Thursday, June 16, 2011


Yesterday I zipped down to our Home Depot Tool Rental store and got myself 24 hours with a random orbital floor sander. Our Home Depot is staffed with equal parts really competent people who are over eager to help me hunt down everything and load it into my car and young, lazy, jerks who openly mock women who claim to be competent with power tools and like to make a big show out of lifting 80 pounds into someone's car (I'm not ashamed to admit that I can't lift 80 pounds but this seems within the comfortable range for most 20-year-old men, right?). I was disappointed to find the latter type on duty yesterday but after suffering through thirty minutes of incompetence I was on my way back home with the sander and a huge stack of crazy expensive sandpaper.

In a classic, novice DIYer moment I totally forgot to budget for the sandpaper. Or, more, I thought, "It's paper. How expensive can it be?" Fortunately, Home Depot sends you home with gobs of it and then credits you for anything you bring back and I was able to return quite a bit of the finer grit paper.

William was hoping that he would be the one to operate the sander (I briefly toyed with the idea of renting him a mini bulldozer for the day but I couldn't fit it in the minivan):

Eric was actually the first to take the sander for a spin and, as you can see, the first pass gave some impressive results:

But he quit (at my request) after a few minutes and I started in. And I'll freely admit here as well that I vastly underestimated the amount of work involved in getting these floors back in shape. The sander isn't really hard to use. Honestly, if it weren't for the "Danger: Risk of Explosion" thing emblazoned everywhere you could probably close the door and let this go for a few hours Roomba-style. It's self-propelling and has four randomly-orbiting pads on the bottom so it sort of drives itself around on its own and the operator sort of keeps it in check and gently guides it to spots that need a little more action. But despite using 36-grit sandpaper and despite spending a full three hours in each of these tiny bedrooms (they average at under 10x10) there were still stubborn spots left over.

I don't know how long a job like this usually takes and I'm sure there's some degree of technique involved. It's possible this is just an insanely dull, slow project. But, in retrospect, I probably should have either started with 24-grit paper or opted for a "drum sander". Although that would have left me with a lot more edge clean up.

After three hours in each room I did a nice slow pass in each room with some 80-grit paper and called it a night. By this time I'd spent a full seven hours wrangling an 80-pound vibrating machine on a hot day while wearing a respirator and ear muffs. I was pretty much ready to collapse. But I paused for a minute to snap this shot:

Those are black sandals. I'm glad I had the foresight to wear washable footwear for this project.

The results? I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I have slightly mixed feelings. There are some really stubborn beat-up spots left:

I'll spend some time with my hand-held sander today and tomorrow to see what I can do to make those disappear. But the overall effect is, I think, very positive:

That picture is before sweeping, vacuuming, and finishing. I'm looking around at the wood floors in our apartment and realizing that they contain lots and lots of imperfections and discolorations but I definitely think of our floors as "nice." So I'm hoping our future tenants will have the same reaction.

And if anyone can weigh in on the type of wood we've got here I'd be glad to know. Here's a picture of one of the more interesting sections wiped with a bit of Murphy's Oil to bring out the grain for the picture:

I assume this is oak but the grain seems so much more interesting than usual and it is really varied. Maybe I'm just not used to unfinished hardwoods. We're pretty sure these are original floors and we think the house is about 100 years old (yes, we bought a house not knowing the exact age, welcome to Newark). Someone suggested staining the floors a dark color to hide imperfections but I think, imperfections notwithstanding, it would be a crime to hide this gorgeous wood.

I'll post another update when we're all finished. Oh, and the kitchen is still happening but we jumped on the floors first so as to give the finish plenty of time to cure before the tenants arrive.


Emily said...

wow!! I love the floors - they are beautiful :) I agree - don't stain them. Your tenants are very lucky - good work Johnstons!!

tom said...

Nice job! I'm no expert, but it looks like pine to me.