once we were ready to finish the floor, it was time for another trip back to the rental place for the finish sander (screener). By the way, mad props to Interstate Rentals over on Schmeer Road for some damn fine service, who, in addition to renting good equipment at reasonable prices and doing it with a smile, also provide an excellent tutorial, both in person and online, for the step-by-step process of refinishing a floor.

There was a final sanding pass, followed by meticulous cleaning with a broom and then a tack cloth. Incidentally, we saved time on this phase by putting the tack cloth on our Swiffer, which worked remarkably well (great idea of Sal's).

Finally -- finally! -- it was time for the Application of Noxious Chemicals. (Safety tip for the kiddies: that means you need to don Mr. Respirator so that nasty Mr. Fumes doesn't knock you out.) After much online research, consulting of friends with experience, and several phone calls to two local floor refinishing companies, we decided to use three coats of a clear satin-finish water-based polyurethane and a fourth coat of water-based sealer. Some feel that oil-based is more durable, but we both hate dealing with the cleanup of oil-based anything and avoid it whenever possible. The floor refinishing companies both confirmed that water-based products would be just fine for our application. They also told us we only needed one or two coats, but we opted for three to up the durability a bit. It took longer, but the difference was noticeable between that second and third coat and it was worth it.

Counting the initial sanding, the whole project took six very long days and another three days or so before it was really ready for any kind of serious foot traffic. Obviously, we tackled an especially large room for our first floor refinishing project (when will we learn not to do that??) but it's not something I would recommend doing yourself unless you've got several days off in a row. Also, we were able to close it off from the rest of the house so we didn't have to live "around" it while it was being done.

Anyway, once the sealer coat was on and had dried for a few hours, we were rewarded with the floor we've been dreaming about since we moved into this house and had hoped to see downstairs, back when we were young and naive. The final result, which is stunning, is due entirely to Sal's hard work and he more than deserves all the credit for how it turned out.

I particularly love the way the color of the wood changes to a split-tone down the centers of some of the planks, as well as all the variation in grain and range of color. There was originally a slightly darker stain on the floor but we chose to go with a clear finish that really lets the wood's natural color sing. Also, we're glad we chose the more subtle sheen of the semi-gloss, which makes the floor somehow appear and even feel soft underfoot.

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