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Important Facts About The Wood Floor Restoration Process
Before you begin reading, it's necessary to say that this is not a guide on how to sand your floor. This article is meant to give you a general idea of the risks and dangers involved, when someone who has never before attempted floor sanding, might encounter. We will also provide you with some insight on how the different stages of floor restoration, in order to allow you to understand how the process works.
Floor Sanding, Refinishing and Restoration. What’s The Difference?
To provide you with an understanding of the process, we have to go over the basics. The procedure, known as 'floor sanding', involves stripping of the old, and damaged, protective coating on top of your wooden floor, using abrasive materials. Once that protective coating (also called 'floor finish') is removed, the wood below will be left bare and unblemished. This will allow us to use that pristine wooden surface to apply a new finish. The process also goes by the name of 'refinishing'.
Now, the reason why we're explaining such seemingly trivial and simple things is that there is a third term - 'floor restoration'. You may be wondering what the connection with the other two is, and we're more than happy to elaborate. You see, when a potential client is enquiring about a 'floor sanding', he is assuming that this is all there is to it - just sanding. Someone will come in, use his machines to quickly do a round or two on the floor, apply a finish, and then leave, patting himself on the back for the job well done. However, when a contractor says 'sanding', he means a complete floor restoration. If you have an uneven subfloor, the contractor will offer you to fix it, if your floorboards are missing or damaged, he will offer you to repair or replace them. If you have large gaps, he will ask to fill them. This is what a complete wood floor restoration is.
You may think this is some sort of a cash grab, and for some companies that might be the case, but there is a practical reason to go through all the hassle during the floor rejuvenation process. The main reason why people call professionals to sand their floor is because they care about appearance. Proper restoration can surely improve said appearance quite a bit. With an experienced person around, the risks of improper installation and complications that might occur will be at the bare minimum. It has to be noted, for of obvious reasons, unstable or broken floorboards should not be sanded!
More Isn’t Always Better
SContrary to popular belief and despite obvious evidence in the opposite, some contractors and manufacturers might try to convince you that sanding your floor as often as possible is actually a good thing. Their claims are that you should undergo the procedure every 2-3 years, and that holds true, if we are talking about big commercial projects. The average person will have to sand their floors every five to ten years, depending on the amount of foot traffic. Each time you sand, you essentially strip the wood of a couple of millimetres. Eventually you will reach a point where this procedure is no longer possible, since the boards will become too thin. Although floor sanding is definitely a great way to prevent the spread of certain types of damage, but it should be treated just like anything else, as too much of it is not always a good thing.
Decades ago when the first drum sanders were introduced, the sanding process resulted in a lot of residual dust. This association is still present in people's minds even nowadays. However, now experts use more sophisticated equipment, which allows them to capture (and later dispose of) nearly all of the dust. If you are afraid that the sanding in your house will leave behind a dusty mess, there's no need to worry, as almost all of it will be captured by the machines' vacuum bags.
Sanding Isn’t For Everyone
It has to be noted that it's entirely possible for a single person to do the sanding of his/her own home on their own, with some hired equipment. The said homeowner will be able to even save a good amount of money that way. But people still hire professionals to do the job. You may be wondering why, and we're about to explain.
Well, floor sanding is not an easy and pleasant job to do. It can be extremely time-consuming, energy-consuming, and the average person will simply lack the patience, and more importantly - the skill, for it. There are intricacies which they might be able to read about, or watch videos of, but no amount of research will prepare you for the cold, harsh reality of the sanding. Even if you somehow manage to pull it off, it most likely won't match the result of a seasoned veteran in the business. If you have never done it and have a but a faint idea of how it's supposed to be done, experimenting can lead to some very costly mistakes, and in extreme cases - complete floor replacement.
The Actual Floor Restoration Process
What is the main reason behind wood floor restoration being such a hard task to complete by yourself? We will discuss the reason behind this, as well as the basic stages of floor renovation, in order to understand it better. However, keep in mind that even professional contractors will rarely, if ever, even claim that they 'enjoy' their job. This is hard work, no matter how easy, or difficult, it looks like on paper. A person must be able to give a proper evaluation of his own willpower, patience, and skill, if he is to undertake such a project on his own.
