Can you sand and refinish your floor with an orbital sander? (bad news)

This is a question that is asked by people that are too scared to use a floor sander! Let me cut to the chase, you may not like the answer…

refinish hardwood floors with an orbital sander

Can you sand your floors with an orbital sander? Under some certain circumstances, for instance, if you have a flat floor in great condition, or maybe even a new and unfinished floor, it is possible to sand and refinish your floor with an orbital sander to a reasonable standard. However, it will take much longer.

How long does it take to sand a floor with an orbital sander? Unless your floor is in flat and in very good condition, an orbital sander is going to increase your refinishing time but 2-3 times. Let’s say 2-4 days per room as opposed to 1-2 days with a full sanding kit. For handheld orbitals, double that again.

And to clarify, by orbital sanders, I refer to all finishing sanders; Laegler Trio, Bona FlexiSand, Numatic Woodworker, Usand or any other sander that has a huge contact area between the abrasive and the floor, and oscillates or rotates. (different from handheld ‘random orbital’ sanders)

Right there, I have just mentioned the unifying factor of these machines and also why these machines are so ineffective for sanding floors. Did you pick up on it? If not, read on…

Why are orbital sanders ineffective when used on their own?

Huge sanding surface area. A couple of years ago my boss (before I set up on my own) sent me on a course with Laegler. In that course, I learned how the Hummel was designed, in terms of the shape of the drum, the surface area, the Revolutions Per Minute, the weight applied to the drum and thus the pounds per square inch of pressure that the machine applies to the floor when it is in action.

It was fascinating to see just how finely tuned these machines are. The Hummel was designed in the late 1960’s and to this day is still arguably the best sanding machine on the market.

The size of the surface area, the speed of the belt and the pressure applied to the floor, works perfectly to remove the top layer of wood from the floor as quickly and smoothly as possible. It could be described as being quite aggressive. There are other continuous belt sanding machines that are slightly less aggressive, but they are all designed to actually remove some wood.

Finishing sanders are not designed to do this. They are designed to do very fine sanding.

Orbital floor sanders just don’t cut the mustard

To put this into perspective, I and all professional floor sanders (that know what they are doing), would not use a finishing sander exclusively on a freshly laid unfinished floor (in case you don’t know, many wood floors are fitted without a finish on them, they then have to be sanded and finished). Just think about that for a second.

You have a floor that is brand new, laid flat and does not have any dents, damage or lacquer/varnish on it. Yet we don’t view it as fit to be sanded with just an orbital sander? It’s because if there is a board that is just slightly higher than the next one or the floor is just slightly uneven, the orbital sander will take much longer to sand that board down to level with the rest of the floor.

If only it were so simple

Believe me, if I could throw away my other sanders, save myself a bunch of time and just use an orbital/finishing sander I would. It just doesn’t work like that.

I could post links to at least 5 blogs where people have sanded their floor themselves with these machines…. And it looks terrible. But they tell themselves they have done a good job (and ironically, these blog posts are called “how to refinish your wood floors” and such).

These machines do have a purpose, you can learn about that purpose right here.

Please don’t be suckered into hiring just one of these machines alone, it will take you longer, you won’t remove all the finish and dents and scratches. You might even end up calling in the professionals. I hope this has convinced you.

Let me know what you think in the comments below! Thanks for reading 🙂


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  1. Hi,
    I sanded our master Bedroom (15×13) with a belt sander using 36/60/80/100. I also used an edger with the same grit. The floor was uneven with high points, but I did a nice job in smoothing the floor. However, I made a mistake in not blending the the two sander marks and there are swirls all around the room. Also, by going to 100 grit, the stain didn’t hold in many areas that I did final touch up sanding. I did two coats of stain, but it is very uneven with tons of visible swirl marks. I applied with pad and wiped off with rags. My questions: can I remove the stain with a square orbital sander? The stain has been sitting for about one year without any poly finish, just bare stain. I was so upset, I just let it go, but my wife isn’t happy. Since the floor is very smooth and even from the belt sander, I thought I didn’t need to go that aggressive. I just need to remove the stain and blend the previous sanding swirl marks. In some areas the stain held and looks nice, but in many you can see my mistakes. I plan on stopping at 80 grit and water popping to ensure the stain absorbes into the wood. Please help. I could send photos if you need. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for the valuable information; I really appreciate it, considering all the amateur videos that claim to be professional. I have a question: my wood floors were laid seamlessly between rooms and hallway, meaning there are no thresholds or anything. Is it possible to refinish one room at a time without it being obvious that they were done separately? I hope this makes sense.

