Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sanding Wooden Floorboards

Our house came with laminate in all the bedrooms and living rooms.  Underneath the laminate were the original pine floorboards.  We took the laminate up downstairs to fix the joists and put in underfloor insulation.  The laminate was stored in the garage or left in while the walls got plastered.  Since Niall and I didn't love the laminate and some of it got damaged, we decided to sand and finish the floorboards.  I'll tell you what I wish I would have done.  HIRE SOMEONE TO DO THIS. 

We replaced the damaged floorboards and relaid the floors downstairs.

Before we could sand the prep work took hours.  We need to make sure that ever nail, staple or other piece of metal was either removed to punched below the surface.  Otherwise it would rip the sanding belt.  It meant going over ever inch of the floor on hands and knees.  Twice.  And we still missed a few.  We had to make sure all the floorboards were secure.  I accidentally punctured a gas pipe below the floorboards upstairs while doing this by moving a nail 1 mm to the right without checking what was underneath the board.  (Luckily the gas was off and the plumbers found the hole when the gas was turned on and were able to repair it.) 

It is dirty, sweaty, painful, frustrating work.  My little brother and mom were visiting and helped.  I rented the sanders for a week.  Sanders are heavy, like 100+ pounds heavy.  The sawdust choked anyone involved in the process (even with super amazing dust masks) and the noise drove me crazy (even with ear protection.)  After one day my mom and brother sat me down and begged me to please hire someone to at least come and help, and then my little brother flew home.  We were so short on money that I didn't listen at first.  For two days I sanded and cried and sanded and tried to breathe through the dust (very difficult, even with the dust mask.)

I started with 24 grit sandpaper, which is the most expensive.  I kept ripping it (at about 3 pounds a sheet, it was an expensive lesson) because I didn't put it on the machine tight enough.  I finally figured it out and got sanding and then the real work began.  The larger sander was okay to manage, but the edger was a beast and I was not strong enough to sand for more than a few minutes at a time.  Short of giving birth it is the most physically demanding thing I've ever done.  After two days of sweat and tears (literally) Handyman Dave came to the rescue.

Together we worked on sanding the two downstairs living rooms and three bedrooms and a hallway upstairs.  I prayed a lot.   And somehow we manged to get all the rooms sanded with the roughest grade of paper.  Once we had sanded the rooms twice with the 24 grit, we went to 60 grit and things were so much easier.  By the time we did the finest grit it was a cinch (in comparison.)  But don't get me wrong.  There was so much dust.  I swept and vacuumed and swept and vacuumed and then did it again.  There was dust everywhere.

But the wood started to look really pretty!

Niall and I wanted the natural pine so we didn't use a stain.  For the finish, we used an eco-friendly poly oil called Osmo Polyx Oil.  The stuff is not cheap, but we had heard good things and I'm very sensitive to solvents, so it was our best option.  It was easy to use and the smell did not make me vomit.  We let the dust settle for a day before we started applying the finish.  We worked together and it took ages to get the floors clean enough to apply the oil.  This was the most rewarding part of the process by far.  Because we didn't have heating at the time it took AGES for the first coat to cure.  It was only supposed to take 12 hours, but it took 36.  I was in a panic because we were moving in a few days later and had to have the floors done. We had to stagger which floors we coated.  We did the first coat and then started having the skirting/baseboards reinstalled.  (Which in itself was a big job, but by this time we were racing to get the house done and I'd hired all the extra labor I could find.)  We used large brushes to apply the oil because we'd heard that roller didn't result in as nice of a finish.  But we ended up finding a few brush hairs so I'm not sure what the best application method is.

We did the second coat the day before we moved in.  Luckily we had heat by then so the second coat dried overnight.  We did a third layer in the back reception room because that's where we have the most traffic. 

It's now about six weeks since we've moved in and I love the floors (though I still wish we'd had someone else do them.)  We sweep or vacuum and then mop with soap and water to clean them.  We are still dealing with dust (I'm serious. I've spoken to a few others that sanded their floors and they said it takes months for the dust to really settle) and I'm a bit precious about scratches or marks on the floor.  Pine is soft so the floor can get damaged easily, but after 90 years there's already a lot of character so I'm trying to remember that a few more marks are fine. 

Overall Niall and I are both very pleased with how the exposed floorboards have turned out.  Little Margaret is crawling everywhere and the floors are smooth and easy for her to play on.  One of my favorite things is there are certain spots where the radiator pipes are just under the floorboards and when the heating is on those sports are extra warm.

For us to sand and finish the floors it took about eight solid days of work (10-12 hour days) and cost about 600 GBP to finish six rooms (two reception rooms, three bedrooms and the hallway.)  If I hadn't ripped so many pieces of the expensive sanding paper, hadn't had the handyman help and used something other than the eco friendly polyx oil then it would have been much less.  But seriously, I wish we would have paid more and had someone do the sanding for us!

Sander Rental and Supplies:  200 GBP from Travis Perkins, Screwfix and Rounded Development
Polyx Oil (3 cans):  210 GBP from Rounded Development

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