The WRONG Way To Sand Hardwood Floors

Well folks, I could absolutely kick myself. I’ve pretty much wasted an entire weekend.

The goal was to get all of my floors sanded and get at least one coat of Waterlox on them today so that it could be dry before tomorrow (Tuesday) morning (when I’ll be meeting the plumber at the house to go over my new location for the utility room based on my new and finalized floor plan…more on that tomorrow).

And I was so excited, and feeling incredibly clever, when I found out that I could rent the floor sander on Saturday morning, and keep it until Tuesday morning, and still only be charged for a one-day rental since it’s a holiday weekend.

So clever, indeed!

After spending hours sanding the floor in the living room, entryway, and dining room, I was feeling very frustrated by how slowly things were going, but also just glad to have that area done…or so I thought. The floor went from looking like this…

Hardwood floors - carpet removed - thumb

…to looking like this after sanding…

refinished hardwood floors - 5

I left the house on Saturday night thinking that those rooms were pretty much finished, except for some of the edges and corners that I planned on sanding with my small orbital sander before calling those rooms done and moving on to the hallway and bedrooms.

When I got to the house on Sunday, I slapped some 60-grit sandpaper onto my orbital sander and got busy on the edges. Well, my orbital sander decided that that’s when it would stop working. So I headed to Home Depot to get a new sander.

This time I decided to get a bigger, nicer one with variable speed options. So I got this amazing sander.

refinished hardwood floors - 10

And since the only one they had left was a floor model, I got it for half off its regular price of $114. Score!

Armed with my awesome new variable-speed 6-inch sander and several boxes of 60-grit sandpaper discs, I got started on the edges. And here’s what happened…

refinished hardwood floors - 2

Do you see that very drastic color difference? I couldn’t believe how much lighter the wood was!! So obviously, the floor sander wasn’t doing the job. It simply wasn’t getting all of the finish off of the floor.

So while I had spent hours the previous day using the floor sander, and thinking that the job was pretty much finished in these areas, I came to realize that the job was far from finished, and the sander I had just wasn’t getting the job done.

I was so frustrated, and determined to see at least one area finished, that I spent about two hours on my hands and knees using my new orbital sander on the floor in the entryway.

refinished hardwood floors - 4

It did an okay job, but those small sanding discs wear out pretty quickly (obviously…they’re not exactly made for sanding floors), so the floor in the entryway still looks uneven, with some patches of bare wood, some patches of wood with quite a bit of finish, and everything in between.

I was feeling pretty down at that point. I had wasted an entire weekend, nothing was finished, and the whole house was looking like quite a mess. And the more I looked around at the mess, the more down and discouraged I got.

Every single surface in the place (floors, walls, countertops…even in rooms far away from these) was covered in a layer of dust.

refinished hardwood floors - 8

I still had piles of drywall and debris that needed to be bagged up.

refinished hardwood floors - 11

I have a huge sunroom almost completely filled with old carpet that needs to be cut into strips, rolled and tied, and taken out to the curb for pickup, and loads of old carpet padding that needs to be bagged up and hauled out to the curb.

refinished hardwood floors - 12

Plus, I still have those asbestos tiles that I need to deal with.

Possible vinyl asbestos tile - VAT - in my kitchen

I know it was because I was tired…and frustrated…and disappointed…but everything just kind of became overwhelming to me. I wanted to sit in the middle of my sanded-but-not-really-sanded floor, amidst all of the dust and filth, and just have a good cry.

And you know what made it all the worse?

All of this trouble was because of me. Because of a ridiculously bad decision that I made.

I rented the wrong sander.

Yep, even after a couple of you told me, “Kristi, just be sure to rent the right kind of sander!”, and after reading Karah’s experience about renting the wrong sander (and thinking to myself, “Well, I’m sure it was just her floor that was the issue, and not the sander.”), I still decided to rent that stupid square buff sander.

I could kick myself.

So the house and I need a break from each other. Yep, we’re on a break. Rather than sit in a pile of dust and cry a river of tears, I just decided to walk away. I turned off all the lights, gave the house the “it’s not me, it’s you” speech, locked the door, and walked away.

I’m not sure how long this break will last. Perhaps just today. Perhaps a few days. We’ll see.

