Sanding Hardwood Floors by Hand

As I have said many times before sanding hardwood floors by hand can be a lot of hard work. Hard work that can besanding hardwood floors by hand title 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.

detailer-2I 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!

 handheld random orbital sanderIt’s true I’m sorry to say the random orbital sander you have in your garage is just not going to cut it.

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.

palm sanderThe most common of all. 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.

hand held belt sanderNow we are talking, a machine with some real grunt.

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!

Festool Rotex RO 150I have been using the Festool Rotex (150mm disk) for years. I use it for sanding stairs, thresholds, and hard-to-get-to areas, as well as, the edges of floors.

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!


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  1. Hi Ben,

    For newly installed Douglas Fir floors, would you still begin with 40 grit paper?
    The joints are very tight with few gaps. Would you still trowel on filler?

    Thank you for your information.

    Brad Duncan

    1. It depends how uneven the floor is, usually with newly laid floors theres quite a lot of height differences between boards so a 60 or even a 40 may be necessary. I wouldnt fill it, no. Douglas fir expands and contracts quite a lot, with the changes of the seasons. The filler wont last

  2. Thank you for this article. It’s still useful in 2022, Australia. I spent 4 hours sanding my cyprus pine floors, which were being sanded for the first time in their lives, with an orbital sander before I looked for a better option. I contemplated floor sanders but it’s a small space and I didn’t want the tell tale groves if I did it incorrectly. So I upgraded to a belt sander which was 4 times quicker.

  3. My whole house is 12 inch wide southern yellow pine fastened with square nails. The original floors were sanded with floor sander then Minwax stain and minwax wax. I would wash the floors only rarely (except for kitchen) with a solution of vinegar and water then buff when dry. They always came back looking like new. After years of traffic in some places I would wash the floor as stated, apply Minwax wood conditioner, mix my stain half and half with a neutral color stain, apply it over the conditioner then wax, buff and voila, it blended in with the older finished floor. I know this was unconventional but it worked and now that I’m elderly it will have to be my method of choice. However, kitchen didn’t hold up–too much washing and stains so now I would like to refinish kitchen floor from scratch. What sanding tool would you use (I will do it myself and remember I’m elderly), what grades of sandpaper and can I go over it with a more durable sealer so what sealer would you recommend?

  4. Hi Ben,

    I’ve been watching your videos on YouTube and I am looking to sand and refinish our floor. Sadly in the North East it’s impossible to rent a finishing sander. After going through the grits on the drum sander would there be any benefit in using something like the Festol to try and emulate the effect of the finishing sander? If so what grit sequence would be best.

    Thanks for all of your work, it’s a brilliant resource.

  5. Why do people sand wood doors by hand instead of getting a drum or orbital sander from a rental store? Seems like it’d be so much more work and time, and doesn’t make sense. (And hard on the knees, back, and hands)

    1. I agree! I think their reasoning is that they don’t have much money and are prepared to sacrifice their time rather than their money. The other thing is that some people are scared to use the bigger more powerful machines

  6. For those of us without the Festtool model sander , is a good belt sander enough to do a proper job . I also have a small dewalt orbital, but think i would rather use my hand held belt sander.

  7. Hi Ben are you still answering questions about hand sanding hardwood floors ? Will you let me know if you can – I’d love to ask you some questions re my hardwood floor project Fantastic blog and your generosity in answering people in detail is brilliant ! All the best, Susan

    1. Sorry I got to this so late. I get so many questions on here and by email, I am prioritizing those who are going through my sanding course, but I do try to get to these now and again

  8. I came across a deal on new unfinished, 6 finger red oak, 3/4 inch thick, 9 inch squares, enough to do 5 bedrooms. Since it is unfinished would you start with a 4o grit, or start with a 60 grit. We are trying for a rustic look (I know, wide plank would have been better, but this deal was absolutely unbelievable), so we are going to fill it with red oak filler, and will want a low sheen finish. Do you recommend oil, or water, satin or matte?

  9. Hi Ben,
    This might cause you to burst out laughing but here goes… Is there any chance I can use a Chicago Electric 7” digital variable speed sander to complete sanding a wood floor that’s 8’ x 8’? I could barely get the drum sander onto the cart to rent so I opted for the random orbital sander and almost couldn’t get it up the stairs by myself because physically I’m a bit on the small side.
    With 36 grit on the orbital: I got a lot of the finish off but still have more to go. It’s totally ok to laugh at me (I’m used to it) but I’d appreciate some advice too! 🙂 TY

  10. That’s an amazing resource, especially for beginners. Although I prefer floor sander for my floors, I also had done it with hand sanders. Those who want to sand their floor with hand sanders will find this article really helpful!

