What No One Will Tell You About Sanding Your Floors (& How We Did It)

Over the last week or so we’ve been sharing our flooring updates with you. As you’ve probably already guessed, we did a lot more than we initially let on. Basically we sanded almost all floors in our house in one weekend! It was so much work, with a little bit of disaster along the way…

Friday 17/05/2013

14:30 I’m off to pick up the floor sanders that I reserved earlier this week. The sanders aren’t ready and I’m told to come back in about 30 minutes.

15:15 I return to hire shop. The sanders were accidentally hired out to someone else, the next sanders will be ready in about an hour. The hire shop guys are really friendly and helpful, but this isn’t a great start.

16:15 Back again. Sanders are ready at last. The lovely hire shop guys carry the big floor sander to the car for me. Off home – again.

Dining Room Floorboards

16:30 Can finally start with the sanding. Yay! Decided to start work in the dining room. Am so excited and decide to start sanding the edges with 40 grit paper. Initial results are amazing and it’s so satisfying to see the clean and stain free floorboard to appear.

16:45 Sanding is much harder work than it looks. So much harder! Starting to get tired already and have only managed to sand about a metre of the room. This is going to be a very long weekend. I plough on.

18:30 Jan’s home from work. I’ve been struggling on sanding the dining room with the edging sander and am already aching all over. While I’m sanding the edges in the dining room and hallway, Jan makes a start with the large floor sander in the dining room.

22:00 It’s been a long few hours. My back is aching from bending over and my arms are aching from holding the machine. We’ve managed sand about half of the dining room and the edges of the hallway floor.

Sanding Floorboards

22:30 Absolutely knackered. After a bit of tidying we fall into a deep sleep.

Saturday 18/05/2013

9:00 Back to sanding. We’ve realized that although the floorboards are in a good condition, they need more sanding than we anticipated.

13:00 We decide Fish & Chips would be a perfect lunch, having been working so hard. Pop out, but the chip shop is on holiday. Uff. Back home for some sandwiches in our very full living room.

Messy Living Room

14:15 Back to work. So sick of sanding. My left knee is really sore, as I find myself pressing my left elbow against it to be able to hold and steady the really powerful sander so that I’m not thrown across the room. I obviously have to do more weights at the gym. Jan is still sanding the dining room floor.

15:30 Although the initial sanding results we’re amazing and strangely satisfying, we quickly learn that sanding away all of the dirt and stain takes a much longer time as the boards are slightly uneven and bowed. Loads of sanding is required to even out the boards and get to every last bit of varnish and stain.

16:30 Almost finished the initial dining room floor sanding. Now all of the dirt and varnish is gone, we can switch to a finer grit sandpaper and sand everything again. The novelty has well and truly worn off.

Sanding Floorboards

18:00 We start sanding the dining room again with an even finer grade sandpaper and also finally make a start on sanding the hallway floor. By now we’ve learned to frequently switch the sandpaper. It makes a huge difference and progress is much quicker.

21:00 Finished the downstairs sanding. Off upstairs to make a start on the landing. Really can’t be bothered anymore.

Sanding Floors

22: 00 Fed up, aching and tired. Go to bed and fall asleep straight away. What a great Saturday night. We really know how to live the high life, don’t we?

Sunday 19/05/2013

8:30 Up early. Treat ourselves to a break at the gym.

12:00 Back to sanding. Aching even more than before, maybe going to the gym wasn’t a good idea. Still a lot left to do in a day.

15:00 We realise that our neighbours are back from their weekend away. We’d better get a move on as there is still a lot to do and the machines are really noisy. At least we’ve made a start on the guest bedroom.

Original Floorboards

16:30 The job seems never ending. We’ve definitely taken on much too much for just a weekend. The second bedroom and hallway have now been sanded for the first time with 24 grit paper and we can finally make a start on sanding everything with the 40 and 60 grit papers. Our neighbours are amazing and patient, but it is Sunday evening and we’d better get a move on.

Sanded Floorboards

17:00 Almost finished now! All first floor sanding, including the 120 grit last sand is complete. Yay. I start cleaning up the guest bedroom and hallway while Jan carries the really heavy sander down the stairs.

Sanded Floorboards

18:00 The very last sand on the ground floor begins. Jan is now using the edging sander and I’m using the big floor sander that Jan just carried down the stairs. It weighs about 40 kg, so three cheers for Jan!

