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Refinishing hardwood floors

carpet rolled

It took longer than expected, but here we are. No more carpet and refinished floors.

carpet full

We knew that denim blue carpet was going as soon as we saw it, but I still felt a little bit guilty about taking it out. The carpet isn’t new, but it’s in decent condition, and both the carpet and the underlay are pretty cushy underfoot. There’s also the fact that I’d hate for any of my (publicised) changes to read like a middle finger to previous owners. It’s good carpet! But the heart wants what it wants, and it wants polished hardwood floors.

We did give the carpet away to someone who will use it elsewhere, though, so at least it’s not going straight into a landfill.

variegated boards

With that said. Look at all them floorboards!!

raw floors

1. Living room. Apparently it used to be a thing, sometime in the middle of the century, to only stain the boards up to the edges of your rug. So there was a big un-stained square in the middle of the living room.

2. Study. Taking off that carpet was instantly gratifying here in particular. Unfinished boards and there’s still tons of light bouncing off of them! It’s really encouraging in a dark room like this one.

3. Master bedroom. I like the original brown stain, but we wanted to go natural everywhere else, and leaving one room with a stain would have looked out of place.

4. Spare room. The fireplace hearth was filled in with a sheet of chipboard, before the carpet was laid on top, and it was looking pretty nasty. Jamie cut some new floorboards and snapped them in, which ideally would have been quick and easy but actually took hours and required a hand plane and a chisel. Go figure.

staples and tacks

I spent several joyous hours removing staples and tack strips. Would you like some staple salad? Then we used nail punches to force any broken-off nails or staples below the surface, because they will destroy your sandpaper. No bueno when you’ve got a belt on a drum sander.

Finally, after a sweep and a mop, all the floors were ready for sanding. We rented a drum sander for the weekend, and for edging, we went halfsies with Jamie’s dad and bought a quality random orbital sander. This random orbital sander is pro. It takes off surfaces nicely, it has a little collection reservoir, and it won’t burn out.

drum sander

Jamie and his dad knocked out most of the sanding on a Saturday, while I was attending a workshop. Sucked in, babe.

The drum sander is a beast. You turn it on, walk it forward, throw down the lever that lowers the sanding belt, and keep it steady and straight as the sander moves itself forward by gripping the floor. It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but you don’t need to be a tradie with 30+ years experience to handle one of these things. Jamie’s dad has had experience in this, though, which made it go much faster.

We used 40 grit for stripping the surface, and went over it quickly with 60 grit and 100 grit afterwards. We soon discovered that too much time spent with a 100 belt on the floor sander, especially a blunted 100 belt, was bad news: the heat and weight of the floor sander created burn marks in the timber, which we had to go back and take out.

I was anxious that sanding would be every bit as horrible and messy as plastering was, but both the big and small sanders have dust collectors on them! That helped a lot. Still, it didn’t eliminate everything. We wore P2 masks and respirators, as well as earmuffs, because those machines are SUPER LOUD. After living in an apartment, I’m conscious of annoying our neighbours just by using a hammer, so hours of power sanding made me feel like the king of dicks.

trash dust

Here’s our new sawdust collection, or, bags filled with very tiny pieces of our floor.


The drum sander can’t reach the edges, which is where the random orbital sander comes in. It doesn’t take off as much as a big heavy drum sander, but a couple passes gets most of it.

(Jamie was hitting one last spot here, we both did use the respirator when intensively using the sanders.)

stripped floors

Look at that timber! LIKE NEW. It’s crazy how blond that Tas oak looks. I wondered if we should use a stain, especially since the architraves are already darker, but when that timber gets varnished it darkens a little bit. It will darken over time as well.

I know, the study walls are still looking awful, but help is on the way. We had a rental date booked for the drum sander and, well, we couldn’t do anything with the walls until the floors were finished.

hallway half

We used Cabot’s CFP water-based poly varnish, in a satin sheen. I do really like the lustre that oil gives to timber, but the #1 reason I wanted water-based is because I wanted to keep the natural tone of the timber. Oil turns yellow over time, and it’s especially not the nicest look on Tasmanian oak.

The other benefits of water-based poly were nice, too; it dried within hours and didn’t stink out the house for days. Water-based is supposedly better for recoating in the future, too.

first pass living room

We swept, vacummed and mopped the floors well before applying the poly, but the first coat still came up a little rough. That’s normal and expected, as it brings up all the tiny splinters and any other crud still on the floor. We sanded the first coat, but a light, quick sand, with 180 grit pads. That’s when it started to feel like a proper floor. Smooth, but not too perfectly smooth, leaving the texture of the grain.

Two more coats of poly, and we were done.

finished study floor

As for all the little black rust spots around the nails: they are impossible to remove, and the only way to hide them is with stain. We were happy with the natural, kinda rustic look, so we just went ahead with the clear coats. It will look less weird when there’s furniture in the rooms.

finished LR floor

finished 1br floor

before and after

Check out those awesome floors.

Budget, approx:
$150 – weekend with floor sander

$175 – our half of the Metabo random orbital sander
$115 – 17 sanding belts – drum sander
$40 – 30 sanding pads – orbital
$355 – 14 litres Cabots CFP water-based polyurethane; 10L and 4L tins
$15 – lambswool applicator

Surface covered: 78sqm (840 sqft)
Total cost: $850, or $11/sqm

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