  11. Thanks for making this list, I didn’t want to sand by hand, but I had to:
    During COVID19 lock-down we left a rental apartment, floor was pretty bad after years with dogs and toddlers; reasonably-priced contractors were booked for up to 2-months in the future, the ones available would only consider a full $8,000 re-flooring.
    Because of the lock-downs in Australia, profesional tool rentals were cancelled as-well, there was no option but doing it myself by hand, I tried a Makita palm sander, but it was brutal, I was starting to get desperate, but thanks to your post I learned of Festool and their Rotex, I grabbed the last one left within my curfew zone, and it took me 3 afternoons to sand to bare wood 50m2 or engineered flooring, to the most beautiful, silk-smooth-finish I’ve ever seen, thanks to this post I only spent about $1k in materials, even the building manager asked me if I was a professional tradesman!

  12. Hi Ben! I have a small room that needs refinishing. Is it possible to just hand sand it. I would love to purchase a festool as recommended in your blog but that’s not possible right now.
    After the floor has been sanded, can I apply stain and a polyurethane coating? I know this will take forever, but I have the time I just would like to get the best result possible. Also, would I need to buff the floor after the stain is applied? Is that possible to do by hand? Thank you!!

  13. Hi Ben – very useful stuff! I’m about to embark on sanding my Engineered Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba) floor. Seems like I should sign up for your course!

    I measured and I only have about <2mm wear layer left on it. I want to sand/bleach/refinish it. It is a pretty flat floor without too many scratches.

    Do you think I can try to take off the finish with 80 Grit on a drum sander at an angle, then go to 80 straight – then perhaps finish with 120? I worry about taking too much off with 50 or 60 grit.


  14. Thank you! I’m using a belt sander with 120 grit paper and it’s taking forever (it’s what the salesperson told me to do. He made it sound like I was going to tear up my floors by using a belt sander on them, but I swear, the only way to do that would be to sit on it and go against the grain 😂). I broke down and decided to rent a floor sander BUT -alas- they don’t exist in today’s covid world (correction: the sandpaper doesn’t exist.) so it looks like I must finish my project by hand!

    I appreciate this blog! Going out to buy some 40-60-80-100

  15. Hi Ben,
    I have just a small room 150 sf. and I got a quote of close to $1000 (in NY) to have this small room done by two different flooring contractors. I think that’s crazy! So my question is: since the floor is in good shape, except for three small areas that have wear and stains, can I spot refinish and blend in using a hand sanding technique? I have a lot of experience refinishing wood furniture so I thought it might be worth a shot.

  16. Hello. I purchased a 1940s home a couple of months ago and attempted to sand and stain all of the floors before moving in. I did not realize just how much of an undertaking that was going to be. I rented a couple of different sanders from the home-improvement store and got to work.

    After all of the sanding was done downstairs, I stained all of the floors. The look I was going for was a translucent gray; instead it looks black. I didn’t have time to start all over again, so I put poly on just in time to let it dry before I had to move in. The floors look awful. There are areas where I was evidently a little too aggressive in sanding because the floors were old and I wanted to get markings out of it, so there are instead grooves in some spots.

    I want to start tackling the floors room by room and re-staining the initially desired color, so I am contemplating using a hand sander, but I am worried about those grooved areas that appear relatively deep. Do you have any suggestions? I’m feeling a little overwhelmed to be honest. Thank you.

    1. staining grey is like the Olympic finals of floor sanding and refinishing. Very difficult to do. I suggest just sanding the floor as outlined in my eBook and Video Course. Just do it by the book and there won’t be any issues. Just using a finishing sander won’t be good at getting those dips out. You may be able to start with a higher grit on the drum sander. To have done all this already and then to be sanding multiple rooms with a hand sander is going to be very overwhelming in deed. Make the job easy on yourself and get the proper tools

  17. Hi Ben, Just discovered your site and it’s great. A small portion of my parquet floor was damaged by water and it was replaced by parquet but it’s darker than the rest of the bedroom (same parquet but rest of the bedroom was sanded). Area damaged and redone is about 12 ft by 3 ft. I just want to sand it so it will be the same lighter color as the rest, what grit should I use and should I rent or buy since that’s the only area I’m sanding. Also the guy who did it told me that my floors are quite even enough that if I want to get hardwood, he’d just put it on top of the current flooring, that sounded dodgy to me. Was her correct? He told me the small area was not worth it for him to sand, as he’d have to move all the bedroom furniture out (and we had already agreed on a price beforehand )

  18. Great site with great help. I have a bedroom 10.5×13 with 9×9 square wood tongue in groove edges. It is stained by the sun and I am painting the room after removing wallpaper and the carpeting

    I want to refinish the flooring but not sure which sander to use. Which grit to use. The floor is in good shape just needs a new fresh coating.

