Hardwood floor refinishing
March 18, 2010 9:12 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about refinishing hardwood floors.

We're buying a house, and we'd like to refinish the hardwood floors before we move our stuff in. Tell me what you know. Water-based, oil-based, moisture cured? Satin, semi-gloss, high gloss? Are the more expensive finishes worth it (particularly the more expensive water-based finishes)? I'm especially interested in first hand experience from folks who've had some time to see how a finish wears.
posted by jedicus to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How much time do you have?

These questions relate to removing old finish, and repairs:
How are the floors finished now?
What are the floors made of? Is there any inlay work?
Face nailed or tongue and groove?

These questions regard to rough sizing of the task:

How many square feet of wooden floor are there?
What is the condition of the floors? Any graying?
Are there rooms that don't appear to need refinishing?
Any yellowing or other chemical aging phenomena, like crosslinking or urine or shading?

These questions relate to the desired finished in relation to the rate of dust or dander
accumulation, and the unavoidable indignities inflicted on the floor by pets.

How much do you like housework?
Do you have dogs or cats or other pets that free-range in the house?
Are you in a city, country or waterside environment?
What is the traffic like in front of your house?
Do you have mud-free hardscape or landscape around all the entrances to your house?

These questions help evaluate how capable you are of doing the job yourself:
Have you ever used any kind of power tool to sand anything?
Have you ever applied a transparent finish to any kind of wood?
Have you ever painted a house interior?
Are you comfortable in cartridge-style dust masks (not paper nuisance masks)?

You might consider getting some quotes from pros, at least 3. You don't actually want to
learn too much while you are doing your own floors. Mistakes show, especially in the
hard morning light.

Personally, oil based (a penetrating oil, like Watco Danish oil, not varnish or polyurethane),
satin finish or duller (very dusty environment, animals, dogfeet and dander).
Penetrating oil and matte finish allow touch-up sanding in high traffic areas (the office
required it after about ten years).
The only place I wouldn't put wood again is in the kitchen.
Glossy solvent polyurethane finish shows wear at the glare angle pretty fast if you
track grit in the house, and dog toenails mark it during ballistic launches out the door,
and the solvent based stuff is finicky to apply if the outdoor humidity is high, and it's
harder to do small touch-up work.

I'm out of time.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:16 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The professional guy who did a repair on my floor so that I could refinish it said to go with oil-based, never high gloss. I did oil-based, semi-gloss and am very happy with the results. I have 6 dogs and have not had a problem with the toenail marks.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:17 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To add a little more information: we have one cat and we will definitely be hiring a professional. I'm not entirely sure what the floors are made of, other than not bamboo. Part of it is covered by carpet now and should be in decent shape. The exposed hardwood, however, definitely needs refinishing (i.e. there's been some shallow scratching in the wood itself because the finish has worn so thin). I think the flooring is tongue and groove, but of course the areas currently covered by carpet will have carpet nail holes after the carpet is taken up.
posted by jedicus at 7:10 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: Sand em down. 2 coats High gloss, a finish coat of semi or satin, whichever you prefer. Water based is fine. Should cost anywhere between $2.50 and 4.00 /sq ft. The high gloss is a harder finish, which is what you want. The satin overcoat is easier to maintain.
posted by Gungho at 8:56 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I suppose this really applies to any contractor, but if you take the cheapest bid don't be surprised if the contractor does some crappy things with your floors... the problem being that the mistakes will be difficult/prohibitive to fix.

the two biggest problems in crappy floor refinishing is 'bad sanding' and improper application of the finish or choosing the wrong finish/stain color. (also, with the real cheap guys they may not apply the finish/stain you thought they were going to... mahogany stain is mahogany stain right?) 'bad sanding' is particularly tragic because it may be impossible to fix. also, depending on how old these floors are, they may not be totally perfect even if the contractor does a good job.

Also, don't assume that the floor under the carpet is good unless you've checked, the carpet could be there for a reason and depending on how the carpet was installed the floor underneath could be damaged by the installation.

I don't think there is much difference between 'water' and 'oil' nowadays; at least for the stuff you can buy at homedepot. Regulation of 'Volatile Organic Chemicals' has really changed the composition of the oil-based so that I don't think it is the same stuff old-timers might be used to. 'moisture cured' could mean lots of things, but if it is 'gym floor' type stuff, it will be a lot tougher and the application will involve a lot of toxic outgassing.

the thing about all of the finishes is that they can be tricky in different ways and a good for some things, not good for others: a contractor who has experience with lots of finishes is likely to be one who actually will apply them the right way: a contractor who is willing to talk to you about exotic finishes is likely to use the mundane ones correctly and can help you decide what you need.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:39 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: if you are looking for a specific brand name of finishing product, Bona is well-known and has a good reputation. Ask your floor finisher for the retail/industrial (can't remember exactly what they call it) finish, even if it is only for a home. The retail/industrial finish is formulated to take more wear and tear than the standard formula. Look at samples of the finishes and also take into account the shape (e.g. the wear) of the floor to be refinished. If memory serves, the high gloss will make flaws stand out more...
posted by kuppajava at 9:49 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the first hand experience and the helpful questions to ask of any professionals we bring in for a quote. I'll try to remember to come back and describe how it turns out.
posted by jedicus at 12:56 PM on March 20, 2010

Response by poster: The refinishing companies said that water-based polyurethane is pretty similar to oil nowadays in terms of finish quality, hardness, etc. The company we went with actually charges the same for water as oil because the water-based polyurethane, while more expensive, dries more quickly so they can do two coats in one day, so they call it a wash and charge the same for both.

The finishers sanded a patch of floor and let us see various stains on it so we knew what we were getting, color-wise, which was very helpful.

Thanks again for all of the suggestions and advice.
posted by jedicus at 12:45 PM on April 18, 2010

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