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Sanding and finishing

Hardwood floor refinishing is an intricate task. Wood is a complex and dynamic material, and a multitude of decisions must be correctly made if the floor is to be perfect. The appropriate progression of sandpaper grades must be carefully adjusted to the species of wood as well as the overall floor condition. At Old Town Wood Floors we try to have the most thorough and detailed sanding process possible; while it wouldn't be practical to detail every step, hopefully this brief overview will be helpful as you consider having your hardwood floors refinished.


Before any sander touches the hardwood floor, we clean it and make a careful inspection for protruding nails, damaged boards, and other potential issues.

initial sanding

The initial, rough sanding takes the old finish off the hardwood floor as well as removing any dirt or discoloration the floor has picked up in its previous life. Sanding also ensures the floor is flat from one board to the next. Starting with the correct grit of sandpaper at this point is critical to the success of the following steps.


Once the old finish is completely removed and the boards are clean and flat, we proceed to the next step in which all the gaps and seams are filled with a wood-matching putty. It also fills the wood grain and helps create a smooth and consistent surface for staining and finishing. (Note: in older floors with gaps, squeaks, and board movement, we don't recommend filling every gap. Floor movement will quickly cause cracks in the filler, and within a couple years it will look poorly.)


Once the filler has dried the floor is ready for the fine sanding stage. We sand the entire floor again, bringing it to progressively finer grits until it reaches the appropriate fineness for the wood species and finish specifications. All corners and areas where our machines can't reach are scraped and sanded by hand until they match the rest of the floor.

preparing for stain

If you choose to have your floor stained, we will go through the extra process of sanding all around the edges with small handheld sanders. This eliminates the circular pattern left by our edging machine, which can collect extra stain pigment and show up as dark, swirling scratch marks in the floor. Achieving a dark stain with no visible swirls is the mark of a quality floor refinisher.


In the ultimate sanding stage, we buff the entire floor with fine discs and screens. This not only imparts a fine, burnished quality to the wood, but helps blend the sanding patterns from the different machines used on the floor. If correctly done, the floor will now have arrived at a uniform texture across its entire surface. After a thorough vacuuming, it is finally ready to receive stain or finish.


An optional step, especially recommended for dark stains or unevenly porous woods, is waterpopping, a process whereby the entire hardwood floor is wiped down with water, or a mixture of water and solvents, then allowed to dry and return to its original moisture content. As the wood absorbs the water, its cells open and enlarge. As the water evaporates the wood remains in an "open" condition, allowing the stain to penetrate deeply and uniformly into the boards, resulting in superior depth and consistency of color. Waterpopping is a delicate technique requiring the utmost concentration; an errant swipe of a tool or a shoe at this point could crush the cells back down, leaving unsightly marks in the stain.


Penetrating oil stains impregnate the wood grain with fine pigments, yielding a wide spectrum of colors either through factory recipes or a custom blend by Old Town. The stains are worked into the wood by hand and with buffers, then wiped off and allowed the appropriate time for setting, drying, and curing.


Finally the hardwood floor is ready for its protective top coating. (For more information on the types of finish we use, check out our finishes page.) Up to three coats are applied, with 2 to 24 hours of time between coats, depending on weather conditions and finish requirements. Between coats the floor is lightly abraded to maximize inter-coat adhesion as well as smoothing out any rough spots. Application of the final coat is an intensive process requiring significant experience and focus to yield the perfect finishing touch.