    Suggestions? I understand this flooring is from the 50’s and gives a similar look as the finger strips but is really a 9×9 square.

    1. Hello Penney. Sounds like a wonderful little project. It’s good that it isn’t too big too, nice and manageable. Since your floor is from the ’50s and just needs a fresh coating as you say, then I’d recommend using a bonding agent. Let me explain. With very old floors, you may find that whatever you put on the surface doesn’t bond very well. There are two reasons for this. The first is that we have no idea what finish was used on that floor, the second is that in the meantime it may have had spills, polish and goodness knows what else. Modern finishes arent great for bonding as many chemicals have been banned.

      If you are just overcoating, you can use a hand sander, maybe just a palm sander or any random orbital. Clean off the surface with a 120grit to remove any paint or other dirt this also will scuff the surface to help with adhesion. From here you should use a bonding gel. Pallmann have a bonding gel, I can’t remember what its called. There are also lacquers that are made for this purpose; to bond to anything. Again, I don’t know what products are available in the US for this purpose. You could try calling floor mechanics.

      Good luck Penney, I hope it goes well!

  19. Hi Ben, I live in a 250-year old home that is listed on the National Register. I am restricted from “machine-sanding” the heart of pine floors. Any suggestions on how best to sand and refinish the very scratched floors? Thanks!

  20. My husband and I just installed tongue and groove milled pine flooring. We now want to sand and finish it. We are afraid of the drum sander. You have stated that an orbital floor sander is not good for the job. What are your suggestions. I’ve been (removing putty) the entire floor with a palm sander. This is very hard work and doesn’t seem necessary.

  21. Hello,

    I have areas underneath the kitchen counters and cabinets and other nooks and crannies that I cannot get to with even a small palm ROS, or belt sander. The Mouse Sander maybe able to reach it – I have yet to try even if it’s effective.

    I heard that there is a way to just manual hand sand the edges to get the varnish off with low grit (24 grit) paper. What are the tools to do this?

    I also have a wood scraper but that is too harsh and tearing up the wood.



  22. Hello Ben,

    I am planning to sand and refinish 500 square foot of hardwood floor – as a first time DIYer.

    1) Would you recommend that I rent a Random Orbital Floor Sander as oppose to a Belt Sander to do it by hand (I can rent / buy two and get a buddy to help)?

    2) It is pretty roughed up – because of that would it be sufficient to start 80 grit and skip 60 grit? Or, is it better to start 60 grit or is this something that need to try and see?

    3) Stain and Poly Finish Oil or Water – Would recommend oil or water?

    1. 500 foot is just too much to do by hand, just rent the proper tools, you will thank yourself later. With that said, you have to start on 40 grit of you ever hope to finish the job. If a client wanted me and my helper to sand 500sf by hand on 80 grit, I would give it 2 weeks and charge him 10k minimum.

  23. What grit would you recommend starting with on freshly installed, raw white oak….Its cabin grade

  24. Hi Ben,

    Very glad to have discovered your excellent blog. I’m about to sand and finish my knackered old 1920s pine floor in London. I’m hoping to remove the natural yellow of the pine and achieve a Scandinavian-style whitewash look, so planned to use Softwood Lye with Woca Master White Floor Oil supplied by Have you had any experience of treating a softwood floor in this way? My main question relating to this type of treatment is the type of filler I should use in conjunction with the other products. Should I be using a solvent-based filler or water-based? And what colour, given that I’m trying to achieve a whitewashed look? Natural or white? Thanks in advance for any assistance.

  25. Hey Ben! I recently installed 2 1/4” wide salvaged douglas fir flooring in a travel trailer (about 220 sq/ft). It was in rough shape so I sent it through a thickness planer before installing which brought it back to fresh wood and even thickness (3/4”). I am about to start sanding and torn between which method to use. Considering either a hand held belt sander or renting a square bus for $50 a day. Planning on using a water based stain followed by several coats of water based poly. Looking for recommendations on sanding regemine. Thanks for a great post!

  26. I want to repaint a wood floor which has had two previous coats of water based paint, possibly over a varnished finish. I am trying to sand it to get a smooth surface, not necessarily to remove the previous coats of paint. I have a band sander but the results are unsatisfactory. It’s lifting SOME of the previous coats but leaving the floor surface rough. I’m using a fine grade sandpaper. Any suggestions ?

  27. 1956 solid hardwood . Previous owners had inside pee dogs that would go on the rugs leaving horrible dark staining. I am a disabled and need suggestions on lightening up these dark areas. Also had plants that wet floors and caused some bucking and separation. Any suggestions will be appreciated. I know how to use a drum sander but there is about 1900 sq ft of wood so here I am…all ears. Thank you!