  3. Hi

    You can do small projects up to 200 sq feet. Anything bigger than that it will be too much. It also depends on the pre-existing finishes and how powerful the orbital sander it is. I attempted to remove a heavy duty commercial floor lacquer with an orbital sander-buffer and the 60 grit screen wan not doing even scratching it.

    Floor sanding is one of those jobs best left to the professioonals.

    Thank you

  4. Hi, i just very recently used a drum sander to sand my floor. small floor, 160 sf. My stain job (Hard wax natural oil wax -Rubio, no varathane) did not work out…long story. But i am about to tackle it again, knowing that my floor is flat, can i use an orbital (large vibrating machine) with an 80 grit to remove the Rubio?

    Regards Distressed

    1. It’s possible, though I wouldnt start with an 80 grit, I would start with a 60. A 60 grit on a finishing sander is so much less aggressive than 60 on a drum sander. 80 might just clog up and stop working, even if it doesn’t it will be longer and harder than just getting a 60 on there. Good luck!

  5. Ok – so read the comments – am doing the floor of an old shop, wood floor never finished just 50 years of equipment on top and dirt, Multiple different types of wood, ,all scratched and dented. I was going to sand and oil but want the dents as a feature (show the age – and keep an industrialised look) If I hire a drum, would it not take out teh dents and what I call the character.

  6. Adapting a 12″x18″ orbital sander so it gets the floor flat:
    I found a real deal on a ex renatl 12″x18″ sander and bought it. i have a new unfinished fir floor about 20′ x 16′. the 1×8 are T&G but some are cupped a little and there are knots. I started with 36 grit with the white pad inplace. it made progress, but i realized that the knots and darker areas of grain were higher. After trying a few things i realized that the pad was to flexible. I got a piece of corplast(plastic cardboard) and used spray glue to stick it to the foam pad. Then stuck the sticky back sand paper to the corplast. its an amazing improvement. And i can get into the corners.

  7. Hi

    I did it with an orbital floor sander & screens but it is very time consuming. If you are doing a bedroom only & if you have a lot of time, you are ok. But if the floor is uneven or if there is a lot of paint on it, you are in trouble. You need 80-100 kg of pressure to remove paint but most orbital sanders weight only 30-40 kg. A belt sander would be more recommended but is not that easy to use

    Very good article. Many people are inspired by this type of content

  8. So I turn 51 next week.
    I myself, personally am always getting downed on , because I don’t stop. Working. I get up at 4:30 am. Go to work till 5:00 pm. Go to a place I finally can call home, and begin to work again. My partner Lara has an old Mill House down here in the south. I started Remodeling and fixing it up back at the beginning of February this year, and still going. I do only so much after work because I’m supposed to stop before 11:30 at night, although I don’t listen to what I’m told but I keep trying to rest ( and my only reason for constantly going is that I don’t want to end up to be like my father, so I started working when I was almost 12 years old and I haven’t stopped. )
    But the reason I am writing this is because there was a remodeled bedroom done about 30 years ago over the outside porch. It was her daughter’s old bedroom . now it is going to be my work room and part of the room is her storage. it’s about 16 ft by 13 ft. Best part about this room it is the first thing in the house I’ve come across that when I pull the carpet up other than it having some minor warping in the wood the floor was actually in really mint condition.
    I didn’t like the fact that it was covered with shellac, but I’ll live with it.
    I grew up learning to be a carpenter by trade. Sanding a floor by hand is tedious and time-consuming work. I understand people shying away from the art. for me its Different . I am not on a time scheduale and it’s my relaxation time. I can turn up the stereo and melt away into my sanding. I’ve started by using a hand belt sander with a 36 grit paper and removing the top coating of shellac. I also use a hand sander 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 sheet and I have a small orbital detail sander which to finish and fine tune I am using a 220 grit paper to smooth it all out.
    ( I graze the surface very lightly ).
    This is the third one I have done by hand it’s more of hobby I would say. I just feel one with the floor. I also like the fact that I can brush my hand over what I’ve done and feel as I go along with my other hand and I don’t have to go back over when I’m done because I couldn’t feel something in the floor as I was using an electric machine sander.
    I prefer the way it looks when it’s finished myself . when people say you can’t do that by hand. you can’t use this small plug in sander, but they are wrong. they’ve been doing this for hundreds of years and they didn’t have electricity or sanding machines back in the old days, so floors were done by hand, and those floors were beautiful and they last forever it seems .
    I think being done by hand just has more of an appealing look to it but it isn’t for everybody . I do it because I like to be connected with the work I do and since I don’t actually do it for a living now this is my pet project and I want everything done perfect but you really have to put time into it and not think about how fast you can do it.

