How to polish floorboards?

This might be one for you, GeoffW. (or any other accomplished floor sanders and polishers)
This PPOR I am buying has brand new, but unvarnished or polished timber flooring in the lounge/dining areas - a half finished reno. As I am a newbie in town, I don't yet trust the locals to give me good advice til I know who's who. Any chance someone could write up a 'how to' guide to sanding & polishing floorboards? Also, I am on a tensy weensy budget, so if any hiring of machinery can be avoided by additional physical labour, hints on that would be appreciated too. Thanks.

The Gobbiest Hobthrob
(hehehee...that's the best one yet, GW :D )

If the floor boards are brand new, there's a chance you won't need sanding at all. I'm not any sort of expert- I've done one floor (so far). But I suspect that the sanding is only to get rid of gunk. My floor was in a pretty bad state. If your floor is smooth, you may well be able to get away with just polishing it- and using a small sander (electric or by hand) for sanding between coats.

Polishing. Of course make sure the floor is absolutely clean.

You can get three grades of polish- Tung oil, which apparently expands and contracts much better than other polish, but which scratches very easily. Polyurethane is more expensive, but wears really well. There is another which is a lot more epensive, which invloves mixing of two parts.

I used polyurethane in mine. If you're renting it out or living in it, tung oil is not really practical at all. If you're selling quickly, you may get away with tung oil.

Polyurethane requires three coats. They suggest a light sanding between coats. At least 24 hours (depending on temperatures) is required between coats.

A lambswool applicator costs around $20, and is highly recommended. Even just a bit of lambswool would be much better than a brush- you can apply the polish more quickly, and more evenly.

When you're applying your second and third coats, it's best to do where you can see where you have just applied- it can be difficult to see sometimes, and the result will show if you miss bits. A small lamp may help.

That's about all I can think of just now- good luck.
Nice link Ross

We're going to have a good long look through it - not just for polishing floors (which we'll be tackling too later this year) but for all kinds of home reno woodworking :)


This is only the way i fix up the floor surface areas,buy what you have said the floor boards will only need a light sand, i still think its cheaper and faster to hire a sanding machine just for half a day maybe the costs will be around $60.00,Then after the sanding
blow the entire floor with a garden blower several times,then apply Oxalic Acid this cleans everything leave overnight next morning quick clean then apply 2pac and let it cure for a few days.
good luck
Hi all,

We have just finished sanding and polishing old baltic pine floorboards in a Californian Bungalow.

One thing that has been missed by some is that you need to punch the nails first, otherwise they rip the sandpaper to shreds. Depending on how rough the surface is will tell you what grade of paper to start with. We used a 36 grit paper, then 60 and finally 80. You also need quite a few papers of each.

Then you will need an edger sander, for getting to the edge of the rooms. The bigger drum sanders wont get within 6" of the walls. Plenty of papers needed here to. Before the final sanding using the 80 grit, you will need to fill the holes where you punched the nails and any others. We used a combination of 2 puttys to get the right colour.

After we finished with the sanding, we vacummed several times, as the sanding leaves a clean surface. We then used both a brush and lambswool applicator to apply 2 pac. The brush for around the edges, the applicator for the rest.

We used 2 pac as the reports on some of the other finished are that they don't last very long. To use a good (water based) polyurethane would have cost a great deal more. You can get cheaper ones but they are not called polyurethane. I wouldn't touch them.
The first coat of 2 pac makes some the grains in the boards stand up(a hair like appearance), thats when you use a finishing sander(at least 24 hours after first application). This does not take very long as it's only a light sanding. We then vacuumed again and put on the second coat. Floor came up like a treat, good enough to eat off!!!

All up we spent about $270 on the sanders(2 days for drum and edger, 1 day for finishing(only used it for 1hour though))and sandpapers. $350 for the 2 pac, and about $50 for the peripherals like applicator, buckets, brush, putty.
I also had an extra cost of the person I had employed to work with me, and it took a total of 3 days to complete about 75 sqm in 4 rooms and a hallway.

Hope this helps.

Originally posted by Bill.L
One thing that has been missed by some is that you need to punch the nails first, otherwise they rip the sandpaper to shreds.

I'd have a few things to say about the sanding- except that the floor is a new one, and sanding is probably not relevant.

My polyurethane was not water based- it would be intersting to see how it compared to an oild based one.