    1. I would pull those boards out and replace them with boards that dont have wee stains. 1900ft is not to be done with a hand sander, just saying

  28. A room expansion requires approx. 100 sq. ft. of red oak flooring, already purchased. Since it is such a small amount of flooring, I intend to hand sand. Good idea?

    1. Potentially, if its flat enough. Wood flooring has a problem called overwood, which is the difference in height between one board and the next. Manufacturers have never figured out how to fix this, which is why when you get prefinished floors, they have a bevelled edge and/or they generally slope down towards the edges, this is to obscure the overwood.

  29. I have another question. I just re-stained my floors but this time I used a lamb’s wood applicator. It told me to wash the applicator with mineral spirits first. I dried it out as best I could using a cloth to it soak up. This time the stain didn’t stain my floor as well as it did last time so I put on a second coat which didn’t deepen the color. Do you think it’s because I wash the applicator with mineral spirits? How do I fix this problem? Will it take another coat if I buy new stain?

  30. Hey hey, I recently came home
    To see that my dog had an accident on the floor and by the end of the weekend the floor had started to cup in between the boards. I have oak floors that look great, other than this 6-8” spot between boards that has cupped. Approximately 1/8”, enough to catch your eye that they is an elevation change. What would you recommend I do?

    1. Hello Zachary, how long have you had this problem? Usually, it’s a good idea just to wait and allow the wood to dry out and see if it returns to normal.

  31. Hi Ben, i have a cloakroom that needs sanding. Its only about 2 foot by 5 foot long so would be hard to fit a sanding machine in to manouvre. Should i do it by hand?

  32. Sorry for the second comment. I used an oil based stain on my floor and then used a water based polyurethane over it using a brush. The polyurethane was white in the can, went down white on the floor, and dried white. I’ve watched youtube videos where they used the water based polyurethane and as soon as they poured it onto the floor the white went away and was clear on the floor. Can you tell me why it stayed white on my floor?

      1. Thank you so much for answering me. It is water based Varathane that I used. Ok, so now I’ve re-resanded my floors 🙁 I’ve been sanding my floors for about a month now. I got a drum sander and it did NOTHING. I used 36 grit too. My sister tried it and still it did nothing. My brother came over and tried it and got the varnish and stain off but put these skid marks into the wood. He said I had to push up on the handle while moving the machine along in order for the sandpaper to get to the floor. Well, I’m not strong enough to do both. I ended up buying the $600 hand sander you talked about to get all the skid marks out. When I watched some of your videos I don’t see that you’re pushing up on the handles looks like the machine is just being pushed or pulled back by you like a vacuum cleaner. Do you think I just rented a crappy machine or do you have to lift up on the handles slightly to get the paper to the floor? Tomorrow I will stain it again. I’m going to let it dry for 4 days before attempting the polyurethane again. This time I’ll use a T-bar instead of a brush and pray that it doesn’t turn my floor white again. I’m super frustrated at this point. I have to do my dining room next and I just want it to go better. Thanks for your help!

  33. What kind of vacuum did you put on the end of the Rotex? I don’t want to have to buy the dust extractor. Thanks!

    1. It was a Numatic Henry vacuum, common UK brand. Any vacuum with a hose. Mine didnt fit, I just put it on the extractor hole of the festool and taped it on.

  34. Ben, I have damaged Douglas fir floors that have numerous nail holes and a few saw cuts. I want to get the floor as good as I can knowing it will never be perfect. I am thinking I need to rent a drum sander and practice with 120 before starting with 36. Does this sound like the right approach?

  35. Hi Ben, Thanks for the info. I have an older home with pine floors in a reddish stain….which I do not like. The floors were only stained on the perimeter (around where they placed the area rug). I will NOT be redoing the entire floor….only the perimeter. Its just not worth my time at this point. I will be using a belt sander. I will stain it a darker color….possibly black. A friend mentioned I should be able to simply scuff the wood and stain with the darker color. Doesn’t make much sense to me as the stain won’t penetrate the poly. Your thoughts? Also, what grits to use on this soft wood? Thanks much,

    1. You need to sand the wood properly to stain it. You could lightly scuff it and paint it because the opacity of paint will hide a multitude of sins. But that looks nasty. My advice, sand the whole floor. For me, it would be more hassle to sand the perimeter than sand the whole floor, depending how thick that perimeter is

  36. I love your blog! I do have a specific question however. I have a living and dining area that has very old hardwood I exposed by pulling up carpet and tile under that. The problem is there is a thick old black adhesive on top of the hardwood. I have tried a floor sander, an orbital a drum sander and even adhesive remover. Nothing works. The sanders just gum up the sanding disc’s and the adhesive remover just turns into a stickier form of adhesive and the bulk of it just runs into the cracks. Any suggestions you can give would be great. Thanks SO much! Amy

    1. There is a way that pros can get this stuff off using a buffer with a “diamabrush” plate. But whether you can get ahold of one of them I very much doubt! Even so, buffers are tough for beginners to handle. In Australia they use kerosene (yes jet fuel…), they sprey it on the floor and it causes the adhesive to ball up rather than sticking to the abrasives.

