Friday, 21 June 2013

Sanding the floors - a Beauty and the Beast tale!

(Sorry it's been so long - the final stages and moving and all have taken up all my time.  But I'll try to post the next bits of the story in chronological order...)

When we bought this house, I knew there was hardwood flooring under the ugly carpets.  I hoped it might have the stripes around the edges in the living room.  When we took the carpets out (the first thing we did), I was thrilled to discover that the living room was strip oak flooring, with stripes around the edges, including beautiful Art Deco dipsy doodles in the corners.  The bedrooms were just fir, but old fir floors can still look nice.  But the hallway floor was covered with horrible particleboard sheets, which were not only a stupid idea (they had turned to dust in some spots due to old water damage), some spots were thoroughly saturated in cat (and possibly dog) pee.  Ewww.  The bedroom floors had some significant stains, but I hoped to be able to sand the worst of it off.

It took a couple of months to get to removing the particleboard from the hallway.  It was *very* thoroughly nailed and screwed down.  I borrowed the circular saw from my brother-in-law and carefully cut a strip along the particle board.  After removing the first piece, I discovered that not only did the oak flooring with the stripes around the edges continue into the hallway, but it was laid in a diagonal parquet.  Hand-laid strip oak parquet - the workmanship was just staggering.  After many many hours of laborious cutting, prying, unscrewing and hacking, we finally got all the particleboard off.  The ringed nails really did a number on the underlying floor, and then of course the interaction between the nails and screws and the pet urine was unsightly too.  But I was determined to salvage that floor in all its battered glory!

A few months later, and it was time to refinish the floors.  I didn't want to do it until the heaviest work was done, but the contractor wanted me to do it before his workers installed casing and baseboards.  I thought the sanding might take a day or two.  I rented the sander and the edger and bought all the supplies on Monday morning and I set to work.  First we had to get all the stuff out of the upstairs - that took until the Monday afternoon (Husbandman had moved lots of stuff, but there was still a ton left).  Then I had to remove the quarter round from the baseboards in the bedrooms and the closet fixtures.  A final vacuuming, and I was good to go.
Gunked-up edger

I started with the 36 grit sandpaper, which was suggested for removing the old finish to prevent clogging up the lower grit paper.  This was ok, but some areas had something weird on them (maybe it was just the cat-pee stained finish) that gummed up the sandpaper and made horrible smells when I used the edger.  I finally gave up on the edger for that first pass and used my palm sander to do the edges, which took forever!  (Well, it just felt like forever - really it took until Tuesday lunchtime.)

Then, after a thorough vacuuming, I moved on to the 24 grit sandpaper.  This went relatively well, but took a very long time because the floor was very damaged and needed a lot of sanding.  Back and forth and over and over.   (The contractor later asked why I hadn't used 16 grit - I pointed out that since Home Depot didn't have it, nor did any of my references mention it, I didn't know it existed!  Wish I had known!)  The hallway, though small, took forever.  Working about 12 hours a day, this took me to Wednesday evening.

Too tuckered out to even take off the safety equipment!
(Yes that's me under all that!)
It was exhausting, back-breaking physical work.  My hands ached.  I was filthy.  My back ached.  Bleh.  Husbandman and Kid 2 would pick me up at the end of each day, and put some food in front of me, and I would shovel some in, but otherwise, I was bordering on catatonic.

I followed the 24 grit pass with another vacuuming and moved on to the 60 grit paper.  I probably should have done a once-over with 36 grit again to smooth out the scratchy bits from the 24 grit, but I was in a hurry!  That took up Thursday.  Finally on Friday afternoon, I finished up with 100 grit.  If I were to do it again, I would definitely finish with 120 grit (since I wasn't planning to stain it), especially for the fir floors, because they were still a bit splintery and rough.  But again, I was in a hurry.

Art Deco dipsy doodle - surprise!  That's newspaper under there!
At one point one of the stripey pieces from the corner came loose (uncovering a layer of newspaper under the flooring.)  I wasn't worried about the little piece, and planned to glue it to its neighbours before I applied the finish.  Except I forgot about it when doing the final vacuuming, and the piece got sucked up by the vacuum!!!  So then I had to (carefully) poke through the bag (through it's existing hole, because I didn't have one to replace it) to find this tiny piece of wood.  And I did find it!  

All the used-up drum sander paper piled on the mantle...
So what's this about a Beauty and the Beast tale?

Let me introduce you to Beauty:

The drum sander, though heavy and powerful, was great to work with.  It did exactly what it was supposed to do, with minimum fuss.  You just turn it on, start pushing and lower the lever, quickly pulling the lever back up as you get close to the end of a pass.  

And then there's the Beast:

The Evil Edger.  I don't know who invented this machine, but they should be smacked upside the head.  It's an incredibly stupid machine.  It's very heavy, and it sort of has some tiny caster wheels, but it also has a tendency to just take off randomly in one direction or another.  It has no handle, so you have to squat and bend over to use it (remember how I said it's heavy?) and there's a cord that - as you walk along the edge of the wall with it - keeps getting in the way or unplugging or nearly getting under the sanding disk.  There's a giant dustbag that inflates and ends up between your legs, totally in the way.  It has a bolt that attaches the sandpaper disk to the bottom, which is very tricky to screw on just so that the sandpaper disk sits flat and keeps the whole surface of the disk in contact with the floor.  I hope I never have to use such a machine again.  And if I ever meet the inventor, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind and then some.  

But I did get through it, and here's what the floors looked like after sanding:

The master bedroom - the fir smelled lovely as it was being sanded.
Except where there was cat pee - that didn't smell nice at all.
The living room.

The sanded hallway - battered and bruised but still beautiful!

Then came some repair work. I glued down that stray piece of stripey bit.  Exposed nail heads got punched down (there were a million of those).  And then I filled divots and nail holes with stainable wood filler. And then another pass with the vacuum.

Finally it was ready to apply the polyurethane finish.  I used the Minwax oil-based polyurethane stuff for maximum durability.  Of course being solvent-based, I couldn't do this until everybody was out of the house, so I had to do it over the weekend.  The organic vapour canisters for my mask worked very well, though.  I didn't smell anything until I took the mask off.  What with sanding and vacuuming and wiping with tack cloth, I didn't finish the first coat until 5 am on Saturday (just in time to go to work) and the second coat at 3 am on Sunday.  (Ha! Sleep is for wimps!  Not.)  Because the product is amber-coloured, it was easy enough to apply the first coat.  But the second coat didn't go as well, especially because I was working in the middle of the night by the light of desk lamp which was plugged into a long extension cord.  When I came back to the house on Monday morning I was crushed to see that I had missed some large patches.  I had to do a 3rd coat, and it had to wait until the following weekend, because the plumber and electrician were coming to finish up and we had to move in!

The good news is - it did finally get done.  Not perfect, but plenty good enough.  I nearly cried when the movers scratched the finish in the doorway to Kid 2's room, but a few deep breaths got me over it.  And here is the final result:

Finished hallway floor
Positively luminous in the late afternoon light!  I love how in that light, it looks like they might have laid out the floor so that the variations in wood grain/colour give a slight checkerboard appearance.  Buried treasure found.

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