What's the cheapest way to finish a wooden floor?
September 10, 2005 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Rough wooden floors: I just helped a friend tear out the mold and flea-infested carpet in her new apartment. Underneath were unfinished, rough, but not horrendous wooden planks (pic 1, pic 2). Money is tight, so we are looking for the cheapest quick-and-dirty method of making the floor livable. Help us think outside the splintery wooden box!

So far, our ideas have been to sand and coat with floor paint, or to lay down cheap plywood, and then paint.
posted by 4easypayments to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sand it. Rent a real floor sander and put a hard day's work into it (split the work between friends if you can, it's a killer) and varnish with polyurethane. I haven't rented a sander for over ten years, but it wasn't outrageously expensive and you can do a lot in one day so long as your (and friends') strength holds.

Be sure to get more paper than you think you could possibly need, in grades from rough through smooth -- it should be returnable for refund; the papers can rip until you discover how to put them on real tight, and to avoid nails. Sink the nails below the wood with a hammer and punch before renting the sander.

You can defer the polyurethane if money is really tight -- just take shoes off before walking on the floor.

The labor is well worthwhile -- the floor will look so much nicer, with a warm organic feel, as sanded old wood than painted plywood. I've done it many times, and every time it results in joy.
posted by anadem at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2005

replacement carpet isn't an option? If you're thinking about plywood, masonite should be cheaper.
posted by polyglot at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2005

PS those look like lovely boards!
posted by anadem at 8:47 PM on September 10, 2005

I did basically the same thing in our old farm house: pulled up several layers of linolium and then removed the musty old plywood to reveal the original tongue & groove kitchen flooring. the original floor was really worn and generally abused from all those decades of use (building is circa 1850). after a thorough cleaning (murphys oil soap) i coated it w/ 2 layers of white Kilz primer, then 2 more coats of glossy Benjamin Moore. we considered sanding and clear coating it but thought the wood might be too soft (pine) and there are still quite a few broken-off nails below the surface which may have posed a problem when sanding. i really like how it looks now and have no regrets that i didnt sand it etc. The floor retains its hard earned character from all the work boots and farm life that it's supported.
posted by The_Auditor at 9:26 PM on September 10, 2005

It's not quite clear from the picture, are those nails, or pegs? If they're nails, you don't want to use a power sander (sparks everywhere!), and if you can't use a power sander, it probably won't be realistic to attempt to sand the floor to a smooth finish. It looks like it may be subfloor to me (the large nail heads support that theory), and if that's the case, the wood may too soft to wear well.

I hate to say it, but have you considered adhesive vinyl tile?
posted by ulotrichous at 9:52 PM on September 10, 2005

Not horrendous? They look pretty awesome to me. Do what anadem said and I think you'll be pleasantly suprised how nice the look when you're done.
posted by spilon at 9:53 PM on September 10, 2005

I rented a house once with a floor exactly like your friend's. The landlord did basically what anadem suggested, and it looked really great. Just don't drag heavy stuff across the floor, since it is likely to scratch fairly easily.

Worst case is, it looks funky-great for a few years, but gets kinda worn since it is soft wood. Nothing is stopping her from putting in some other solution at that time.
posted by Invoke at 10:06 PM on September 10, 2005

Response by poster: ulotrichous: they're nails with about 1/3in heads.
posted by 4easypayments at 10:14 PM on September 10, 2005

they're nails with about 1/3in heads.

Get a nail tapper and sink them as low as you can. You might be able to get away with it.

If you decide to sand, get a good dust mask and close off the room with plastic sheeting. The dust, oh god, the dust.
posted by 517 at 10:27 PM on September 10, 2005

The grain of the wood looks more like fir than pine. This suggests that the floor is much tougher and more sandable. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the results of a polyurethane treatment. It will be well worth the time and money.
posted by ptm at 10:40 PM on September 10, 2005