On the sanding side- I had a drum sander and an edger- but even the edger did not get to the edges. For what I was doing, it didn't matter, because the place was small, and the unsanded edges did not show. But I'd be interested to know about how you did right up to the edge.
Hi Geoff,

There are edgers and there are edgers. The one we used was a disk type and went right to the skirting boards. For the corners though(and we are talking no more than 2" by 2") I used one of those little "iron shaped" sanders, or you could be very careful with a sharp chisel.

Hi All

Even thought the floor is new the likely hood is that the edges of the planks don't line up evenly and as such you will end up with a better finish if you sand.

Also you may still need to punch the nails and certainly have to fill the holes and sand them.


Thanks for the contribution from someone who has done it.

Certianly punching in nails and filling is necessary. I was fortunate that almost all the nails on my floor had been punched in well already. I assume that hand sanding would be sufficient for that.

But for Hobgoblin- would it be worth the expense for someone on a very tight budget to hire a machine so that planks line up well? (I'm assuming her property is not top of the line- sorry hobby)

On a good quality property, it probably would be worth it. But if that property was not really high value, would it be worth it?
All great advice.

One small thing, having done the work, its worthwhile providing the tenant with some soft based coasters or bits of carpet to place under furniture etc to avoid scratches.

Garry K
Hi there Hobgoblin

I remember this topic was discussed a little while ago and it was a pretty big thread. From memory "Queen Bee" is a floor sanding person and they also contributed quite alot to that previous thread.

Hope this helps.
Xb the chisel is to scrape the corners to bring color to the boards.As a licenced floor layer sander polisher I would not do a quickie on floors.But if one was determine to get a very reasonable finish at a cheap price on a new floor I would suggest hiring a polyvac or polisher for the day,buy a couple of 120 grit
sand paper and sand the floor and do the edges by hand.Apply a coat of sealer .Buff the sealer again with the polisher to close the grain and apply a coat of polyurethane single or 2 pack.
This of course if you have a near new perfect floor.
For a professional job there is certainly more to sanding a floor that's when you have to think of levelling the floor by rough sanding punch and match putty color and work your way through different grits of papers to get rid of scratch marks from previous sand use edges triangular sanders scrapers grinders etc,could go on and on but would be boring.I would gladly help with any specific questions to any forumnites.

For a home job, how does the sealer help?

For a professional job- I have seen what a professional does, and the difference is absoutely outstanding.

For a good quality property, where you really want to impress, get a professional.

If it's of ordinary grade, do it yourself. But the difference will certainly show.

I didn't have a choice, due to shortage of tradespeople in Canberra.
Have to give it a try.

I would have been using a sanding block or something for the corners a sheet sander couldnt reach.

I would of thought a chisel would have been too rough - compared to sanding (maybe my skills with a chisel need some work)
Geoff ,
the reason for the sealer even for a cheap job has two advantages 1 it dries in 15 minutes which means you can sand the raise grains and if you apply one thick coat of poly job is finish same day.(2) Unless you are using non yellowing polyurethane,which is very expensive most floors especially the lighter timber species tends to get a yellow tinge when exposed to UV rays.The sealer retains the true color and retards the yellowing process.This is even more evident when people remove rugs or mats etc which have sat in the same spot for a while.
there is nothing wrong with your chiselling skills .You are quite right for a professional finish not giving a thirsty look you need to fine sand with a triangular sander.
cheers Layer181
My 2c
The last PPOR we had was reno'd and they used a very pale pine filler, onced the coating had yellowed the filler stood out .... big time.

The current PPOR we did the floors, cheap pine lots of knots, filled them with a dark putty, they look like knots now and it doesn't matter if the floor yellows a little over time.

The rough grade paper is for smoothing the ridges in the boards, where they join. The fine paper is to remove the rough finish the rough paper gives the wood.

Have fun with the sander.
Gobby Hobby,

If you do this job yourself you'll come to the conclusion that you'll never do it again. The Polyurethane absolutly stinks! (even your neighbours will know you are doing it, and take your food out of the house it gets absorbed in the bread!!!!!)

With the sanding it's difficult to get it all level with no hips & hollows.

Just on the edges if your skirting boards are just off the floor, an angle grinder with a flexible sanding disk will get in under there for you, but really get in a pro it's one hellava job.

Good luck

Mr Ed