      I am often sanding this kind of stuff off, and my first question is. What grit are you using? Because if you are using anything above 60g then you’re not going to get there, with 36 grit you can usually get it off, it’s a bit of a slog but it does come off. 24 even quicker but hopefully not necessary.

  37. I am about to begin sanding a bedroom floor to see how it goes and then move on to the rest of the house, depending on how I do. My house was built in the 1970’s and the floors have lived their life. The floors have cracks between some of the boards. I am filling some of the wider cracks with a combination of Elmer’s glue and fine sawdust. Is this a good idea or should I do something else?
    Thank you for reading. I am a do-it-yourself type of person, but this is intimidating.

    1. After filling, you need to sand the filler, that has been applied to the surface, off. With normal glues it can make it difficult to sand off. This is why I usually recommend using products made for the job, you can find what products I recommend for this right here.

  38. Hi Ben We have stained pine floors around a lot of the house for the last 8 years with a medium oak stainand they are now faded a lot but have a finish on them. Apart from one small area they aren’t too scratched just pretty dull and looking like they need a tart up.

    I’ve done a full sand years ago and don’t really want to do this all again unless I absolutely have to.what are the options. ? Light sand and lacquer /
    Polish ? I assume we can’t stain on stain without a sand of some sort and darker colour?

    Would appreciate your advice,- great video BTW

    1. hey im open to suggestion, tough to imagine a more versatile and powerful hand sander than the festool Rotex RO 150

  39. Hello, Ben. Thank you for an informative and well-written blog sharing your expertise on hand-sanding hardwood flooring.

    I’ve searched, read articles, and watched a ton of videos on this subject, but haven’t found any that adequately address my situation. I’m moping that you might be able to comment and steer me in the right direction.

    My project at this point consists of installing new, unfinished red oak flooring on a stairway landing approximately 3-feet square. I intend to stain and protect it with a polyurethane product when finished.

    Obviously, the use of rented drum sanders and the expensive tool that you’ve introduced us to, is not appropriate for this small a job. So I’m left to wonder: How to I attack this?

    I have an assortment of conventional homeowner tools that you’ve mentioned: belt sander, palm sander, delta sander, B&D Mouse, etc. And I have a drywall hand-sanding screen-holder, that could easily accommodate a selection of grit paper.

    Since most of the articles I’ve looked at refer to sanding for a refinish, they talk about starting with a low-numbered grit and work up to a 100 – 120 to finish.

    What would I start with on newly-installed, unfinished wood? It seems that leveling and some surface smoothing is the primary objective. On a 9 sq ft area, how much sanding is going to be necessary? I was – perhaps naively – considering foregoing power tools entirely and trying my luck with a manual hand sander on this small area. Hopefully, I’m smart enough to recognize that I’m getting nowhere, in the event that I ——— get nowhere!

    I would greatly appreciate your weighing in with some sage advice on how you would tackle this, using the assortment of tools that I’ve mentioned. Or if it’s something I haven’t mentioned, I’d be open to hearing about that as well.

    Thanks again for sharing your time and experience with us here on the ‘net.

    1. To be honest this is a job that actually merits only using hand tools, it shouldnt take too long. Im often sanding small platforms in staircases like this. If it was me, I would sand it with an edger (so maybe just rent an edger if anything, wont cost a lot) then i would smooth it off with a palm sander or orbital sander.

      Maybe use the belt sander to flatten the floor then the palm sander to climb the grits and smooth off. So 60 on the belt, 60, 80, 100 on the palm sander.

  40. Hi Ben
    I am going to attempt to redo my parquet oak floors. 3 bedrooms and a hallway. Do you think this procedure is realistic…

    Remove baseboard trim(label)
    Mop with wax penetrating detergent
    Using Random orbital floor sander and Random orbital finishing sander sand 36-60-80-100 (filler if needed after 36)
    Vacuum super clean
    Wipe with tack cloth
    Water pop (distilled water not tap)

    Stain with Dark Walnut(150 sq ft/ quart)
    Wipe on wipe off with rag

    Polyurethane 1st coat (using lambs wool applicator)
    Dry 3-4 hours
    Polyurethane 2cnd coat
    Dry 3-4 hours
    Polyurethane 3rd coat
    125 sq ft/quart tin clear satin

    12-18 hours for walking.
    72 hours for furniture


    1. all sounds good to me, I would forget the mopping with the penetrating detergent. I would try to use the same finish for the top coats, not specifically satin on the last coat. So 1 primer and 2 coats of satin poly. Make sure your poly and stain are compatible.