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  1. Kristi, you did the right thing by taking a break from your project. You can’t work non-stop at something as big as you are taking on and not have problems and when problems happen, you need a break to rest and think things through. Everything will look better to you in a day or two or however long it takes until you are back in the “mode”. Then you will rent the right sander and everything will turn out perfectly. Besides, it’s a holiday today and you aren’t supposed to be working :o)

  2. Chalk it up to experience–it’s only uphill from here! Take a look at all the gorgeous projects you have accomplished and cut yourself some slack!
    Give yourself a break, walk away and go have some fun! It will get done and in true Kristi style it will be fabulous!


  3. I know there is satisfaction in doing your self but sometimes it is better to hire and this is a case in point. Had my floors refinished in my other house and with the vacuum system they had as so worth it. In and out two coats finish in 3 days Done. So worth it.

  4. I admire you so much for attempting this project! You are such a hard worker! So what kind of sander would be the right one to use? I also have asbestos tile in my dining room glued over the hardwood. What did you do to get it up? Did you worry about getting asbestos dust in the air or is it no problem?

    1. The right kind of sander is called a drum sander, and it has a drum with sandpaper on it that spins really fast.

      The asbestos tiles in my kitchen came up very easily. On most of them, I just used my fingernails under one corner and the tiles just popped up very easily. Because they came up so easily, I didn’t break one single tile, so I have no worries about asbestos getting into the air.

      If your tiles are firmly adhered to the floor, then you’ll have more of an issue with breaking, scraping, etc. That’s where you run into problems with the asbestos becoming airborne. You can do it yourself, but you’ll want to do plenty of research ahead of time and understand what you’re dealing with, what the danger is, and the precautions you need to take.

  5. Oh, I feel for you! On the hope it will make you feel better, listen to this tale….Hubby ripped out the old bathroom and dark room in the basement and installed a new bigger shower stall..which he spent many hours deciding on and thought he had a really good one. We had to tear out the framing on the doorway to the basement to get it down there. So after the basement doorway is back together and finished, and the ceiling is put in the shower and the finishing is done around it, the bottom of the shower starts cracking all to heck! Logs story short, no problem getting our money refunded, but…. all that work and the cost of materials to finish …gone! ( We did find one that would go thru the basement door this time) What I found out…..get an acrylic shower, NOT a plastic one.
    Hopefully after your rest, you will be ready to go again! I just love your fact I am going back to see how you your painted over the wallpaper in the bathroom.

  6. As soon as I started reading this post I had a feeling about the sander! I so understand the frustration, I just put my house on the market, and the preparation to get it ready made me want to cry many, many times! I actually did a few times and felt much better afterwards! I did it myself as my husband is already in our new location, and after working all day, who wants to work on the house? In the end, I just had to do what I could, when I could, and learn to say enough is enough and take a break from it. You did the right thing by getting away from it. Good luck, can’t wait to read more about your progress!

  7. Aw Kristi! I know how horrible it feels when you mess up on a big project and find yourself back two steps instead of done with a shiny new whatever. Take a break, good idea. And then… ask a friend to put on some grubbies and help you cut up that carpet. Friends are for helping you get through chores and other rough patches that make you want to cry.

  8. You are doing an AWESOME job……even WITH your trial & errors…’re learning along the way! You’re BRAVE to try new things….& I agree with the other comments. I’d help as well….if I could & you were near. Keep pushing forward……

    1. You have lots of hugs and pats on the back and I hope you can feel the cyber love – although putting it that way sounds creepy 😉 Do everything in moderation and most of all “hang in there”.

  9. Walking away and letting the house miss you is the best plan.

    I did want to mention…you have all that carpet and all that acreage…it makes an EXCELLENT weed barrier, that, when covered with mulch or pebbles, doesn’t show and takes years to break down. And it’s free. The backside is generally a tan or creamy color so can be put carpet side down if you want that side up but with green carpet, it’ll mostly blend into the surrounding area if any of it shows after you’ve put down your bedding cover. I cut big X shapes where I wanted to put plants, then tamped it down around the plant once in the ground. The X is the ONLY areas that got weeds and only until the plants were big enough to choke out the weeds on their own. You’ve just got to make sure the edges are neatly secured so strings don’t pull up into your mower. I made U shaped pegs out of thick wire and hammered those into the carpet/ground.

    Your floors will come together. When it’s time. Trying to rush a project is sure to make it all go wrong. Meanwhile, I’m trying to distract you with a bit of gardening help, since you’re new to the yard game. 🙂

    1. Diane, that’s an excellent idea for the carpet! I never in my life would have thought of that. My mom even called me and said, “Did you see what that one person suggested for the carpet?” She thought it was brilliant, too! I’ll definitely be rolling some up and keeping them on hand to use in my future flower beds. Thanks for that info!!

