Stripping the boards
The appeal of natural wooden floors comes from their durability, looks and low maintenance.
The amount of work required greatly depends upon the desired finish as well as the existing state of the floor.
Painted or varnished floors
To successfully achieve a natural wood floor, it will be necessary to completely remove any paint from the surface. The same will apply if there is varnish which has gone beyond the stage of retrieval. It is perfectly possible to lightly sand a varnished floor in moderate condition and rejuvenate by re varnishing.
But, when the varnish has worn away in places or has cracked and flaked, the only real answer is to remove the old finish. Failing to do so will result in a patchy effect.
The method will depend partly on the results you wish to achieve.
Sanding machines may be used to restore the surface back to a clean natural grain. The process of sanding, however, will flatten the overall surface. This is often desirable, but in very old properties, this will remove the character of worn undulating floors and may therefore not be acceptable.
Stripping paint or varnish
To remove old paint or varnish, you could also strip it using a suitable proprietary chemical stripper. If you choose this method, be sure to take all the necessary safety precautions – see the specific manufacturers instructions – particularly in relation to ventilation and protection.
Removing polish or wax
Where the floor has residual areas of an old polished finish, this may be removed using white spirit and steel wool or scouring pad. It is important to ensure adequate ventilation when using solvents as breathing in the vapours is harmful. It is also sensible to wear a suitable respiratory mask and protective gloves.
Pour a little white spirit into a dish and, using steel wool or scouring pad, work the spirit into the polish to dissolve it. Work in small areas at a time and, as the polish becomes softened, remove it. It is easiest to remove the bulk with a scraper, depositing it in an old paint can, then to use old rags to remove the rest. This is a tedious and slow job, but varnishes will not adhere to a polished surface.
One other consideration is that, unfortunately polish and paint clog sandpaper very quickly, so you may need to allow for this when working out the costs.
Most hire shops will have a floor sander available which can really do an excellent job. One word of caution though, they are powerful, noisy and a lot of dust will be generated.
Always ask for advice from the hirer on how to use their particular machine. And get an adequate supply of sanding belts, which are usually supplied on a sale or return basis. You will also need to hire a smaller edging machine.
Prepare the floor
Before sanding the floor, empty the room completely. Go over the entire floor and remove any small tacks which have been used for fixing previous coverings. At the same time, use a hammer and nail punch to recess all the floorboard nails below the surface. If you don’t, they will simply shred the sanding belt as it passes. Sweep the floor and then plan your work before starting.
Wear suitable protective gear – dust mask, goggles and ear defenders. Whilst sanding is best carried out in the direction of the grain of the boards, uneven and very soiled boards should first be sanded diagonally with the coarse belts. Once complete, they should then be sanded in the grain direction using gradually finer grades of sandpaper
Sanding the floor
Start at one side of the room with your back to the end wall. Do not lower the sanding plate whilst stationary as this will cause the sander to eat into the boards more than required. When ready, switch on the machine, taking adequate care to keep the flex away from the sander. Lower the plate and walk the machine along the boards at a steady pace. At the end of the first ‘run’, before hitting the skirting board, walk the machine back to your starting position. Move across the room repeating this process. Once the entire floor has been treated in this way, you will have an area at one end which was not sanded. Turn the machine to face the opposite direction and treat these areas with a similar back and forth pattern, blending in to the previously cleaned areas.
This whole process will need to be repeated until the floor has a uniform look. Then repeat using gradually finer grades of sandpaper to achieve a smooth finish.
Sanding the edges
Now, you will need to treat the edges. This is where the edging machine comes into its own. This small sander will enable you to work up to the skirting edge without damaging it. Work your way along all the edges, gradually using finer grades of paper until they blend with the main area.
Cleaning up ready for varnishing
Once sanding work is complete, vacuum up all of the dust. It is a good idea to then allow the air in the room to settle for an hour or so before repeating this. You’ll be surprised how much more dust you collect the second time.
This is a somewhat tedious job, but it is a great way of restoring a very old floor whilst retaining all of its character.
Use a stiff bristled scrubbing brush and soapy water to work a small area at a time. As you clean each area, mop up the dirty residue and rinse with clean water. You will find that most old floors require repeated scrubbing to release all the build up of years of grime. Steel pan scourers are also very useful to work with since they have quite a coarse action. You will need to wear protective gloves and should be careful to guard against splinters. Once the floor has been thoroughly cleaned, allow to dry completely before giving the whole surface a very light rub down with medium grade sandpaper. Remember to wear a suitable dust mask. This is a way of removing any slightly rough or sharp edges, but care must be taken not to generate lighter areas or a patchy effect will result. Vacuum to remove as much of the dust as possible.
When varnishing a floor, allow plenty of ventilation to prevent build up of fumes and check the manufacturers instruction regarding safety.
A little planning will save you getting stuck in a corner waiting for it to dry. Work from the far side of the room back towards the door. Using a decent size brush – say 4″, varnish the boards lengthways.
The first coat will need to be thinned to act as a sealer. If you fail to do this, you will find several coats will be completely absorbed into the surface. Thinning instructions for this first coat will be detailed on the tin.
Apply the varnish in the direction of the grain to a couple of boards at a time along their entire length. Try to keep the edge between these and the next reasonably tidy to avoid “doubling up”. Continue across the room and then allow to dry completely.
Apply at least two further full coats (unless otherwise directed) allowing each to dry. For a really good job, lightly hand sand with a fine grade sandpaper before the final coat. Remove the dust by vacuuming and wipe the surface with a tack rag – a special oily cloth designed to pick up all traces of dust from the surface.