I had a big apartment with floors like this in all the rooms, I sanded and varnished a couple and they looked good, but it was a big hassle. The dust was unbelievable. I chickened out on the others and just bashed down any big nails, cleaned it as best I could and gave it several coats of a good floor paint (Farrow and Ball) I didn't sand it, I didn't prime it, I put the paint on pretty carelessly and heavily, and it still looked good. I think it's something you can botch if you're prepared for it to look a little worn in a year or so (if I hadn't moved out I'd have just repainted). A matt or satin finish will be a lot more forgiving than gloss.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:52 PM on September 10, 2005

The sanding-and-varnishing would look good, but it is a lot of work. Note that the floor sanders will not get closer than a few inches to the wall; if you need to sand right up to the wall, you have to use a smaller sander for the edges. And it really does make a ton of dust. Curtain the room off from the rest of the house, but open any windows in the room, and maybe put a fan in the window, blowing out. I would use a nail set and hammer to push the nailheads below the surface. If it makes sparks, it's no big deal, unless you've got fumes or a lot of dust in the air.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on September 11, 2005

I meant if the sander makes sparks when it hits a nail. The nail set is not likely to make sparks.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:39 AM on September 11, 2005

The planks look like subflooring and those nails are a problem if sanding. A nail set won't work well on common nails. Glomming some cheap varnish on would improve the look, but I think using porch paint is more appropriate to the surface. Google "painted floors" for techniques and ideas for patterns.
posted by klarck at 6:13 AM on September 11, 2005

Oh damn I just deleted a long reply....

Anyway, I think the sand and varnish idea can work if you accept a more rustic result that what you normally associate with a wood floor. I would just sand once with medium grit and seal. Get a big punch or nail set and a big hammer to drive down the nails. Experiment by using a hand sander on a small section of the floor then hitting it with some mineral spirits, this will bring out the grain and color of the wood and give you a very close idea of how it will look finished.

Painted floors can look nice too, especially when the underlying boards have some character. For the love of God, don't put down plywood.
posted by LarryC at 9:04 AM on September 11, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! AskMe never fails to amaze me.

We'll be tackling the project the last weekend of September. This thread will be closed by then, but I'll post the results on this page over on my site so you can see how it turned out.
posted by 4easypayments at 12:04 PM on September 11, 2005

When I did my floors I found that my floor sander will take the heads of nails right off (with sparks aplenty). Remember that fine wood dust is very flammable but you should be ok.

i would:
- pull the easy ones out
- countersink the rest as much as possible (not much i'd guess)
- use finishing nails to secure any loose or sqeaky boards and countersink these properly
- rough sand
- add more finishing nails to secure any boards that came loose when you sanded off a nail head
-final sand
- putty the cracks & nail holes well
- varnish

i bet it comes out beautiful!

ps. is there any place where you can tell how thick the boards are?
posted by jacobsee at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2005

How was the carpet laid down? If tacks or staples and you go the sanding route, double check for stray carpet tacks or staples. Very easy to miss this stuff and it will tear the sandpaper just as much as nailheads would.

Ditto the face mask comment above. Also, seal the other rooms with plastic as it will invade everything.

A few links to get you in the mood

(And for balance, one link from the DON'T DO IT! POV and his thoughts on the easier to use orbital sanders)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:10 PM on September 11, 2005

DON'T PULL ANY NAILS OUT! That would be fine if they were "extra" nails...but those nails are keeping the floorboards in place...either anchored to the joists or the subfloor. Setting nails with such large heads will be tougher than finish nails. Not being able to judge the grain and "sand-ability" of the floor from the picture, I think this floor would look AWESOME painted. (See a sample painted floor here) Then you could seal the paint with a water-based polyurethane. Make sure to purchase a paint specific to wood floors. Or, try milk paint for a soft historical look (and it's non-toxic!), but be sure to seal this kind of paint with clear varnish.
posted by jeanmari at 5:27 PM on September 11, 2005

I just had my whole house sanded and varnished (2 coats) for $2/sq/ ft - with a 10% discount if I paid cash - for a small room, it may not be too expensive to have someone come in and do it for you (10X10X$2 = $200 X 90% = $180) - add up your rental expense, time of labor, sand paper, varnish, brushes, etc and see what's best.
posted by blackkar at 6:48 AM on September 12, 2005

So, where are the pictures? Have you given up?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:51 PM on October 13, 2005

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