      1. Thanks, Kristi and to your mom. I’m beyond frugal sometimes, and my last two houses had carpeting that HAD TO GO, and yards that needed all manner of help. The first yard gave me the idea to use it for flower/plant beds when I hauled a hunk out to the back yard, where the dogs had created a mud hole. I was sick of coming home to mud balls everywhere, so I ‘carpeted’ over the mud hole. It worked so well, that the next room that got un-carpeted donated its floor covering to my newly dug and planted flower garden. I lived in that house close to 8 years and didn’t have to weed that flower bed EVER. My last house (before my current one) has had carpet around the knockout roses I planted my first month in there…6 years ago. The new owners were freaked out at first until they realized it was pretty much no-maintenance. The knockouts grew and grew and grew – when I moved away, they were close to 6′ tall and gorgeous. And weed free.

        I’ve been eyeballing the carpet in this house and pondering which flower bed will get first crack at it. 🙂

        1. I love this idea!!! Especially the mud hole one with dogs. Is there ever any problem with mold or fungus from old carpet under the ground getting wet? Like mushrooms popping up? Thanks so much for this idea!

  10. I always like to point out that when you tink things are bad for you they could def be worse! At least you have a home with a floor to sand <3

  11. I am very impressed with what you have done….when this job is completed, you can walk around the house and know, YOU DID IT, AND DID NOT PAY FOR SOMEONE TO DO IT…sweat labor is 100 % satisfaction!!!!!!!!! congrats

  12. You did the right thing to take a break. You have already accomplished a huge amount of work and your efforts show. Sometimes our enthusiasm gets the best of our decision making. However, can I say I can already see what beautiful potential there is for this house. You’ve already gotten me very excited to watch your progress! So feel good about what you’ve done, not down. Thank you for being so open and honest about the ups and downs of home remodeling. You come across as so real and so passionate about what you do. Keep on! You’re doing a great job!

  13. Kristi:
    I completely understand your frustration! We bought a fixer upper about a year ago, and we chose to live in it while we re-do everything. Before we knew it every room had some kind of project half (or less) finished. We had been so excited at first but the excitement soon turned to resentment and I started to hate our house and coming home to the constant clutter. So I came up with a new plan. We rearranged all the rooms-in fact repurposing them all together. Our bedroom and living room are in a state that I don’t cringe when I am in them and I feel much better. From this point forward we are only working on one room at a time. This is working for us and I don’t feel so overwhelmed. We have a ton of work still to do which will take years but we don’t feel like throwing in the towel anymore!
    Good luck and I know you can do it! I look forward to all of your posts. Take a break you deserve it!

    1. Gah! What is it about that stupid square buff sander? It just seemed so perfect…like such a logical choice. I mean, it’s square, after all, so it seems like the perfect choice for snugging up against walls and into corners. And it would be great…if it actually sanded!! 😀 Oh well. If I’m too stubborn to learn from your mistakes, then I’ll have to learn from my own. 🙂

  14. I love all that you accomplished in your condo (and showed my husband all your talent) and especially your courage for taking-on the house! Kick those bad feelings to the curb and take a deep breath with that break. Your blog is an encouragement to people like me who take on little projects and gives inspiration to those taking on big ones! I know there are many of us who aren’t there to help you in person but pray for great success for you.

  15. Wow. Silly rabbit. Glad you walked away from it. A little at a time…a little at a time. it will all come together and be beautiful!

  16. Looks like you are trying to do everything all at one time. Take your mother’s advise and concentrate on one room at a time…………..get rid of the trash, carpet, padding, etc. one room at a time and then start concentrating on the floors again. I need to stain and seal my floors, so contacted Waterlox and they told me stain can be added to the first coat of Waterlox………I can send you their email instructions if you need it.

    1. That’s actually how I did my butcherblock countertops the second time…added stain to the first coat of Waterlox. But as much as I’d love to stain my floors, it makes for not-so-easy touchups if you need to fix a scratch, ding, or stain. If you use just plain Waterlox (or tung oil), then you can just sand out the scratch, apply Waterlox, and it’ll blend right into the rest of the floor.

  17. this too shall pass, and your well-deserved break is necessary. We all feel your frustration, and I suspect if we all lived near, you would have a group of ladies there to help. Spend time relaxing and with the Hubs. Breathe, and return when YOU are ready.