  41. I have a 170 sq ft loft with new Douglas Fir flooring. I also recently purchased a Festool Rotex sander. Since hauling a rental sander up the spiral staircase is out of the question, I’ll be using the Rotex. For the first pass, should I go diagonally? Rotary mode or orbital mode?

    1. I would use the rough rotary (geared) mode all the way through, with this machine you dont need to worry about going diagonally, just try to sand the floor evenly.

  42. Hi Ben,
    Thanks for your article. I am one of those people who is going to try to hand-sand the floor of my 13′ x 14′ kitchen because I want to remove a beat-up polyurethane coating while keeping as much character as possible on my 140-year-old floors. The floor is a softwood (botanically speaking) with prominent grain variations and some knots; thanks to its age, it is pretty hard and has a tight grain. I don’t want to use a floor sander because some of the boards are ever so slightly cupped, and I don’t want to take off too much wood at the centers. Am I fooling myself by thinking I can evenly remove the finish and just a little bit of wood using a belt sander? Have you heard anything good or bad about the Porter Cable Restorer? I am thinking of replacing my current belt sander, which is about as old as the floors and does not have a dust port. Thanks!

    1. on a floor like yours, it is actually recommended to sand it like this, purely because getting the floor flat is far from the goal. The belt sander will be good for removing a lot of the more even areas but its not ideal for a floor like this, something like the festool would be really good. Any kind of palm/orbital sander that makes it easier to get into the dips

  43. I have not tried it yet, but Bosch makes a 6″ sander that has a geared rotary setting for heavy material removal. This sander is $225 on Amazon. It may be a lower cost alternative to the the Festool.

    BYW, I used to be a pro floor sander. Now I am a general contractor.

    1. yes, but it might be a bit lumpy and unsightly afterwards. I recommend using a finishing sander to smooth it over before coating.

  44. I want to sand the floors in a rental house. The wood floors have been painted with 2-3 coats of porch paint. Would you still recommend the Festool Rotex or the belt sander?

  45. Hello Ben,

    I totally loved this article. I am actually surprised that you didn’t include so many leading brands (JET &WEN) in this post. Again, it’s almost a year old content.

  46. Thank you a million, Been, for posting this info. I was about to sell my palm sander because I never use it… That said, we tore up 3 layers of flooring in our kitchen to find depression-era hardwood floors my wife wants to keep. The wood is very thin as it was back in that day, maybe 3/8″ only, but the tongue and groove are still below the surface. There’s some cupping, but happy wife, happy life, so here I go… Do you have specific suggestions for sanding something so thin? Thanks in advance!

  47. Hi,
    Thanks for a great website and recommendations of sanders. Everyone works at different pace but this is a time question for you! I’m a first time sander but otherwise fairly handy. The project is to sand and stain 420 Sq feet of hardwood oak floor with 15+ corners running continuous from the entry hall to kitchen and dining room. Floor is 12 years old and has plenty of smaller scratches and some dents in the kitchen area. I (think) will be using the Festool with your recommendation for 3 sandings at 40, 60 and 100 grit. Use the Delta sander for the corners.
    How long do you think it will take me to sand?
    Thank you!

    1. probably a week. if its only 12 years old it should be in fairly good condition. Maybe rent a rotary sander (multi disk) just to make your life easier

  48. The problem with renting a floor sander, or even hiring a “pro,” is lead dust. I just returned a rented samder to the store because I tested it with a lead swipe (available at hardware stores) and found it to be contaminated with lead. All ot takes is one schmo using the tool to sand a floor with lead paint to contaminate the tool. Contrary to what some say, lead dust is not easy to remove, especially from rough areas like a wood floor. HEPA vacs don’t work. Testing will show this.

    If you’re concerned about lead poisoning, as you should be, you will never rent a tool that people will use to sand lead paint.

    1. Lead is a cumulative toxin, it is true. But you need continuous sustained exposure for it to be a problem. They know lead is excreted through sweat now. If the remaining lead on a sander, left by the previous owner, while wearing a dust mask, is an issue then I should be double dead right now.

  49. I am a n elderly lady who knows how to do hard work, but how much time will it take to. Repair ( dog pee ) 9×12 floor and then sand the floor by hand? Is this something I can do in a week or so?

  50. Interesting that our 1926 house has maple flooring in all the rooms, except the living and dining room. We ripped up carpet years ago with the thought of refinishing the floors. Of course, 4 kids later, we never had the money to do it. The finish has been “worn” off. Not much left, just a natural patina. I would like to lightly sand, and use a hardening oil and buff. I just like the feel of natural wood over poly. It just seems poly scratches too easily with pets and ends up looking bad and makes repairs almost impossible. Do you know the best brand of oil to use on the floors? How do we transition from the oak to maple? There is a crosswise divider between the oak & the maple from the living/dining areas to the foyer. Any advise is greatly appreciated.