  9. I built my own house by myself after my regular job a few years ago. Had 2 large hickory trees die or fall over. A customer of mine told me where to go to have them sawn, kiln dried then, milled. 4″and 6″ planks. Thought it’d be a shame to turn into firewood. Grateful they were hickory trees as I never knew how gorgeous natural hickory is. At the time I didn’t feel comfortable installing, sanding, and finishing. So I hired it out. The oldest was 136 years old and the cool factor of having floors from my own trees that would have been fire wood makes up for the slightly higher cost

    After reading and watching your clips I felt confident enough to refinish the floors in my rental house. The four finger parquet floors were so bad I thought it was stick on tile. I started using a 40 grit square buff. After 10 minutes I went back and got the drum sander. Not quite finished yet, but even unfinished it looks 1000 times better. The red oak floors in the other room is next. Just had to say thank you for graciously offering your tips and advice. Don’t be afraid of those big aggressive machines. I can’t imagine using hand tools. “What a slog” that would be.

  10. Hi Ben,

    I am looking to restore/refinish about 900 sf of hardwood. The house was built in 1951 and I don’t know how many times the floor has been refinished over the years, but I can guess it might be getting fairly thin based on the occasional small gaps between boards, and a bit of give in others.

    Would you recommend a full sand and refinish, or a screen and refinish for these older floors?

    I just wouldn’t want to risk taking too much wood off of an old floor that is wearing thin.

    Thanks, Dan

    1. Hi Dan,

      If you can get away with just a clean, light abrade and then seal, then I would definitely go that route. If the floor is in relatively good condition.

      You can also usually tell around the edges of the floor how much it has been sanded. If it has been sanded a lot it will ramp up right next to/underneath the baseboards/shoe.

  11. I have a small kitchen oak floor, about 40″ by 9 feet, that wasn’t finished properly, so it has blackened from water getting through the finish. I want to bleach it with oxalic acid and refinish. My question is, could you even get a proper sander into such a small space? I’m guessing this was a DIY job from the last owner that wasn’t sanded properly because here and there the adjoining boards aren’t flush at the surface. Right now, I’m thinking of an orbital sander because it can get into the small space and then just grin an bear it until it is done. Luckily the lighting here is indirect. I’d like to hear your advise about what sander to use considering the small space. I’ve not done floors, but I’ve built and finished furniture.

  12. I have to laugh at all of this since “hand-scraped” oak floors are all the rage right now. I guess if you want a pristine factory finish on your floor then there’s an argument for using a drum sander. But right now it appears that most people want the rustic, rough finish, so….

  13. Thanks for all the great info! I’m a bit stuck on something, hoping you can lend some of your expertise. I just pulled up the very old carpet in my house and found hardwood throughout, which I plan to refinish (about 1000 sqft – 4 rooms and a hallway). The problem is, the floors in two of the rooms have beat-up polyurethane coating on them, while the rest are completely bare/natural wood in great condition.

    You’ve convinced me to go with the drum sander with low-grit paper to remove the finish, and I plan to use the orbital sander for the final round of sanding with fine-grit paper. My question is, what type of sander would you use with the medium-grit paper? Would you use it in just the rooms with the finish, or would you use it across all the floors?

    Any advice appreciated as I’m having trouble finding info on the right process for half-finished, half-unfinished floors!

  14. I am about to sand our new wide plank Oak floor. It is engineered and 6mm thick. I have read all your posts and understand that the best is to use a drum floor sander, edge sander and then a finish sander. The project is 4 bedroom and a hallway. We have a non base board feature called a z-shape list along the floors to create the vision of the floor continuing under the walls, 1/2 deep. There is no dents or hardly any unevenness in the boards. I’m thinking of using a square sander or a random orbital sander or a orbital deck sander. What do you think? ( I have the time) And also what would you recommend to use under the z-sharp list?

    1. definitely not the squarebuff, its particularly gutless. I would a multidisk finisher if you dont want to start with a drum

  15. We have sanded our floor down to 60 grit and plan on adding the wood filler with trowel. I thought we’d be done with the belt sander. Can we just rent a random orbital sander and use it to remove the filler with 100 grit and then finish up with 150?