  18. It’s good to take a break, renew your spirit and come back with fresh eyes and a new determination. Your hard work didn’t get you the final result you wanted, but it did get you closer to that final result. You are an inspiration because you dream, you plan, and you work hard to make it happen. Thanks for sharing your experience. Besides being informative, it’s such an encouragement to see the beauty you create.

  19. Kristi, I would get a dumpster. Wish I had. Ended up spending probably same amount to get stuff hauled away and the dumpster would have been easier. Carla

  20. Kristi, OK, I too love to save $$$$, and go girl on buying the hand sander for half price, but now it is time to take a deep breath and put on some big girl pants and hire some muscle. Yup those dirty words, hire help………….Like cheap labor to help you clean up the mess and give you the time to do what really needs to get done. Not working for several days and wearing yourself out isn’t always smart…… and will probably end up costing you more in the long run than the few dollars it will cost to have a little muscle around for the clean up.

    I am going to love following your journey, just don’t kill yourself in the process. I think you are doing a great job taking on this huge project.

    Good luck!!!!

  21. Oh, the dumpster Carla mentions is a great idea, I didn’t have one and it took me forever to get things cleaned up.

  22. This is how I choose to look at situations like this: If you hadn’t used the orbital, you would not have figured out that the rented sander wasn’t getting all the finish off. Then you would have started refinishing it to find out too late that it still had old finish on it. Your refinishing job would have looked horrible and may have even bubbled or cracked. The orbital sander saved you from a badly finished floor, which would’ve totally sucked to strip and refinish.
    My advice: clean the house completely to give yourself some peace, then go back and get the right sander. You’ve been saved, I swear!

    1. You’re absolutely right, Karen. I’m so glad I didn’t put the new finish on the floors with remnants of the old finish on there. That could have been disastrous! AND would have been a waste of the several hundred dollars that I spent on the Waterlox.

  23. Kristi, you deserve a break from the house before you make yourself ill or injure yourself. Now that said, I would take a deep breath and kick the rented sander and yell at it for not doing it’s job. I didn’t know there was a difference. I agree it was a good thing to get the new sander and know the rented one wasn’t doing the job as it should. I would try complaining about the sander to the rental company – who knows you might get a free weekend with the right one.

    Now, I want to say a great big – THANK YOU! You have inspired me to begin learning how to do my own diy- I have signed up for four (4) classes at the local Home Depot over the next two months in preparation for starting serious work on my new place. I am a 57 year old newly single with minimal tools and basic hammering / drilling skills. I can’t afford to hire help for all of the work needed here at my new house (although I also know there are some project that I do alone or even attempt certain projects without hired/bartered help). Thank you again.

    Enjoy the break and have some fun.

  24. So sorry that you’re weekend was bad. I wish I lived closer. I would not be any help with floors, but I could bag up the carpet and bring you Brownies. 🙂 I think you did the right thing takin a short break. All DIYers make mistakes. Breathe deep and try to enjoy your Holiday.

  25. Been there. Done that. Of course, I generally walk away only after having a good squalling cry right in the middle of the chaos. Hard as it is, a break is all you need. Mistakes happen, especially to those of us who are creative, impatient, fabulous worker bees. Some time, some ice cream and a couple of days to get back to dreaming is all you need. Chin up. You’re fabulous and you’re gonna make that place fabulous too!

  26. So sorry to hear this, Kristi. DIY home renovation CAN be so frustrating at times. I’ve been in your shoes before, spent hours/days working on something…only to have to do it all over again for one reason or the other. It’s absolutely maddening. But it WILL all get done. After a little break things will seem better. You’ll have lost a few days, but you are going to be in this house for many many years probably. And you’ll get it all done, girlfriend…a little at a time. Before you had a condo in good condition, and you could work on making it prettier, cooler. Now you have a fixer upper, and you need to spend oodles of time on the “bones” of the house first. Not fun, but necessary. **deep breath** You ARE going to have a beautiful, finished house some day. It might not all happen at the speed you are hoping for…but it WILL happen.

  27. Chocolate will fix everything!!! Take a break and allow yourself all the time you need. I sanded floors one time with a belt sander . . . pulled lots of muscles in my tummy and learned my lesson! Maybe hired help is in order on this one so you don’t waste your energy and can move on to the more creative side of things! Take good care and know we’re all thinking of you!

  28. Take a deep breath and breathe………you give the rest of us the courage to try something new. Sometimes it works out the way we had hoped and sometimes it does not. And when it doesn’t, just walk away for a day or two. Then, take a day to get your house in order. Get rid of the carpet and padding. Bag up the drywall debris. Carefully box up the tiles and put them in the corner of the garage until you know how to dispose of them. Congratulate yourself for a job well done. Then take another breath and start over with the floors. Hang in there.