18:10 I plug in the sander to start the final 20 minutes of finishing sanding on the ground floor. The sander doesn’t start up. Slight confusion. I check the socket – all is good. More confusion. I check the cables, but still can’t get the machine to start. Slight panic starts to kick in. Jan the man to the rescue – but even he can’t get the machine to work. We have no idea what went wrong, but just can’t get the machine to start. It’s so annoying. We’re so close to completion and patting ourselves in the back, but we just can’t finish the job.

19:00 Jan finishes sanding the edges with the edging sander and attempt a final tidy for the evening.

Monday 20/05/2013

7:00 I’m off to the hire shop to return the sanders and confess our little issue. Had been worrying all night that we’d get a huge bill, but the hire shop guys were fantastic and really helpful. As we hadn’t damaged the machine and it was just a machine fault, we weren’t liable.  Relief – this could have ended up being a really expensive job. The guys in the hire shop promise to call as soon as another sander is in.

9:30 I receive the call and pick up another large floor sander to finish the job.

10:00 I’m on my own as Jan is at work. Panic. The sander has to be back by 12, but it’s just way too heavy for me to lift out of the car. Only one of our neighbours seems to be home, so I try my luck to see if he can help. The door opens, he’s still in his pyjama…

Sanded Floorboards

10:30 After our lovely neighbour gives me a hand, I can finally start giving the floor a final sand. All is good, not much more to do now.

11:30 Finally finish the job and can return the sander (with a little more help of my neighbour).

12:00 Can at last admire our work. Now all we need is to varnish all floors. This has to be the longest DIY weekend ever…

What we learned (& what no one will tell you):

  • Every tutorial you read states that you have to sink each and every nail into the floorboards before beginning to sand. Don’t bother. Of course you have to make sure there are no nails protruding out of the surface, but we found it fine to just sand over everything. You have to be really careful though. If you have sparks they can cause the sawdust to catch fire and you could also damage the sandpaper or, even worse, the machine! Definitely something to try at your own risk, but it worked for us!
  • We had the floors sanded in the living room and our bedroom. It took our sander guy about 2 hours to do the whole room. We figured that it would maybe take us twice as long – and there are two of us and just one of him. We couldn’t have been more wrong. It took so much longer!
  • Start by sanding with a really coarse paper, even if you think that your boards are in a good condition and change your paper frequently. We started sanding with 24 grit, when all of the dirt and varnish was gone, we smoothed over everything with 40 grit and then with 60 grit paper and finally with 120 grit paper.
  • Make sure you have plenty of space in your bin. We completely filled ours and emptied our vacuum cleaner 13 times!
  • Even if you think your floor doesn’t need it, don’t skip the step with the fine sandpaper. It really does make a difference!
  • Don’t underestimate the prep work.
  • Sanding is so noisy. Don’t even think about attempting it if you have neighbours that are home. We both wore earplugs the whole time and still ended up with a slight buzzing in our ears.

Sanded Floorboards

Budget Breakdown

  • Weekend hire floor sander and edge sander (Friday 14:00 – Monday 12:00) – £52.50 (special half price offer)
  • Large sanding sheets – £69.60
  • Small sanding disks for edging sander – £46.80
  • Varnish (we still had some left over from our staircase restoration, so only needed one extra can) – £40.00
  • Dust Masks - £4.18

Total: £213.08  

When we had the floor in the living room sanded (about 2 years ago) we paid £250.00 for the one room, so doing two rooms and two hallways for about the same price definitely makes it a job worth doing yourself. The laminate flooring gave everything a cheap feel and our newly sanded floors are so much more in keeping with the style of the house. We still need to finish off the varnishing and sort the skirting boards, but we’re really happy with the result so far.

That’s what happened on our busiest DIY weekend. What were you up to? Have you ever taken on too much work for a weekend?  Have you ever sanded your own floors?

*Having been asked a lot of questions about how to sand wooden floors, we’ve put together a long list answering the most frequently asked questions. You can check it out here: Floorsanding FAQ.*

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  1. says

    And I thought I had had a busy weekend… It was nothing compared to you. I removed all the screws that used to hold the drywall on the kitchen and dining-room ceilings… Today I can’t feel my legs (from going up and down the ladder), my arms (from holding the very heavy electric screwdriver) and my neck…

    • says

      It was such a long weekend but the work was definitely worth it! Can’t tell you how happy we are that it’s done now.
      Bet you’re so happy to be seeing an improvement in your kitchen and I’m sure all of your work will be worth it in the end!