    1. When you say random orbital, are you talking about a palm sander or a multihead finishing sander? either way, I would remove the filler with a 60 grit and then go to 100, or 60-80-120.

  16. I have been thinking about sanding my older home that has some beat up wood floors. Which sander is best for an old parquet floor we have in our house? Thanks in advance for giving me the clarification also for your helpful article.

  17. Which sander is best for an old parquet floor we have in our house, in good shape but varnish now looking all blotchy.

  18. I build small cabins and have never used nor needed a drum or belt sander. 175 rpm low speed buffer with 40 to 80 grit will remove as much material as needed when it’s all said and done more than once folks asked if the floor is wet because the finish looks wet and deep all because of low speed orbital sanding. I assume this blog is aimed at the DIY folks. If you run a drum sander and know what you doing you have a good chance ruining your floor, anyone one can finish a floor to perfection with a little surfing time on YouTube, there are some really good videos out there done by guys that are masters of the trade that teach not scare, minwax has a lot of great stuff on there website.

    1. I’m sure what you do works great on your brand new unblemished floors. I think you should give advice on new cabins, while I give advice on what I do day in day out for 13 years, and that’s refinishing wood floors.

      By the way, if it looks wet thats because you are using gloss, and it sounds like your clients dont want that.

  19. I want to refinish the oak flooring in a bedroom. Probably about 120 sf. I’m 65 and the thought of using a drum sander seems daunting, let alone being able to manage it in a small area. Want to try the orbital from HD. If it takes a little longer no big deal. If it doesn’t turn out well, then I can carpet it.


    1. Go for it. I would start with a 40grit. You need it to be coarse to get any work done. You will need something to go round the edges though!

  20. Hi Ben!
    Purchased your ebook and watched all your videos – very thorough and well done!

    I need some advice on some old (125-150 yrs) yellow pine floor boards. I’m having some issues getting all the old dirt/finish several low spots on my living room floor. I got it decent flat using 24 grit, going twice diagonally and twice with the grain. Even after that, it’s still spotty in places. I want to leave as much wood as possible and not sand them too thin! What would you recommend? Should I use a coarse grit on a hand sander to spot treat the low spot?

    Thanks in advance for any help!

    1. great question. As you seem to have notices, yellow pine can be very sappy and even 24 grits barely touch it. Personally I would just sand the areas around the spots down with the spot to get rid of it instead of sanding a dent into the floor.

  21. This has been an interesting read. My husband and I are on the home stretch of our 1868 total gut rehab/restore project. We installed wide pine upstairs and are about to finish them. Throughout our house project we have done our homework and sought out advise from professionals. We have defaulted to “do it like the pros do” even if it took more time and pricier materials. We have been over the moon happy with the outcome on many projects. We’re gonna go with rent both types of sanders and finish with Vermont Natural Coatings matte finish.

  22. Wow. Definitely appreciate all the info you have supplied here.

    My wife and I just bought a 117 yr old house with 2300sq feet of hardwood. Some of it had linoleum glued to it, and were working hard to scrape all that crap off. Any advise there? Currently using a heat gun and scrapers to gently remove the glue/tar, and then using steel wool and a chemical thinner to remove the rest before sanding.

    We did purchase a very small random orbital “floor cleaner”, which we have started using in one room to sand the old finish off. We want the floor to look old and worn anyway, have 4 kids and 3 dogs, so perfect isn’t our goal. The orbital machine is 12″, and were going from 60, 80, 120 grit. It does seem quite time consuming to remove all of the old finish, but we have almost finished sanding one rather large room. There are a few spots that it seems to be tough (probably where the floor is slightly uneven) to get the last of the finish off, but over time it seems to work.

    My wife is doing most of the work here, as I work full time and she has the days while the kids are at school to get some work done. She has a medical condition that makes her joints weak and her bones break easily. That’s why we went with the tiny orbital machine, even the orbital we rented from home depot was too much for her to handle.

    So, its slow going, but my question is: are we stark raving mad to be trying to sand 2300sq ft of floor with this little bugger? What advise would you have for us that may make this job a little easier?

    Thanks, and love all of the great info here!

    1. Starting a floor like that with anything higher than a 36g is stark raving mad, let alone not using a belt sander. When you get time, rent a drum sander, put 36 on and clean it off. THEN your wife can continue with the orbital sanders if nec. Ideally, sand the floor up to 80g and round the edges with 80 then continue with the orbital sanders.

