Hard: Wood Floors

It takes a lot to make this grown man cry. When our party of five watched the (Mister) Fred Rogers documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” mine were the only dry eyes in the house.1

But when I tackled refinishing the hard wood floors at the Wendell Gee cottage restoration, one day of running the drum floor sander had me physically spent and, as a result, about to go off the cliff, emotionally.

Hardwood floors are a bitch, for reals.
Wiping the sanded floors with mineral spirits, to prep for staining and finishing.

I worked for about nine hours straight and had only nearly finished one room, which didn’t even include the closet and the 8-inch perimeter around the room which would require the edge sander.

At this point, I had no idea how difficult or easy edge sanding would be compared to drum sanding, but I did realize what a toll it had taken to get to the point where about one-sixth of the house was (nearly) done. And, as I entered the kitchen on the wee homestead that evening, I looked a sweaty mess in homeless man’s garb. Jenn had just returned from an also punishing day on the farm, and I said to her words to the effect of, “I’m not sure I can physically do this.” Except I didn’t say the words so much as blubber them and quickly go wipe my eyes.

Drum sanding is comically taxing on a body. At least on a 48-year-old one more accustomed to sitting on its ass and using a computer. The behemoth machine is so heavy — 100 pounds — that I could barely unload it from the pickup by myself. (And probably shouldn’t have.) (Also, I would later discover that the effort needed might have been due to my drum sander, specifically. More on that in a min.)

While I’m bitching through my lessons learned, let’s just go ahead and do this:


  • Mistakenly thinking “these floors aren’t too bad.”
  • Not being familiar enough with a tool (such as a drum sander) to know when the sandpaper needs changing or when you just need to bear down harder as you mow through old paint.
  • People who paint hardwood floors.
  • People who paint over painted hardwood floors.
  • People who paint over the paint over painted hardwood floors.
  • Bearing down so hard on a drum sander that you can’t close your hands at night.
  • Realizing you can’t close your hands in the morning, either, without excruciating pain, until you’ve worked the joints opened and closed for about 5 minutes.
  • Googling about hand and finger pain with fingers that counter-punch with shots of nerve pain when you try to make them type.
  • Realizing you’ve summoned the demons of osteoarthritis and not being sure if you’ll ever be OK again.
  • Knowing that it’s only Day 2 and you have to go back and do it again.
  • Being worried that the 8-day sander rental (Happy Fourth of July) might not be enough time.
  • Going back to the rental store three times in four days to get more sandpaper, because you grossly underestimated how much it would take. Twice.

I did hit a stasis on about Day 4, where I realized I wasn’t in more pain than the day before. At that point I figured I might be able to do the job, but I still wasn’t sure I’d finish in time. And missing this deadline would have a stair-step effect on everything that was to follow — the baseboard and trim installation, the touch-up painting, the finish work from the electricians and plumbers, the final inspections.

I should mention: We had tenants who were committed to moving on August 1, with nowhere to live if I didn’t have the place done.

Still, this was work that couldn’t be rushed. Imagine mowing a lawn by pushing, then pulling a mower on each pass. Only you can’t run the mower over a section you’ve already mowed or hold the mower still in one spot too long, or you’ll ruin the lawn, permanently. And your mower weighs 100 pounds and you have to lift up on the handles to really make it mow. And then you have to do that, in my case, five more times, using varying grits of sandpaper, from the pebble-like2 36-grit to the superfine 200-grit.3 Then, after all that, you have to weed-whack the edges, really slowly, on your hands and knees.

Near the end of the job, the velcro band around my sander snapped and I had to swap out the entire unit for another one. (Bonus lifting of the DrumSandatron 5000!) Turns out that band, which gives the sheets of sandpaper something to adhere to around the heavy metal thunder drum, was attached too loosely, which caused me to wear through an inordinate amount of sandpaper and might have been the reason I had to add so much pressure on the sanding.

I’ll never know,  because I’m not doing this again.

But, all grousing aside, just look at the floors.

The floors!

Of all the cool things we’ve done in the Wendell Gee, from creating a pocket-door second bath to creating a master suite with private bath, to plotting out a kitchen with great flow, it’s the floors that make people say wow when we opened the front door. Or even when they watch the videos of before and after.

For anyone interested in seeing what those floors looked like to start with, or in tracking the multi-year progress of this renovation, the easiest thing to do is to watch this 3-minute “before” video tour…

Followed by this 6-minute “after” video….

We’ve been working on the house, in fits and starts, for five years now, including many dalliances along the way with restoring those floors. Here are just some of the highlights, for the morbidly curious:

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1 In cinema, Pixar movies appear to be my Achilles heel. “Up” and “Toy Story 3” brought on the water works, perhaps unsurprisingly. But so did “Coco” and “The Last (Fucking) Dinosaur”.
3And, in hindsight, it would’ve benefited from another pass with the finer stuff.

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