    1. Im not sure about the lacing in. As for the oil, I’d recommend Pallmann Magic Oil. It’s very hard wearing yet a very pure natural finish.

  51. I found that I could not lift a floor sander up my stairs -100 lb- had no one to help, and bc it was only one room, no refinisher would take the job.

    I ended up w a heavy edging tool rental and it sucked so badly I did this search n saw your blog. I’ll try the belt sander for the 60 g and up.

    Thank you.

  52. Hi Ben, thanks so much for replying to everyone’s posts! I’ve got a question about sunlight discoloration on an ash hardwood floor. We just bought a house and it’s got 20 year old pre-finished ash hardwood in it (about 1400 sq ft of it!). Everywhere that there was an area rug is the original beautiful ash colour and everywhere else is a terrible yellow. I’m going to sand and refinish and am wondering what kind of finish you would recommend for preventing the yellowing to happen again? Or is yellowing inevitable? Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately, it is inevitable. Use waterbased lacquer with a waterbased primer to try and limit it as much as possible. The waterbased finishes dont discolor, its just he wood surface itself that discolors (infact it discolors about 0.5mm deep!)

  53. Hi ,

    I’ve a really silly question for you, please excuse my ignorance as i’ve no clue about DIY, Flooring etc.
    Just bought a 1950s property covered in carpet, we had planned to put in laminate floors as we are on a budget but upon removing the carpet we found some beautiful hardwood underneath!
    Im looking to stain and seal (is this the correct terminology im not sure) these floors. They appear to be unfinished – ie: it doesnt look like there is any varnish etc on them – Do they still need to be sanded down with a belt sander or could i get away with hand sanding (like with sand paper) around the edges where there was wood installed to hold down the carpet?
    Excellent site by the way, some great information!

    1. its tough to say without seeing the floor. It definitely does need some sanding just to ensure you have a clean, virgin surface. if its in that good of a condition then maybe you could get away with a palm sander or a big orbital/multi head sander

  54. Thank you for a great site!
    I will be sandning down a 3-4mm oak floor to get rid off varnish and color. The floor is otherwish in god condition. I am buying a belt sander. I figure I should get a fairly wide (4 inch) and powerful (940W, belt speed 380meters/minut) sander (Maktec MT941). Does it have to have a variable belt speed?

    Simon Lundberg

  55. Hi Ben, I want to use a palm sander to do my oak floors. There isn’t much vanish on them but there are areas with paint on it (house flippers we bought it from painted the house with out protecting the floor and then put carpet down). Should I still start with 40 grit?

    1. absolutely, I wouldn’t dream of starting any higher than 40 with a palm sander, unless you love arm-numbing back breaking work!

  56. I’m sanding my oak hardwood floors by hand with no sanding mechine how would you suggest going about doing this? And what grit suggestion process would you use? Thanks I rade your article and learned something things not to do.!!!

  57. Thanks for all your tips Ben! I purchased you e-book. It is super thorough! I will be purchasing Festool 150 Rotex as you have recommended for hand sanding. I have multiple rooms to do, but I won’t be able to use vacation time to work, so I will have to work on the floors on weekends. I’m not rushing to do them either, so a renting machines would equal over $1k. I figure if I spend $1k I might as well buy the Rotex and dust collector. They look like they will last a lifetime for future projects.

    My question to you is what would be the proper grit progression? On here you say at minimum 40 to start. After that what is the progression? What grit would I switch from course sanding(aggressive) to fine sanding mode on the Rotex?

    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge!

    Ps I messaged you on your Facebook page. It doesn’t look active anymore.

    1. Hello Zein, I do respond to my facebook page but unfortunately its not very good at notifying me that I have had a message.

      With the rotex I would do 40, 60, 80. Actually… If it was literally me, i would do 40 to 80, but i know what I am looking for in terms of the finish. If I wanted to stain the floor I would do 40 60 100

      Rotex’s are virtually indestructable. I have been using mine daily for 5 years without fault and that just baffles me!

    2. I am looking to find the perfect hand sander to sand my newly installed, unfinished pine flooring. I just need to do a quick surface sanding to smooth out any wood filler and prepare the woods surface for staining and finishing. Which sander would you recommend for this since I will not be stripping stain or varnish from the surface? Also, which grit sandpaper would you recommend? Thank you in advance!

  58. I’m about to start sanding our study floor. The boards run across the short width of the room (only 1.8m) and I’m worried a floor sander is going to be too big to do such a small distance. The whole room is only 1.8m x 3m, should I use an edge sander for the whole thing instead?