  23. We have a whole house of New England White Pine 3/4″ x 5-1/8″ planks we just installed. What type of sander is the best for this type of soft wood? Thank you

  24. Hi Ben, just found your website, interesting reading. I did my own kitchen and dining room floors using a hired drum sander and edger, they came out ok but a bit wavy as i did not control the drum pressure properly, but i was happy with the overall finish. Later we had the kitchen renovated and had to re-do the floors as the cabinets were all in different positions so the floors under the old cabinets had to be blended with the rest, so i got a professional in to redo the lot. The difference was amazing. I now need to do about 250m2 (2500ft2) of parquetry flooring in the church hall but can’t accommodate the high cost of professionals so glad to read your advice. One question though, for final 120grit finish would a large sanding disc on a rotary floor polisher be adequate? We used this floor polisher with a coarse mat to strip and buff the original floor finish before it got too scratched.

    1. It is always recommended to do the final sanding with a rotary machine as it produces a much smoother finish. You should buy my eBook!

  25. Ben, you’ve been invaluable in the past. I was once the fool who tried renting equipment at Home Depot in the belief that their equipment would properly sand about 200+ sq. feet of a new oak floor I had installed, closet included.

    I would tell people if it’s not plugging in to a 220, don’t waste your time. By the time you rent and return (a hassle), buy their pads and the extras, chances pretty good you could practically use a professional. Their 110 orbital sanders don’t hardly scratch the surface.

    The problem I am having is finding anybody professional that wants to just sand the floor and let me do the finishing. I have not been in anyway pleased with the quality of finish some of these expensive “professional finishes” have completed, including adherence.

    The fact of the matter is, this rank amateur did it better…

  26. Hi Ben,
    I had my floors sanded and finished by a professional this week. I am not happy with the colour of the finish. Would I be able to remove the new finish with a Random Orbital floor sander so I can put a new stain down?
    I have about 500 sq ft to do.

  27. Am I to use the drum sander and edge sander with three levels of grit: 30-40 grit both diagonally and with the grain, 50-60 with the grain, then 80-100 with the grain, AND ALSO use a square orbital for more sanding? Or is the orbital an optional step to finish with a polishing pad?

    I tried 36 grit with the square orbital and WHOA what a job! I worked and worked and still have old stain and poly where the boards tip into each other a bit. It took a ton off, but its not done correctly. What a complete waste of time and energy. It might work well on newer floors, but not on my 1950s floor boards.

    I do admit I am afraid of the drum sander, especially going diagonally. I had never heard of doing it that way.

    1. The square buff (or shake and bake, as I have heard my US friends calling it) is only optional if you are looking for a quick fix and aren’t too concerned with quality. If you got the square buff from home depot, try one of their “multi head” sanders, they are also much flatter and smoother and won’t damage the floor, but they are more aggressive and may get what you want a lot faster

  28. I broke all of the rules. And I’m doing so, wrote the only rules that actually matter when refinishing floors.
    Rule 1: define your desired outcome
    Rule 2: Determine how much time you have to complete your job.
    Rule 3: be honest about your level of knowledge in refinishing wood. If you have no experience…stop reading and call a professional OR practice on cheap old furniture for a few years
    Desired outcome: if you want a show piece, hire a professional. If you know how to refinish wood and have lots of experience…and you plan to use your floors the way I do (2cats, a dog, a chikd, and a husband who does not remove his shoes at the door)…give it a try. You can even use a Palm sander if you’d like…assuming you have LOTS of time.
    Time: refinishing your floors takes more than skill with wood. It takes lots of time. If you’re in a time crunch, rent the giant sander or hire someone. But if time is not an issue, it’ll take a long time, but go ahead and use your electric Palm sander. I successfully refinished the hardwood floors in my home with a Palm sander. It took a full 2 weeks. But the floors are beautiful and I don’t freak out when my pets romp across them.
    Do you know how to refinish wood in the first place? This is the most important question and it’s why I broke all of the rules and did my floors myself. I’ve been working with wood since I was 13…that’s nearly 40 years. What rules did I break? 1) used nothing but a Palm sander and hand sanding 2) removed pet stains with 10% hydrogen peroxide instead of replacing the boards…that careful process took a full month. 3) i stained the bleached spots to match the remainder of my floor boards. That took a week of experimentation, but it came out perfect. The most important part of the rules breaking is this: I like my floors, they’re far from perfect, and I saved $15,000.