First thing you must do is to remove any furniture, or coverings, in the room and clean the floor's surface. Any dirt or debris left there may unnecessarily complicate the process, especially if there are gaps that will need to be filled later. Any screws, nails, or staples, must be punched down before the sanding begins, in order to ensure the equipment's safety, as well as your own. Some flooring companies might also offer to move the furniture for you, but as you can imagine, this isn't done for free.
The next logical step will be to check the condition of the floorboards and determine if any of them are in a critical shape, needing either repair or replacement. It's rare to find boards that are completely beyond saving. Even those that seem badly broken can usually be secured, and the cracks on them can be filled. Of course, something that has been rotting for some time now, or infested by worms, is too far gone to be saved.
Particularly challenging are floors laid with bitumen. Bitumen (also known as asphalt) was used as a flooring adhesive during the Victorian age. Today, obviously, that era has passed, and that situation is only encountered on floors that are over half a century old. Bitumen is not compatible with modern adhesives and must be completely removed, if you want to have a stable surface to thread upon. The disposal process can be quite tedious and boring, since the substance is extremely hard to remove.
Once the floor has been thoroughly cleaned, any sharp objects, such as nails, will be punched or removed from the boards. The boards themselves, if they prove to be in a good condition, will undergo the sanding. However, this isn't as simple as picking the machine and slowly dragging it across the floor. The sanding process can roughly be divided in three stages - rough, medium, and fine. The rough sanding's purpose is to remove the old finish and level the boards in preparation for the next step. The medium sanding slowly smooths out the surface and eliminates most imperfections left from the previous stage. Finally, the fine sanding makes the floor perfectly even and prepares it for the application of a stain, or a finish.
The industry distinguishes and offers several types of sanding machines but the majority of the work is performed either by a drum, or a belt sander. Most flooring companies, like ours, use belt sander. Compared to the drum sander, this one offers much more control and the end-results will be much better. The only reason why someone would use a drum sander would be because it's cheaper to buy or hire, however, the quality of the work will suffer because of it. The most popular brands when it comes to the equipment are Bona and Lagler, and we personally prefer using Bona's products. For buffing, we also use Bona's machines, namely the FlexiSand and Edge, for those hard to reach places.
Every floor is different, hence there is no general approach to sanding it. This is a lengthy topic, and we can't cover it here, but it's enough to say that sanding an engineered, or a parquet floor, is more difficult than doing it on a solid hardwood. The general idea is that stripping of the wood must always follow the direction of the grain. If this rule isn't strongly adhered to, you risk sanding unevenly and leaving marks on the surface. However, parquets are arranged in blocks with patterns following different directions, and sanding in such a case can be a bit tricky.
Two are the main reasons behind every decision you take to fill the gaps in your floor. First and foremost, it's because the floor will look better and will trap less dirt, which automatically means that it will be way easier to clean. The less obvious one is that gap-filling is a great way to prevent draughts, and limit the amount of heat that would escape your home during winter. This is particularly handy when it comes to saving some money from the heating bill. There are several ways to do the gap-filling, but the two most popular ones are by using a mix of filler resin and sawdust, and using wood slivers. The first method with the resin and sawdust allows the gaps to retain the colour of the wood, and is suitable mainly for smaller gaps. The second option is used more often on bigger gaps, where the resin mix simply won't be an efficient solution.
Staining and finishing
Staining is a procedure which allows you to change your floor's colour. It can even be considered as a science on its own, since colour matching requires years to truly master and perfect. If you ever decide to stain your floor, you should note that if the surface isn't perfectly and flawlessly sanded, any imperfection will become much more pronounced and noticeable. The modern trend nowadays is to go for extremely dark, white-washed, or grey colours.
Floor finishes are always in several coats (at least 3, but you could go for 4), and serve as a protective layer, guarding the floor against possible damage. There are two types of finish - those that protect only the surface (lacquers and varnishes), and those who soak into the wood to safeguard it from within (penetrating oils). In terms of resilience, lacquers are head and shoulders above the oils, but the former offer somewhat plastic look that doesn't look appealing to every homeowner. Oil, though, provides a more natural appearance, yet requires more maintenance and offers less durability.
Now, one of the main reasons why people opt for a hardwood floor at all is because of the possibility of sanding and refinishing. Our goal with this article was not to scare you and make you reconsider a potential future hardwood floor purchase, but to try and give you a better understanding of the renovation process. A process that you will eventually encounter, if you choose this option. We hope we have achieved our goal and if you have any follow up questions, feel free to call us, for either some clarifications, or to book an obligation-free site visit.