Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Slog, It Continues

Sometimes it pays to be ignorant.

Back in the summer when I made up the shellac sample for my floors, I used a piece of floorboard that my previous owners two back had pressed into service as a shim piece when they moved the front bedroom door.  It sanded down very quickly, and I thought the boards in the 2nd floor hall would be the same.

Um, well, no.

As of last night, I've been at the floor sanding game for portions of three days, and I can't claim to be even 15% done.  Something to do with the fact that the shim board was obviously unused, whereas people have been walking on this floor and grinding dirt into it for nearly a hundred years?

But let's take it in order.

Last Saturday the 6th when I was feeling fed up about that recalcitrant stairway tread, I got something done (as I thought) by patching the nail holes and other irregularities in the hall floor with tinted Zar wood filler.  The tint job wasn't the same each time, and I can only hope that once the shellac is down it'll all even out.

Thursday I got to the sanding.  I hung plastic over the doors in a symbolic attempt to keep the dust out of the bedroom, bathroom, and 3rd floor, and off I went with my belt sander with the 80-grit paper!  The idea being to take off the high places of the cupped floorboards.

Well, I didn't put any gouges in the surface.  And the high places at the edges did go down a bit.  But the dirty dark middles stayed as dirty and dark as ever.  And the Zar filler seemed proof against any attempt at abrasion.

More depressing, just that little bit of work put a lot of crud in the sanding belt.  And those things are expensive.  Enough of that.  Take it back downstairs and put it away.

All right, get out the orbital half-sheet sander.  And the mouse.  Both with 40-grit.   Sand, sand, sand, sand, sand.  Couple of hours later (when I had other things I had to go do), the three or four boards I was working on looked a little better, but like nothing that could be called done.

At the same time, I noticed that some of the bigger holes I'd filled the previous Saturday had sunk in, so I topped them off before I went to bed. 

Friday, I was at it again.  I extended my incursions maybe three or four more boards' worth.  For another hour and a half.  The photos reveal pathetically little progress.

Whereas my work light revealed that a couple of the boards right outside my bedroom door are in terrible shape and needed more filling.  I filled them, and if that stuff goes dark under the shellac, I'm in a lot of trouble.

Yesterday I actually looked online to see if it was possible to rent a small floor sander.  But the sites talking about technique all blithely admitted that it's very likely that an amateur like me is going to inflict a few circular gouges before getting the hang of the thing, and my hallway's too small to practice on. 

Late in the evening (after an afternoon spent out in the fine weather cleaning up the garden), I was up and back at it.  Decided maybe I should give the belt sander another chance.  This time I was working into the hall closet.  Belt sander took down a few more ridges.  Nice.  Interior of boards remained gunky.  Not so nice. Usual dance of the three sanders.  Maybe I should bear down on the orbital sander a bit more?  Marginally more effective, but not much.  But I suppose the cleaned up area is expanding.  If I don't look at it too closely.

But something different has got to be done.  I believe in taking the time needed to do a project well, but this is ridiculous.  So around midnight I cleaned up, went downstairs, and got online again.  This time I looked up "Good belt sander technique."  And found what looks like a very good article on the American Woodworker website called "Tame Your Belt Sander."  And the most useful thing I learned from it was that not only is it okay to run the machine at a 45 degree angle across the boards you're trying to level, it's absolutely advised.  Oh, yes, and that you should always lift the sander vertically off the work piece at the end of the run and never turn it off or on while it's on the surface.  And that you can clean up gunky belts with an abrasive stick or with a wire brush.  Which I have. 

(Oh.  Guess I should fish those used ones out of the trash . . .  )

But as to what I was saying about ignorance.  I was roaming around other sites to see what else they could teach me, and I came across this forum, wherein a hapless would-be DIYer asks,

"I have no idea how to refinish wood floors, but ours need it. I suppose you rent a sander and buy materials at Home Depot or someplace similar.  Anyone ever done it? Any advice?  Thanks!"

And damned if all but one or two of the many replies didn't say, "Hire it out!"  "It will take forever!"  "It'll cripple your knees!"  "It'll ruin your back!"  "Hire it out!"  Probably the most pungent (if not putrid) of them wryly suggested, "Have s*x with the moldering corpse of a goat. Why? It will seem like a day at the beach compared to sanding your [own] floors."

Funny, the typical houseblogger seems to be of sterner stuff.  Unless everybody else is hiring out their floor sanding and just not saying?

Well, I doubt I could get anybody to come do my little hall.  And I doubt even more if I'd trust anybody else to do it.  So I need to invest in a few more belts for the Hitachi, and some more 40-grit hook-and-loop paper for the B&D mouse, and just keep at it.  And definitely some more wood filler.  I found more holes and cracks that needed filling last night and the tub is empty.


Kristen said...

What? When we were very new to the house-fixing game, we rented a drum sander and did some floors ourselves. It was not an orignal-to-the-house floor, so the pressure was a bit less, and we did NOT do a professional-level job, but it was not sex-with-a-goat miserable, either (though I've never actually...nevermind.) Don't fear the drum sander, is what I'm saying.

Here's the post:

Can you tell me more about the filler you're using? We have some very rough looking old floors that might need a vat or two of that...

Kate H. said...

Kristen, I like your post! A drum sander would never do on my little hallway, though. It'd end up getting away from me and bouncing down the stairs.

The wood filler is Zar Wood Patch. It's a latex, and I use it primarily because I can tint it with the same alcohol-based aniline dyes I use for the shellac. And it takes stain. It sets up rock-hard and isn't the easiest material to sand, but then, it's durable. You can get it at Do It Best hardware stores; Lowe's doesn't carry it, for some reason.

Lucy said...

I am going to rent a sander from Home Depot called U-sand. It's 3 or 4 random orbital sanders all together. You can get the large one with 4 pads on the bottom or a edge sander with just 3 on the bottom.

Probably a edge sander would work in your hallway.

I have already tried it in the house I am renovating and it was very difficult because of the varnish clogging up the sandpaper. I've only gotten a 4 ft section done.

Also you can clean your sandpaper at least a little bit by sanding it over a cement block. That might prolong the life of the sandpaper a little.

Kate H. said...

Lucy, that's interesting. I don't have the finish clog problem, since I've already removed it chemically and all I'm coping with now is dirt stains. That sander from HD might be worth looking up.