  29. Hi. I have a 5″ random orbital sander. Can i use it to smoothen and refinish an old parquet floor that’s about only about 10-12sq.ft.?

  30. Smart content

    An orbital sander can do the job if the wood surface is new, without any finish. Removing water based or oil based varnishes with an orbital sander is a nightmare!

    -tones of dust
    -slow progress
    -very hard work

    Floor sanding is a job that has to be done by experts. A good part of my business comes from repairs after the customer has messed up the job. Looks easy but is not easy at all.

    Using a belt sander is risky business if you don`t have experience. One wrong move and you will end up with a hole in your floor.

    1. again, thanks for a decent reply Alex. I have actually tested the whole in the floor theory. Turns out its very difficult to do. The deeper in it digs the larger the surface area of paper is touching the floor = less pressure, plus it begins to almost burnish meaning it just starts sliding in its trough. It takes skill to hold it there for that long lol.

  31. The idea of using a handheld orbital sander to sand a floor is so laughable that I am a little confused by the persons who are dissing this post. I have talked with a few people who have recommended only using a orbital floor sander, and they genuinely do like the finish. I am guessing in those cases it is simply a preference thing. If you think of the waves and height differences between boards as “character” or a “rustic” look. Sure. Ok. Technically you can “finish” your floor. However, IF you (and I think mostly people do) actually want your floor to be completely smooth you should use a drum sander, an edger for the areas the drum cant reach, and then an orbital sander to take out all the scratch marks.

  32. Hi Ben
    Thank you for taking the time to post your youtube video’s and replying to questions. I am always amazed how rude people can be when they have a different experience or viewpoint.

    I am a cabinetmaker and used to working with wood and recently found how difficult it is to achieve a quality finish. I have a narrow hallway that I can only drum sand across the grain and I guess I will have to finish it with an edging sander and or a flat a sander to get a good finish. Any thoughts.

    Kind regards

    1. you have the right idea, maybe skip going across with the drum and just edge it then a finishing sander (large surface area, flat thing)

  33. I just finished laying oak flooring in a small office that’s 7.5′ x 11.5′ and an accompanying closet that’s 3.5′ x 5.5′. In such small areas, would an orbital floor sander be best?

    Thank you. Bob

    1. yeah might as well, just start with like a 40 (sounds aggressive but on a finishing sander (orital, buffer, planetary) you would be surprised how unaggressive 40g is!. You will need atleast a palm sander or something for round the edges

  34. I just recently moved into an older home that has some beat up wood floors. I have been thinking about sanding them down and refinish the wood. So, I liked that one of the first things you said is to not use an orbital sander. Using an actual floor sander does seem like it would make the process go a lot faster. Perhaps I should get a professional to sand my floors for me.

  35. What a load of crap. I did an 10×4 ft hall, 12 stairs and a walk in closet with a hand held orbital. yes it took some time but no need of renting a big sander. all the flooring still looks great 4 years later. don’t let this article intimidate you if you have a small job to do.

    1. i was talking about large stand up orbital sanders. you had a tiny floor and perhaps others floors aren’t in as good a condition as yours was. Your experience isn’t the same as everyone elses.

      1. I know I’m several years late but just got done sanding 150 year old pine floors in my home… Could it have been done with a palm sander as several people have suggested? Sure…Would it have taken far too long? Well for me-yes…as I have a newborn and own a business but I suppose if you are actively participating in Covid lock downs you could muster the months needed to do this by hand…would it have looked good? Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder…but I’d say that makes as much sense as painting the outside of your home with crayola water coloring brush or heck even a 4” cut in can you hope to blend a large area with a small tool? It wasn’t only the ignorance that bothered me but people’s completely rude retorts…just no need. These are the same ass hats that change a vanity and maybe paint color and say they did a “remodel” and go to big box stores with their shitty dogs. Ben-started this job with an orbital and 5 hours of sanding an 8×10 room got me nowhere…I picked up a drum sander and 5 hours nearly done! Thanks for great advice and putting up with rude peoples crap…to better Inform those of us wanting to learn

  36. We bought a professional sander at an auction. were sanding red oak hardwood, Was wondering if we could use the orbital sander around edges of room and staircases?

