A guide to restoring and varnishing floorboards

Wooden floors have become more and more popular in recent times. Partly because they are easier to clean and do not trap dust (which is great for allergy sufferers) but also because they are Eco friendly and if done well look great.  Many people are having expensive solid wood and engineered wood floors installed which ‘float’ above the floor structure beneath. However, if you are lucky enough to have floorboards lying under your worn out carpets you may have a little gem that with a little time and effort can be restored to look just as good but at a fraction of the cost.

Although it may seem like a daunting task at first, once you read through one of the many sites out there with detailed instruction on what you need to do and break it down in to stages it can be undertaken by most moderately good DIYers.  A decent sized lounge will take 3 – 4 days to do including the sanding and varnishing – but don’t forget furniture should not be placed back in the room for a further couple of days until the varnish has fully hardened.  Last summer I decided to restore the floorboards in my lounge/dinning room, the site I used for the majority of the advice was SandedFloors.co.uk.  I followed their instructions closely and also used their tutorial videos, which without I truly believe I would have not have gotten the excellent finish I did.

Rented belt sander Belt sander, used to do the majority of the floor. In the bottom left of the photo you can also see the edging sander.  Both can be rented from local tool hire shops at a relatively low cost

The most important thing to do before starting is to prep the room by removing or hammering in any floorboard nails which are protruding.  If you strike one of these whilst sanding it is likely to break the sandpaper, which can often end up costing more than the rental of the machines.  Start with a coarse grit paper and work at 45 degrees to the floorboards to remove the top layer and level the boards, using a circular edging sander to get right up to the walls.  Often rooms have floorboards which are stained around the edges with a light tar.  This can be tricky to remove and requires an almost flicking action to remove this layer.  If this is not done correctly this can quickly block up your sandpaper and you will need to change for a fresh piece.  Once you have complete the whole floor you will next need to do the same again with a medium grit paper, keeping the sawdust from this ‘second cut’ as you will be using it later.

I would highly recommend that you fill all gaps between the floorboards to prevent cold drafts and to stop any spillages which may occur during use seeping through.  Any large gaps should be filled with thin wooden strips or mdf cut to size and gently hammered in to place.  The rest of the smaller gaps can be filled with a wood filler mixed with the sawdust you saved from earlier.  I used Lecol, a product used by the professionals.  The paste which is made can be easily pushed into the gaps and then left to dry overnight.  The following day resume further sanding with another medium grit paper followed by and final fine grit paper. Your floor should now be gap free and feel smooth to the touch.

3rd application of Bona Mega water based varnish 3rd application of Bona Mega water based varnish – this is non-toxic and fast drying

Before you start to apply any varnish you must remove all traces of dust and particles from the floor.  This will require a thorough hoover, good sweeping and a lightly damp cloth rubbed over the boards to pick up any fine material remaining.  Once this is done you are ready for the varnish.  There are a number of wood varnishes available, however, you must make sure the one you choose is suitable for flooring use.  Floors are subject to a high usage and therefore wear and require a much harder varnish to safely protect them.

I opted for a water based varnish as they are the quickest and easiest to apply, fast drying and are non-toxic.  Staining is also an option but much harder to do correctly and in most cases should be left to an experienced tradesperson to do.  The varnish is easily applied with a medium pile roller and paintbrush for the edges and will be dry and ready to reapply in 2 – 3 hours.  You need a minimum of three coats but as I had enough left over I went for a fourth. After each application has dried you should use a hand held sander with a fine grain to lightly remove any of the wood fibers which have been raised during the varnish process and again make sure the floor is clean and dry before applying your next coat.  Once done leave for another couple of days before replacing furniture and a week before cleaning with water.


Finished floorboards with furniture and rug The finished look complete with rug and furniture

Restoring the floorboards in a good sized room (4m by 5m) does take time and effort, I would estimate about 30 hours total in my case.  Once your have finished, the furniture is replaced and you have a nice rug down the effect can be staggering and for a fraction of the cost.  I also really enjoyed the challenge and learning a new skill.  However, if you are unsure or do not have the time available I would always recommend using a professional tradesman.

by Andy

One Comment

  • Bob
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful finish, I will have to give this a try!

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