Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'm the kind of person who doesn't know what she doesn't know.  I've never met a project I didn't think I could do from the outset.  I've never met a skill I wasn't willing to at least try to learn.  My mindset is 3 parts stubborn gumption, 2 parts intelligence, and 1 part delusion.  Add a dash of "I may not know, but I can find someone to teach me," and you have the makings of any do-it-yourself project.

It's a testament to my sister in law, Barbara, that she was willing to believe in me.  See, Barbara owns the house we rent, and it was Barbara who wanted to rip up the 30 year old carpets in the front room and dining room and replace them with something else.  The something else she had in mind will not be named.  I will just assure you that, while it was an option that would have worked, it was not the beautiful hardwood that was hiding under the 30 year old carpets.

Finding my voice (read: speaking up after Richard said, "Hey Sarah...didn't you want to talk to Barbara about something" in her presence), I proposed to her that the floors visible under the worn spots in the carpet appeared to be hardwood, and that if she would allow me, I would be more than willing to rip out the carpets and refinish the wood myself.  With my trademark confidence, I said, "I don't know how to refinish a wood floor, but I know I can learn and work."

And so began the latest of my, "I'm sure I could do that.  How hard could it be?" projects.  I won't bore you with every last detail (but you know I'd like to).  What I will present here, instead, will be a mix of What I Learned Today, Stupid Products, Awesome Products, and The Mother Unload.

What I learned while refinishing my dining room floor:


I learned that ripping up carpets is messy, messy work.  I also learned that ripping up carpets is the most fun I've had since I was a teenager and the landlords let me help rip up the laminate wood floor.  Apparently, I like to rip things up.  I may be in the wrong profession.


If it involves destruction, your kids will help.  A lot.


I learned that THIS is why it pays to live in a hundred year old house.


I learned that this sander...


Is much more user friendly than this one.


I learned that kids' enthusiasm for home remodeling does not end with the destructive part of the job.


And neither does a husband's.


I learned that staining a floor this big...


Is a two person job.


Even when the second person is this guy.


I learned that when you get to the polyurethane step, it's smooth sailing to the end.


And the end is very much worth the work.


Very, very much worth it.

Stupid Product:

I only have one Stupid Product to profile from this floor project because I had success with most of the equipment and products I used.  The Silver-Line SL-8 drum sander, however, was not so kind to me.


Now, if you're going to strip a hardwood floor with a sander, you're going to need a heavy duty drum or belt sander like the one above if you don't want to take all day to do it.  The SL-8, however, presents a few problems for a novice and even a veteran floor refinisher.

1.  The method of attaching the sandpaper to the drum was dreamed up in the depths of hell.  It requires the user to shove the ends of a sandpaper strip into a narrow opening in the drum, getting the paper as snug to the drum as possible, and then tightening a couple of bolts which are supposed to draw the paper in even further, ensuring a tight fit.  This does not work, it does not happen, and 5 times out of seven, the paper ripped off the drum within a couple of minutes.  The two times I got it to work, I could not determine what I had done right.

2.  The sander is very heavy and requires that you pull up on the handles as you pull the sander backward in order for it to actually sand the floor.  This is hard.  It hurts.  It hurts more than it needs to.  I'm not anti-pain.  I'm just anti-pain when another sander wouldn't hurt so much.

3.  Because the drum is always in contact with the floor, it digs into the floor whenever you stop to move forward again.  I'm not saying I stopped and left it running for 30 seconds.  The sander dug small grooves into the floor in the half second it took for me to change direction from back to forward.  All I was able to do with the sander was the first, diagonal pass.  Had I been able to complete a pass on the grain, it might have fixed that problem (though, it would likely have caused it again in other areas of the floor).  See #1 for the reason I was not able to complete a horizontal pass with the sander.  So, though my floor looks lovely now, there are marks here and there where the drum sander scarred the floor.  I'm sad about that.

4.  There are better drum sanders available.  A trip to Home Depot for a certain type of sandpaper allowed me to see the other types of drum sanders available.  If (WHEN!) I rip out the front room carpets and refinish that floor, I will be renting the Clarke-American EZ 8 drum sander to do the initial work.  I nearly cried when the guys at Home Depot showed me how easily the sandpaper can be applied.  To their credit, they waited until after I left to comment on the crazy sander lady.

Awesome Products:

1. YouTube.  People, you can learn anything on YouTube.  There are contractors out there giving away their tips and tricks for free, and I would never have gotten through this product without their advice and demonstrations.  Every step in this remodel was preceded by at least an hour of YouTube time as I noted how the professionals get the job done.

2.  The DascoPro 7 1/2" Ultra Bar II.  Say that 3 times fast!  This little tool is cheap, easy to use, and powerfully effective against nails, carpet tacks, and staples. It was, hands down, the best purchase I made throughout this project.  I love it.  I might marry it.

3. The Silver-Line 1218R Orbital Polisher was a lifesaver for me after my trouble with the drum sander.  While it is not the type of sander that will strip a floor, it did go a long way in smoothing out the problem areas made by the other sander and by the edger, which I had to use to finish stripping the floor.  This sander is extremely easy to use and did a fine job of getting the floor ready for staining.  This is also the sander I used to sand each coat of polyurethane before putting on the next coat.  (There is nothing more painful than intentionally scuffing up a beautifully coated floor.  Go ahead and cry when you have to do it.  Just know that it will be okay.)

4.  Finish Factor Tack Cloth. When you're working on a floor, you're going to kick up a whole lot of dust.  A shop-vac will go a long way in getting most of the sawdust up before you stain or coat your floor, but it won't get everything.  Tack cloth is absolutely essential to get up the remaining bits of dust. You will be amazed at how much is still on the floor.  I recommend you buy more than you think you need, especially if you're working on a larger room.

5.  Lowe's and Home Depot. Think what you want about "big box" hardware stores.  I found the staff at both to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful as I completed my project.  They didn't just help me find what I needed.  They explained how it worked, how to use it, what to do if I had trouble, etc.  One Lowe's employee walked to several different parts of the store with us to brainstorm how to repair one area of the floor that had obviously been damaged for decades.  Knowing I didn't have the skills to rip out and replace that section of floor, he helped me decide how best to repair it.  His suggestions were helpful and clear, and while that section of floor will never look as good as the rest, it is now in much better shape than it was and is protected from further damage.

The Mother Unload: Losing weight the remodeling way!

I did not do any real cardio workouts the entire time I was working with the floor sanders and stain.  I didn't need to.  If you want to lose a few pounds and build up some muscle and flexibility, REFINISH A FLOOR.  Holy-purple-pumpkin-moly, my legs, arms, and abs were sore.  Sore and loving it. There were muscles I had forgotten I had that screamed at me at the end of each day, but the screaming was much more "WOOOOOHOOOOO!" than "YEEEOOOOOUCH!"  Well, hello again, muscles.  Nice to see you!