  37. Hi Ben,

    I had over 1000sf in my house professionally done a few months ago.
    I had just bought the house and found oak floors under the carpet. It was stained dark walnut and two coats of poly. Came out nice.
    I recently discovered more oak under some plywood in my foyer. It’s a little under
    100sf. Looking to sand and stain it then poly.
    I have orbital palms, belts and polishers. Should I rent a sander and what kind.

  38. What do you think of the U Sand sanders? They are advertised as easier to use, but really have 4 orbital pads.

  39. Any special considerations for sanding, staining, and refinishing a horizontal bamboo floor? Ours are a clear finish now and we want to add a little color. the main walk areas are pretty scratched (previous owner had 2 small yipper dogs).


  40. I’m looking at sanding and refinishing the wood floors in my house. These floors are solid hardwood and were likely placed in the late 50’s, early 60’s. There are scuffs, scratches, and worn spots throughout, so it definitely requires sanding. My questions is with regards to the hallway. It’s long and rather narrow, so an orbital sounds like the better option. But it also has an area where the floor is raised and needs sanded down (by at least 1/8-1/4″) so a drum would work better there. Any suggestions?

    1. you’re right but why is it raised? you don’t want to sand it too thin there, maybe replacing the boards or atleast lifting and resecuring might be a better option before sanding

  41. What about yellow pine.
    I rented drum sander before for this type wood and I had a difficult time controlling the aggression of the sander.
    Have 400sf more to do and one room had glued carpet. Adhesive is 25 years old and dry. What do you think ?

    1. not in a million years would I think of sanding off carpet glue with an orbital sander. Deffo a no go. Question is, can you sand it off with 24 on the drum, or do you have to drop to 16.

  42. We use Bona power drive(220) only to sand some floors…mainly old pre finished or floors that have been sanded and have worn down alot… just fine.

    1. Yes occasionally it can work, provided you know what you’re doing and you can see the finish is all off the floor, which a lot of people can’t see!

  43. looking to sand 1247 sq, ft of red oak hardwood 2,5 x 3/4. 417 of it is new unfinished and the remaining has the natural look with polyacrlic on it,
    Looking to stain it another color, all of it. what do you think the best way to sand it would be?

  44. Hello again, Ben.

    Just read your bit on belt sanders. Feeling a bit stupefied. Oh well. Sounds like the Bosch 1250DEVS may be a cheap version of the Festool as it has a spinning orbital mode as well as just orbital (it’s got a nice side handle to help control it as well, fortunately.). This said, would there still be any reason to add a beltsander?


  45. Hi Ben,

    First, thanks for posting all the great info. It is much appreciated by this broke daddy fixer-upper.

    I purchased a Bosch 1250DEVS 6″ orbital with “turbo mode” because … I wanted one … and because I thought it would work on my 50-year-old-hidden-under-carpet-for-years oak floors. I did a 100’^2 room over an extended period of time only to discover it didn’t remove ALL of the original finish. It got 98% of it but, not ALL of it. In the end I rented a drum sander from HD. Wish I’d read your blog before hand. Would’ve saved me some time.

    Anyway, I’m now considering the purchase of a belt sander as an alternative to renting a drum sander. I should explain: My wife, 1yo daughter and I are on a tight budget. I need tools for a fledgling furniture business I’m building on the side. It’s easier for me to justify the purchase when comparing the marginal expense over a tool rental. For example, let’s say it’s $60 more to purchase a beltsander vs renting a drum sander for a day (keen accounting kills, no?).

    So my question is this; Am I stark raving mad? Or … is this marginally reasonable … given that I have about 1,000’^2 yet to do?

    Also, what’s your feeling about lighter vs darker finish for oak flooring? I’m looking to add value vs exercising my personal preferences.

    Thanks again for your time. Love your work.


    1. Hi John, tbh even sanding floors with the Home Depot drum sanders fills me with dread. if you were gong to get those floors professionally refinished, you would pay minimum $3 per ft, I know guys that chart up to $7 a foot for high end lacquer, staining, dustless, the whole shebang. I really think you should buy my book and get to grips with it. It really is an investment! But long story short, rent the sander.

  46. Bullshit. I resurfaced my floors with a 6″ orbital sander and very course sandpaper. It didn’t take long and came out GORGEOUS. Ignore this tripe! Not only is getting a big drum sander a waste of money, in the time you spend getting it, moving it, setting it up, and bringing it back, you could have already been done. Mind you, if your house is enormous, it might be worth it, but to say “no”? Abject nonsense! Very do-able!

