While anyone these days can rent a heavy duty sander, it takes a skilled pro to use it properly. Unfortunately, many consumers don't understand that. Here, the author demonstrates the proper technique for sanding a hardwood floor.

The last installment of Wood or Wood Knot was devoted to the growing need for installers who know how to properly sand a hardwood floor. As we noted, prefinished product has come to dominate the hardwood category and that means there will be plenty of demand for future care. Inevitably all these prefinished floors will at the very least require a recoat of finish. Retailers and contractors have a responsibility to ensure that consumers have someone they can count on to help maintain the beauty of their hardwood floor for years to come. 

Consumers have a tendency to re-visit dealers who supplied and installed their flooring. What will you tell them? Remember, cultivating repeat business can be hugely rewarding. Hardwood, perhaps more so that any other flooring material, offers that opportunity. Just as our flooring products have advanced in milling and prefinished technology, so too have the ancillary products. There have never been more sundries available for professional sanding, staining and finishing.

But let’s continue our look at sanding as this is an area that is too often neglected. There are three basic sanding machines that, when utilized in harmony, can produce a clean and smooth floor perfect for staining and/or finishing. Each has a distinct purpose and cannot be “eliminated” from the process. The lion’s share of hardwood sanding is done with a machine that employs a continuous 8” sanding belt. It cannot reach areas adjacent to a wall so an edger is needed to do the perimeter of the room. The corners of the room have to be hand-scraped. Then and only then is the rotary buffer used for blending the “edges with the field.” Anyone that utilizes the buffer without first using the belt sander and edger is by no means a “pro sander.” The only time the buffer is used in a stand alone operation is for abrading between finish coat applications or for just recoating an existing installation for improving sheen appearance.

Floor sanding equipment is readily available at rental equipment outlets. That means you have general contractors and even handymen renting machines for occasional “casual” applications. The rental of heavy equipment has caught on fast and it is extremely inviting for these particular end users because they don’t have to make a substantial investment. The same holds true for the many DIY users who patronize these locations. Renting this equipment may be increasingly popular but remember that sanding equipment must be properly maintained and “balanced” to achieve a smooth finish when sanding.

While the DIY homeowner may accept some imperfections in the work they do, as a pro you have a much higher standard. You’re selling professionalism. Unfamiliar rental equipment just doesn’t cut it. And if you are thinking of buying used equipment the old saying “Buyer Beware!” is truly fitting. If someone is selling equipment there is probably a good reason. The equipment may require some major repairs to bring it up to your professional standards.

Of course, success in floor sanding goes beyond the machine you use. The following are a few tips for getting started in the sanding segment of our industry. Whether you are practicing your technique (which is not a bad idea for those just getting started) or working at the job site, these are basic guidelines to keep in mind:

Your Power Source:  A belt sanding machine is heavy equipment and operates on 220 volts. The maximum distance between the connections should not exceed 150 feet. Avoid wiring directly into an electrical panel. We are not electricians. Use pre-wired plugs that can accommodate a hook up at the dryer or stove. These historically should be on a dedicated line and serviced by a 30 amp breaker. Insufficient amperage will cause an overload and repeated trips to reset the breaker. Safety is vital. Wear a dusk mask and ear plugs. Sanders produce loud, high pitch sounds and the attached dust bag will be unable to trap all the air borne wood dust particles entering into the air.

Seal Off The Work Area: Hang plastic sheets to prevent dust from drifting into adjacent rooms and walk areas. You should also purchase a quality commercial vacuum to remove dust between each sanding cut.

Use the Right Sandpaper:  You will need sandpaper for three cut requirements: rough, medium and fine sanding paper. The same paper requirements apply to the edger as well. The buffer will require fine screen for blending after fine cutting with the other two machines.

Equipment Maintenance: Sanding equipment requires care in handling to and from the job site. I highly recommend constructing a wooden “cradle” to avoid resting the belt sander on the floor board of the truck and also to avoid movement and or “runaway” when stopping and or accelerating the truck. Equip yourself with a compressor with an air hose to clean your equipment after usage. (Obviously, this is done outdoors.) Dust is the machine’s worst enemy. Keeping your equipment clean also lets the customer know their house will receive the same treatment. Sanding an installation can take anywhere from one to several days depending on the size of the area. Remove and empty your dust bags outdoors in an appropriate metal container to avoid spontaneous combustion or a smoldering fire from any metal debris that may end up in the bag.

Practice: Some fundamental skills can be achieved with a trial and error approach on homemade 4 X 8 panels of hardwood to get a feel for the equipment. Dealers/contractors could also hire at least one qualified sander for training others. Don’t count on training from someone that may view you as the future competition. Manufacturers of sanding equipment offer periodical training sessions as well as our affiliated trade associations.

If possible, find a worthy cause-perhaps a charity or a non-profit organization-that needs a touch up on their wooden floors. Offer to donate your time. This way you can brush up on your skills while providing a service to your community. Wood or Wood Knot continues to be dedicated to our industry professionals. Sanding is a big part of that and can greatly enhance your operation. As you master this craft, you will surely see that things doesn’t have to be “rough” especially when you have the professional skills to make them “smooth.”