  59. Hi

    I’ve bought some reclaimed wooden floor tiles and am not sure where I should sand and paint them before I lay them or lay first and hire a floor sander. Sorry I’m a complete novice. Thanks lynette

  60. Hi. I’m sanding & finishing a new spruce floor by hand in a 120 sq ft guest house (the whole thing is made of spruce). What grit progression would you suggest on this soft wood? Which sander?

    1. same as always, 36 or 40 then 50 or 60, then 80 and/or 100. If you are doing it with a festool Rotex, I would just do 40 and 80.

  61. Hi and thank you for the helpful tips! I have sanded my red oak floors and stained already but much to my dismay, have an issue. The edger caused a real headache and left some marks. To fix, we got down on our hands and knees with the mouse. After staining, there is a definite line where our stain didn’t take as well (everywhere we used the mouse!) I have sanded these down again with 80 then 100 (no stain aside from the large pores that it soaked more deeply into) but they still won’t take stain well. Is it possible the mouse is burnishing the wood, and closing the pores?

    I’m about to rip my hair out (or the floor!)

    1. When I was a sanding pro, we would sand and edge to 120 for a stain grade floor. Then we would hand sand the butt ends of the floor to blend the edged area into the main field. After that, rotary buff with a 120 screen. Even then, it takes experience and skill to apply darker stains so it looks good, especially on a large area. This is a tough DYI, so don’t beat yourself up.

      Finally, when the client would ask about a defect, we would say, “That’s the natural beauty of the wood, Ma’am.”

      1. Sounds like you did a good job Jon! Almost perfect protocol for dark stains. As you probably know, water popping the floor and allowing it to dry helps to blend the various scratch patterns. Thanks again for your input Jon

  62. I’m currently in the process of doing this to several floors at our “new” home. These puppies haven’t been refinished since they were originally put in in 1924! I used a drum sander and 20 and 40 grit to get the majority of the old finish off. I then go over with a hand sander to get all the grooves and old finish that the drum sander missed. I also found that a heat gun and scraper help with the removal of the old crap around the edges that my drum sander misses. It is EXHAUSTING labor, but it is definitely worth it!! Wish we could post pics!! Great article!! I’ll be starting this process next week!!

  63. My 6 finger parquet oak floors are from the 70’s. It’s in semi good condition but some of the corners are a little up, with lots of dark scratches in high traffic places. I have 300 sq ft to sand and stain. What can I use to sand off the glossy finish, without popping up the fingers??

    1. If they are going to come up, they are going to come up. Sanding the floor by hand will probably reduce the chance, but not by much!

  64. You left out using soap, water, and a smooth brick.

    I’m serious, an actual construction type brick.

    It’s based on the old maritime practice of holystoning the deck.

    Smooth brick starts about 80 grit, loaded up quickly to 120, more as you use it.

    Use the water sparingly ( I use a mix oil soap like Murphy’s, light, cut with a quarter cup white vinegar).

    Do a section at time, like 2×6′, rinse away with a wet, then damp mop then dry quickly.

    Bleach the water stains thoroughly after drying. A quick overall coat on the unstained helps even things out.

    Stain, seal.

    It sounds stupid but it works.

    Also helps work the core.

  65. This is the right blog for anybody who wants to seek out about this sanding hardwood floors. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Ben! I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post – and the whole site! I bought a belt sander and got to it. You are with a doubt right – hiring a proper sander like I did last time was def the way forward in terms of making it happen fast with a good finish, but for me this way I could spread it over the month.

      The belt sander had some real grunt, and I used a small palm sander for the edges – I can not imagine trying to do the whole thing with the palm sander only! That would have really sucked!!!

      I really enjoyed your post on get a proffesional or DIY it yourself. That is GREAT advice. Getting a pro like yourself in would get a great finish, DIY you save money and have the satisfaction of doing it yourself though you sacrifice the finished quality of course… the inbetween is just the worst of both worlds!!! Great post.

      I never thought I would have a **favourite** sanding blogger – but now I do! Thanks for the advice, and I wish you all the best in your entreprenoureal ventures! I have just pinged you a thanks tweet 🙂

      1. What an awesome message, thank you very much! Glad I could help. I really think this post has been by best in terms of quality of content, im not much of a writer or content producer, so its good for me!

    2. I bought the Festool sander based on this article and it’s fantastic. I added a bump out to our master bedroom and continued the oak flooring into the 7’x14′ bump out area. I was hoping i could use a decent hand sander and do the job without all the hassle of rentals. Of course the rental cost for this one floor job is less than the price tag for the Festool but i needed a decent sander anyway and I already have many other sanding projects lined up. I can’t say how this approach would work for a warped floor but for something relatively flat and not so large it’s a great solution.

      Thanks for the post!!!!

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