  2. says

    Oh my word. That looks miserable on your bodies. But Excellent job on finishing and doing it yourselves! We had to hire our house out, since it had to be complete in 4 days… :/

    • says

      Thanks Kelly! Once we’d hired the sander and set ourselves the task of doing the four rooms, there was no going back. If we had had previous experience sanding floors, I have to admit that I would have been very tempted to hire it out, too. We’d really not expected it to be such hard work! So relieved that it all worked out in the end!

  3. says

    Your floors came out so beautifully!! It’s so great to hear the reality of it. I was amazed that it took the one guy about a week to do two rooms and I was also amazed at the noise. We’re looking forward to trying to do our bedrooms on our own. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  4. emma watson says

    Hi there, can I ask what kind of varnish you used on the floor boards, I’m researching different finishes at the moment.

    Also are you in Salford like myself, your house/street seems familiar. We also have a big Victorian semi which we are restoring.

    King regards Emma x

    It’s looking great BTW

    • says

      Thanks Emma! We used Granwax Aquathane in Satin (I think it’s also available in Gloss) for most of the floors. When we first moved in, we paid for a professional to do the living room and that’s the stuff that he used. It was done around 3 years ago and still looks great. It only has a very, very slight sheen and doesn’t have the “plastic-y” look that you sometimes see. It was really easy to apply, too. We’d definitely recommend it (although it was quite expensive). In the kitchen we used a different varnish (the Aquathane varnish is only available in 5l canisters) because we only needed a bit. For the kitchen we used No Nonsense Quick-Dry Floor Varnish Satin (which we got at Screwfix). We’d been worried about a noticeable difference between the two varnishes, but it actually looks exactly the same (same smell and texture were the same, too). Jan and I kept joking that it was the same product (which we don’t know and probably isn’t)! Both varnishes worked great, dried quickly and still look good now.
      Hope that’s some help!

      Ps. We don’t live in Salford, but we are in Manchester, too.

  5. vanessa says

    Hi Christine, please could you help me out! We have taken back the carpet in our old Victorian house to reveal some lovely floorboards. They are nice and wide and are in good condition. We don’t want to stain them dark we just want to paint them white. People talk a lot about removing the old black varnish that was used at the time but only when you are going to sand the floors with an industrial sander so that the floorboards come back to the pine light surface and so that you don’t clog up the machine. But what about for those people who don’t want to do this and just want to remove the black varnish. What do you do here? I’ve read that you just scrub with the grain with steel wool and white spirit and then once is dry lightly sand over it by hand. Then its ready to paint with a primer and then x2 coats of the floor paint? Please can you help?
    Many thanks
    p.s. thanks for much for your help with the fireplaces they came out lovely x

    • says

      As we haven’t painted our floors, I’m not 100% sure what the best solution would be. I guess it all comes down to the condition of your floorboards.
      We didn’t bother removing any of the old paint and varnish off our floorboards before sanding – we just started sanding with really coarse sandpaper. I think you’ll probably get the best result by completely sanding your floorboards first, but if they are smooth and the varnish is smooth, too, I think you’ll be fine by just painting over everything. I’d definitely give everything a really good clean and then a quick light sand (so that the paint adheres better) first. Even the best paint job wont cover up any unevenness or damaged boards, so it’s really important to have a good surface to start with.
      Hope that’s some help!

      PS. So glad that your fireplaces turned our great! Well done, Vanessa!

  6. says

    Great read i really enjoyed your honest comments on floor sanding. AM Flooring sand floors everyday and it is true what you say about not punching down all of the nails. The only reason that tutorials say to punch down all of the nails is a) to protect the drum and b) it will giv a better look to the floor, especially if you are filling the gaps/joints in the boards as you will be able to fill the nail head holes. C) if you sand lots of wood off the floor then where the nails are there will be lots of bumps as the metal nail is harder than the wood.

