As I have said many times before sanding hardwood floors by hand can be a lot of hard work. Hard work that can be alleviated with the use of a floor sander.
With that said, I have now spoken to way too many people that will be sanding their floors by hand no matter what. So it is only right that I do an article about sanding wood floors with hand sanders.
How to sand a hardwood floor by hand? The exact same way you would with floor sanding machines, but with a lot more elbow grease! Start with a low grit like 40, and climb to 60, 80 then 100. Use a handheld orbital sander, ideally with a gear-driven setting.
When it comes to this topic, the most important thing to discuss is efficiency. Some hand sanders are far more powerful and effective than others and it’s important that you give yourself a head start.
You don’t want to be caught short… There are some hand sanding tools that will have you sanding even a small area, for an eternity!
Which hand sander is the best?
To add a little pizzazz to this article I’m going to rank them in order of aggressiveness and efficiency.
Before I start I need to warn you, I am going to sound a little negative about the tools you are probably going to use if you are going to sand your floors by hand. I’m not trying to rain on your parade or be mean, I am just trying to be honest. If you plan on sanding wood floors with hand sanders, it is going to be very tiring and time consuming. Forewarned is forearmed!
5. In last place is none other than the delta sander.
I wasn’t even going to include this sander in my groovy list, but it is a handheld sander. It is used by professionals to sand right into the corners where the edge sander can’t reach.
Other minor detail work aside, this sander is pretty much useless. It has no power whatsoever, and it doesn’t produce a good finish (smooth surface).
You will need this for sanding the corners, but if you really are on a budget, you can rub corners down, literally, by hand (and sandpaper of course).
4. Dragging its heels, in fourth place, we have the handheld random orbital sander!
This tool is great for creating a smooth finish on wood, especially in small areas. The random orbital system means that the pad oscillates, but it spins loosely meaning it will always give way to resistance.
That is what it was designed for, not to remove massive amounts of wood, but to massage it smoothly.
Yes, you can put a 40 grit on it and ‘rough up’ some small areas, but if you plan on sanding your wood floors by hand with this sander then you had better clear your calendar.
3. Taking third place is the palm sander.
Just like the handheld random orbital, palm sanders oscillate, but the palm sander plate is fixed straight. Without this ‘give’ the palm sander can be a little more aggressive, while still producing quite a smooth finish.
Palm sanders also have the added benefit of having a square edge that can be used to sand right into the corners of the floor.
The problem with this sander is that it still doesn’t cut the mustard in terms of power and aggressiveness.
Again, if you choose to use this sander, prepare for a long hard slog.
2. Not quite taking the top spot, is the handheld belt sander.
The handheld belt sander can sand off old finish and sand out dents and scratches much more easily than the previous sanders.
While it won’t keep up with the speed of a normal floor sander, the handheld belt sander will get the job moving forward with reasonable speed.
Just be sure to keep moving side to side, forward and backward, and ideally, in a circular motion. The more pressure you can apply, the faster it will get the wood back to bare.
This tool is not great for getting right up to the edges. You can get up close but on some sides of the room, it will be going against the grain and producing a bad finish.
When used for sanding with the grain, this can produce a fairly smooth finish, but not the best.
1. Storming through in first place, pole position, top banana… The Festool Rotex!
Not only does the Rotex have the ability to produce an extremely smooth finish with its random orbital setting, it can really get some work done with the geared orbital setting (or as Rotex say the “Rotex rotary motion”).
This means the pad oscillates and it spins. Not only does it spin, it spins with force.
If I had to sand a floor by hand, this would be my tool of choice, without a doubt.
You can remove old varnish and wood quickly, sand right up to the edge of the floor (apart from the corners) and produce a very high-quality finish.
However, I’m not sure if this can be rented and to buy it knew is $550-600 (then another $500-700 if you want a dust extractor).
UPDATE: Many people have been messaging me that they do actually want to buy this, you can get it from Amazon by clicking here (For UK Peeps, click here). If you would like to take a closer look, I have written a full Festool Rotex RO 150 review here. Alternatively, there is a short buyer’s guide at the bottom of this page that contains some cheaper options. Here’s a hot tip: Sometimes in the past when I haven’t had the extractor, for whatever reason, I have just put the vacuum hose on the end and just taped it on with decorator’s tape. Don’t tell anyone
Now a quick word on technique…
Hopefully, you know by now, that as with all sanding machines, they should not sit still for too long!
That is if you want to create a smooth flat finish. The less aggressive the tool the less important, but even with random orbitals and palm sanders moving it back and forward will be more effective than sitting it still. So there is no reason not to keep moving!
If you use anything finer than 40 grit to start you are not going to succeed. You need to use a coarse-grit abrasive to remove the varnish, dirt, scuffs, dents, and scratches.
Then climb the grits as you would do sanding anything else. Skipping from 40g to 100g is going to give you a scratchy finish.
Make sure that the old varnish is properly removed. If you see a spot that looks like it could still have varnish on it, just lick your finger and rub it. The wood will soak and darken and the varnish won’t.
If your floor is very uneven, deeply dented, or has several layers of hard polish, then I suggest refinishing your hardwood floors properly.
Other than that folks, sanding hardwood floors by hand is pretty simple.
If you are just about to start a project then I wish you good luck, it can be done and has been done many times by readers of this website.
As I often say, you will be refinishing your floor for a short period, but you will be seeing the results, every single day. Make it worth it!