    1. its your opinion so I am going to approve it, despite the rudeness. If your floor was actually badly dented and scratched and bigger than 100sf you would think differently

      1. Handled like a gentleman 😁. I have used both, definitely you will get a better result with the drum sander. With the orbital sander I will scratch the surface and put on more urithane. I think what people don’t get is they have never used a drum so they do not understand the difference when you take about a 1/16 to 1/32 of an inch of wood off and the surface of the wood is all uniform. Probably most people are doing like I said and just scratching the surface and applying new urithane, it looks better then before but does not compare to a completely sanded floor. Anyway just wanted to compliment you on how you handled that situation, chivelry is dieing that’s for keeping it alive.

        1. How “completely” you sand is a matter of asthetics. As a school custodian, I did 30 years of gym care. I yearly used a “buffer, floor machine” using 100 grit screen, wet, to refinish the floors. I just refinished 30+ year old floors (900+ ft) in my home.. removed all finish in a week with an orbital floor sander and 2 palm sanders. But I left all older damage (scrapes, etc). There is something to be said about the character of distressed wood.. no stain, just clear polyurethane, to bring out the shimmer of red oak and it’s distressed..

      2. I agree with Jon. Well done Ben.
        A professional tool and a professional will give a professional job under all conditions because they have made all of the mistakes, know the tricks and have developed the skill.
        There is nothing wrong with DIY. It can be more satisfying and if done with care and research can approach a professional job under simpler conditions.

  47. What type of sander do you use if the hardwood grain runs in varying directions due to design without going against grain and scratching it?

    1. you use a drum sander, do 2 or 3 grits, changing direction each time, then move onto a finishing sander to remove all the scratches! I cover it extensively in my book.

  48. Hey guys, i am about to get myself a brand new sander, but before i do i would like to know the difference between sheet and random orbital sander, please?!

  49. Hi Ben. I do agree totally with what you have mentioned above. An easy way to a beautiful and professional finish would be a floor sanding machine. My granddad has 35+ years of experience in this field and I done a lot of work with him. I personally would never recommend an orbital sander(“buffer” is what we call it in South Africa).

    1. we live in Kauai and need to remove old varnish (Sikkens) and light sand the lanai’s so we can reapply Sikkens again.. the decks are in great shape only 4 years old We have several lanai’s and hand sanding is just too hard. What would you suggest..

  50. I just did 806 square ft of hardwood with my palm sander. Worked out beautifully, I but it’s not an easy job. I totally disagree with your “no you can’t do this with a hand sander”. I’m a 47 year old female and I’ve never done this before, although I have sanded many decks, and I believe if you have the strength and dedication, anyone can do this with a little sander.
    Your article was interesting but not totally accurate.

    1. how long did that take you? I have seen many pictures of people doing it DIY and they think they have sanded their floors properly when there is still a ton of dented, scratched, uv damaged wood or a ton of old finish still on the surface. I cant imagine doing 806 feet in less than a week days with a palm sander, even if I worked my but off immensely. What it comes down to is what you are prepared to accept.

      Other factors also, type of wood, what kind of finish is on the floor and how badly damaged it is. I appreciate your input mellanie, but 11 years full time experience kind of trumps doing it once or twice.

      1. I’ve just put unfinished oak in another bedroom. Never used a drum sander. We’re going to finish this room first. The other 3 rooms are unsanded and unfinished. I paid a LOT of attention to the subfloor, sanding it smooth. I’m going to try a belt sander and maybe an orbital. Might be renting a drum sander. Don’t know yet.

      1. I am in the process of doing it now with 60 and 80 grit sandpaper, not hard at all, like the fact that my sander sucks up the sawdust while I sand, way less costly than renting and having somebody else doing it

    2. This was forever ago but, Laura, I am in the process of refinishing a floor that is going to be replaced in the next several years. It was so poorly installed and finished by the previous owners there is no saving it but i want it to look somewhat nicer since it’s in a room we are renting out. So I’m going to try to do it with varnish stripper and a palm sander. Do you have any more info on how you did it? I would like to refinish with Tung or Linseed oil since you don’t have to resand in between coats. What did you use? What sander did you use?

    3. And I’m a 71 year old female sanding a floor with a palm sander and let me tell you I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. Sand onward…..

    4. Yikes I would not want to do this kind of job with a hand sander. The vibrations are not good for the nerves in your hands and that’s a long time to be using the tool. If you’re strapped for cash I can understand but… I’d never do it personally.

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