    Also make sure that you use a buffer after the belt floor sander as this will leave your wooden floor even smoother

  7. Kirsty Brierley says

    I really love what you have done with the stairs! Do you have any information on that please?
    I am seriously considering it and doing the floors after!!
    Kirst x

    • says

      Thanks Kirsty! We did write a few posts on our staircase restoration progress. If you check out our projects page you should find a link there. Other than that, what would you like to know? Always happy to help!

  8. kirsty brierley says

    Hi Christine
    Many thanks for the reply! I think I am going to start with the flooring! Would you recommend that I do the flooring first then do the gloss work(on the panelling) afterwards?
    Your website has definately inspired me to get started!!
    Thanks a million!!
    Kirst x

    • says

      You’re welcome, Kirsty! I’d recommend doing the floor first as when you go around the edges of the room with the edging sander it will inevitable scratch and dent the skirting boards. Other than that, I’d do any other dirty work first. Good luck with your floor – we’d love to know how you get on!

  9. Lisa says

    What a great blog!
    Have just moved into our 3bed council apartment and everything needs doing!
    My partner said not to get laminate for the hallways and part living room, but to sand the floorboards and varnish them. This would be cheaper he said!!
    I am 5 months pregnant so after reading this am thinking it may be just a tad too much work….however your end results look amazing. A lot to consider now. Thanks for the write up!

    • says

      Thanks, Lisa! Whilst I’m not a huge fan of laminate, it is a really practical solution. I definitely wouldn’t recommend sanding the floor when you are pregnant – it’s really hard work and soo dusty! We paid to have some of our floors done and it wasn’t actually that expensive, maybe it’s worth getting a few quotes and comparing the cost to the laminate flooring option.
      Good luck with your renovation!

  10. Anthony says

    Hi, just wondering whether you filled the gaps in your floorboards at all. If not, do you wish you had? Seems like a lot of hassle so I’m keen to avoid this on top of all the sanding…


    • says

      We didn’t bother filling the gaps. There are special products available, but we decided that it just wasn’t worth it. We’re glad we didn’t bother with the extra work and still think that it was right not to fill the gaps – we did insulate under our floors though.
      Hope that’s some help.

      • Anthony says

        Thanks for this – very helpful. Could you describe a bit more about insulating under floors? Did you not have to take all the boards up for this?

        • says

          You’re welcome, Anthony! We didn’t have to take the floorboards up, as we have a cellar under half of the house and a crawl space under the other half. If you’d like to read more about how we insulated our floors, you can read about our finished cellar ceiling here (the post has links to other progress posts, too) or how we insulated under our living room floor here.
          Hope that’s some help – just let us know if you have any more questions!

  11. Sara says

    Hi Christine!

    I am really enjoying reading your website! We live in a 1930′s house and we are going to spent this Easter restoring our floors. We have removed carpets from one of the lounges, entrance hall and all of the upstairs. We have hired a drum sander and the edge sander. We are giving ourselves a week to sand and varnish basically 5 large rooms. Do you think it is achievable? luckily, our neighours aren’t too close to us (so we can work the night shift if needed) but we have 3 children from 4 to 8 years old, so it is going to be fun. I am thinking of using the same varnish you have recomended. Could you please let me know where did you buy it? We are in the Wirral.
    If we survive this project (we are not DIY experts, in fact this will be our first), I would love to do our stairs like yours, they are so beautiful!
    Best wishes,

    • says

      Thanks, Sara! It’s a lot of work for a week, but it should be possible. Just remember to frequently change your paper – the whole process is much quicker then. Varnishing is really quick and the varnish we used dried really quickly, too. We managed to purchase our varnish from the guy who sanded our floors in the living room, but we also contacted Granwax directly and they were able to give us some other suppliers. I’d recommend doing the same, they’ll be able to tell you who’s closest to you. If you’d like some more info you can check out our DIY guide to floorsanding here or of course drop us a line… always happy to help if we can!
      Good luck!

  12. Fiona says

    This post was brilliant and I’m ashamed to admit that I giggled the whole way through! We are also in the process of restoring our floorboards and today is day 5 of a non-stop sanding spree. I sympathise so much – it’s a killer of a job. I can barely move my hands after using the heavy edger for so long. The novelty wore off with us pretty damn quick too – good to know we aren’t the only ones suffering!

  13. Becky says

    They look great! Did you use a clear varnish or a stain before? I love the colour.


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