  29. Kristie, clean up the chaos around you – carpet, tiles, dirty floors, sheetrock. You’ll be surprised how it will motivate you once you have that stuff out of the way. Right now you look around and see a big mess that needs to be dealt with. Make sure the sander you rent has a filter bag. It will still be a bit dusty, but not as bad. I know what it is to sand floors, and although we had the right sander, it was still nuts. Thankfully, all your stuff isn’t in the house yet. Hope you have a shop vac? You’ve already made a lot of progress and it’s gonna be alright. ROAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I definitely have a shop vac, and it’s already gotten quite a workout with all the dust. Interestingly, this sanded did have a dust bag on it, but I’m pretty sure all the dust ended up on my floor (and walls, and countertops). That bag didn’t seem to be doing a bit of good. Hopefully the next sander will suck up the dust much better.

  30. Kristi,
    To feel that your time was wasted, oh how defeating! But Karen’s comment above is spot on: you may have wasted a weekend, but perhaps saved yourself from starting over completely if you had already put down a coat of Waterlox. I absolutely can commiserate with your frustration with the “process” and desire for results, as I’ve been living with a floor refinishing project for over two years now. There are several good reasons, beyond the incalculable number of hours the project has required, but I have floor and house fatigue sooooooo badly sometimes! I read your post aloud to my husband this evening and we both had a good shake of the head because we can relate. Last week he spent two days sanding our library floor on his hands and knees with an orbital sander, too! Good that you’re taking a break, rest and perspective will help everything improve. Wishing you well…!

  31. Kristi, I just did the EXACT same thing in February. Just wait until you get your hands on that drum sander (assuming that is what you will use), it is amazing. and dont let the guys at the rental place scare you. It is NOT that hard to use. In fact it is way easier to use physically than the big square thing. Its like vacuuming. I think you will love it.

  32. Kristi, have you checked to see if you wood floors contain lead? It is very common in floors before 1978 and would be concentrated in the wood dust. A professional can have your floors done in no time. I’m sure it is a cost that you had not planned for but for safety sake check it out 🙂

      1. Yes! I had my floors done 7 years ago (my house was built in the 60’s) and I just remembered what the professional told me about the lead in the varnish. You can have them tested and it maybe within the limit but it is concentrated in the dust. Good luck, Kristi! I have been following you for a while now and have never commented, but I thought I needed to inform you of this health hazard. Love your blog!

  33. I feel your pain. Been there done that. I am retired and have plenty of time. I would be happy to help you in any way I can. We can combine our “Handy Girl” talents and whip that house into shape. Oh, I am serious(;-)

  34. Maybe you should have gone for that good cry after all. I’m not a crier either, but sometimes it might help to releave some of the stress. You are so positive the rest of the time that I know you will bounce right back after some rest and relaxation.

  35. Wow! If we could all get together and help you, this house would be ready for move in, asap! That would be a great hands on class. 😉 I feel for you. I refinished our honey oak cabinets (at our last home) and the sanding drove me nuts. My husband really wanted the cabinets stained instead of painted. :I To this day, I get a little grumpy if I have to sand something.

    By the way, I laughed when you decided to sand the floor with your new orbital sander. I only laugh because I would have done the same thing. It is a “I will show these floors who is boss!” move and a desire to have progress. 🙂

    Good idea to take a break. Come back refreshed and with a new game plan. With big projects like these, breaks are a must. 😉

    1. I’d probably make the two hour drive just to help get the demo done and clean up the mess. Sort of a Help a Friend Day for your faithful fans! Then we could all say “Hey, I sorta helped with that house!”
      When do you want to do it??

  36. Oh Kristi, I’m sorry for all your troubles with the new place. I think taking a couple of days away is a good idea. It’ll give you a fresh perspective on what needs to be done and probably several more creative ideas. Take care and I’m sure the ‘right’ sander will make a huge difference.

  37. Looking at the hearts of pine floors in my old house, I was in no mood to do the whole house and with my limited experience, I asked for prices from a couple of people for refinishing the whole place. Letting other pros handle a job I just wasn’t ready to do myself, it was worth every penny to hire a good guy to get it done. NO sweat on my part, no frustration. Nothing left for me to do about the floor except to admire the floors.

  38. It’s quite alright to take a break. Anyone would have done the same. I bet after a few days you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle everything.