Just when it seemed that I'd be covered in sawdust for eternity... our hardwood floors were:
... and now there was just one more thing left on the list--
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We swept the floor, swept the floor again, and then went over the floor, board by board, with our shop vacuum.
A tip: Have a pair of outside shoes and a pair of inside shoes during these steps- that way, you don't track in any more dirt than you have to! We each got a pair of these rubber clogs for Christmas a couple years back, and we love them. They were perfect inside shoes for this project.
After vacuuming, it was time to tack cloth. Tack cloth, if you haven't used it before, is basically a sort-of-sticky cheesecloth that collects dust without leaving residue on the floor. This stuff is similar to what we used.
While I was wiping down the floor, I also "found" a few splinters...which leads me to my next suggestion-
A tip: Use a new pair of work gloves while using tack cloth to avoid getting splinters.
After the floor was relatively dust-free and I had stopped bleeding all over it (ahem), it was time to varnish!!
We used Varathane brand varnish- a clear polyurethane in the high traffic formula. We decided on going with an oil-based varnish so that it would blend together better, and also because we liked how the oil-based varnish really brought out the color in the wood grain of the floors.
The first two coats were in a glossy finish, and the final coat would be a mix between the gloss and semi-gloss finish (because I didn't want a super shiny floor).
Trevor used a lamb's wool applicator and lamb's wool refills to apply the varnish. You can get a long handle so that you can stand while applying the varnish to the floor, but my hubs is a detailed fellow... so hands and knees it was.
(Lamb's wool tends to provide a much smoother finish than roller applicators do. Roller applicators also have a habit of allowing bubbles to form under the varnish, and I didn't want none of that. Lamb's wool it was!)
As you can see, I was very helpful during this process. (I took the pictures and moved the tray of varnish. That was about it.)
We did most of the varnishing pretty late at night. If you're like us, and you're doing a lot of work in less-than-stellar lighting, I'd really recommend getting a good headlamp- it makes such a difference!
The floors were lookin' good! See how the stain brings out the wood grain? Lovely.
After we got the entire first coat on, we went back to the cabin where we were living temporarily and went to bed.
After about 24 hours, we headed back to the house and checked on the floors to see how dry the varnish was. It was still just a little tacky, so we waited until the next afternoon to put on our second coat.
Before we could put on the next coat of varnish, Trevor used the palm sander to sand the floors very lightly. Sanding between coats of varnish removes any unevenness in the layer of varnish itself, and it also helps to remove any little specks of dirt or dust that may have been on the floor.
After sanding, we swept and I wiped down the floor with tack cloth again.
Coat #2 of varnish (also the gloss formula) was much less noticeably different when applying it- so once again, we were glad to have the headlamp to provide good lighting and make sure we got everything varnished.
After layer #2 was down, we let the varnish dry for about 36 hours, again, and then did a quick sanding, swept and wiped the floor down with tack cloth, and mixed up a 1-1 solution of gloss and semi-gloss varnish for coat #3.
We used some semi-gloss for the third coat because I didn't want the floor to be too terribly shiny- I felt like it might look kind of industrial. I was actually leaning toward using a satin finish varnish for the last coat, but decided against it because after a few years of wear, satin finish tends to look duller than what I was going for... and we weren't going to be refinishing this floor again any time soon.
After the third coat was down, we let everything dry for 24 hours and then came back to see if we thought we needed a fourth coat. The floor was well-finished, there weren't any odd edges or spots that looked thinner than others, so we decided to leave it at 3 coats.
And also, I just wanted to be done.
3 days later, we could move things onto the floor and finally start unpacking! Finally! We spent our first night in our new house, only a little more than two months from when we started working on the floors.
All in all?
Refinishing the hardwood floors ourselves took a lot longer than we anticipated. It was a lot of work- a lot of leaning over, and a lot of dedication to detail.
I woke up this morning, and my feet touched my (smooth and shiny) hardwood floor, and I thought, "Yep, I'm home."
I'm proud of these floors, of all the things I learned in the process of getting 'em to this point, and I think it was definitely worth it.
On to the next project!
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