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Restoring Floorboards without Hiring a Professional Floor Sander

...and I'm back! I took a random week off blogging as my creativity were seriously lacking and I just couldn't get my head into gear and type the words I was trying to say. I mostly blame the chaotic environment which surrounded my PC (an overloaded lounge full of storage boxes and DIY equipment!). Being just so close to finishing our spare bedroom and my newly appointed home office, I decided to ditch the blog and use every available minute to get the room to a stage of completion where I could move in and get organised.

And I'm pleased to say, that I'm now typing all this from said room and I cannot wait to share it with you once accessorising and dressing has finished :) But first I need to finish where I left off right? In my last post we had just opened up the chimney, which was the last major dusty work this room would see (thank god!) meaning we could begin moving onto some of the 'finishing renovations' such as the floor!

One of my most favourite loves for period homes are the floorboards. Wide or slim, scratched or not - I think they're beautiful in every inch. I always dreamt that I would own a period home with the most amazing floorboards and I was super excited at the prospect of restoring the floorboards in our first home. Of course when we viewed the house they had been covered in the most atrocious blue carpet so the condition of the floorboards was a total mystery and I was somewhat disappointed to find that not only were they in a poor condition, but they were also horrendously covered in a thick coat of paint with large patches of wood worm. In this situation, a professional sander was the only way to go.

But this house was a completely different story. The floorboards (so far) had been covered in lino, covered by a quality underlay and then covered by carpet. That's three levels of protection and oh-my were they in amazing condition. Of course they were dirty and a little rough and splintery - but no huge chunks, no wood worm, no horrific paint, just solid beautifully aged floorboards. After having sanded the floorboards in our previous house, I knew a professional sander would remove every inch of that aged look - all those dents, scratches and gorgeous old-age colour would be completely stripped off leaving a fresh pine new-look surface. I knew I definitely didn't want this. I wanted to keep the character and I wanted them to look old and aged. 

How to Restore Floorboards without Hiring a professional sander

Of course they weren't quite perfect yet though - they were really darn splintery in places, there was absolutely no way you could walk over these in bare foot (you can slightly see the spikey wood splinters sticking out of the floorboards in the picture below) and they were mainly looking a little dull. Sure the character was there, but it was just a little flat with no definition - if you know what I mean?! They had, after all been smothered in different textures for the last 60 odd years; they just needed a little oomph!

splintery floorboards

How to sand floorboards and keep their original character?

I introduce you to - the hand sander! Yes, it will take you forever and your knees will resemble a squished raison by the end, but it is so so worth it. Maybe invest in some knee pads first though? But, think of all the money you'll be saving too! Hand sanders are much more gentle on the floorboards and take far less off. I actually used a multi-tool with a sanding attachment since we no longer own a hand sander. It took me around 2-3 hours of sanding in this small room working plank by plank. I started with a more coarse grit sandpaper first and then went back over with a fine grit. I wasn't aiming for a fresh pine appearance, but just a smooth enough finish where I could brush my hand across and not be covered in a bazillion spikes of wood. You can see the colour difference between the sanded boards and non-sanded boards below. I love the added depth of colour sanding brings without giving it a full on fresh-pine appearance.

sanding floorboards by  hand

And if you're wondering what kind of appearance a professional sander can achieve, here's a snap of the floorboards in our old house....

(floorboards sanded with professional sander)

floorboards sanded with a professional floor sander

You can see how the two photos above are totally different looks. I do love the effect a professional sander achieves, they're much cleaner looking, much smoother, and the light and bright fresh pine really works well in smaller and darker rooms. It's also the best option for really badly damaged floors, particularly ones covered in thick paint impossible to remove by hand. But they do lose some of that original character, like some of the surface scratches and some of the woodgrain texture.

In this room, we had one board in particular in this room which was in pretty bad condition. It actually resembles a good example as to what most of the boards in our last house looked like, and the type of floorboards where a professional sander is a better option. Even after hand-sanding, this was never going to be perfectly smooth without taking way too much off and having a massive dip in the floor.

large dip in floorboard

After sanding, it's important to clear up all the dust. Vacuuming doesn't always pick up that finer surface dust, so I like to give the floorboards a quick wipe down too. I used a diluted mixture of water and white vinegar. 

using white vinegar to clean floorboards

cleaning floorboards

To finish the look, I use a floor wax. I think the finish of wax is much more natural looking than coloured varnish (can't comment on the clear stuff though!) and it brings out the original depth of colour in the floor rather than masking it in a paint-like way. The wax I use is by Wickes and I cannot recommend it enough! I applied two coats, painting on quite thickly but making sure it's worked into the floor.

using wax on floorboards

floorboard wax

floorboards covered in a flooring wax

Two coats later (the tin actually recommends three) the floorboards are slightly darkened in colour but it still maintains all its original character and different shades within it. I love love love it! The wax has a slight sheen to it, ensures the floor is waterproof, protects against scratches and also 'seals' down any imperfections and rough edges that the sander couldn't get out (in particular that huge dent photoed above). Under foot these boards now feel much smoother and are definitely suitable for bare foot walking! Plus, how gorgeous do they look?! I love all the character, dents, scratches that remain!

character floorboards

restoring floorboards and keeping character

floorboards with character

sealing rough edges in floorboards

And if you're wondering what coloured varnish looks like, let me introduce you to "medium oak" in ronseal diamond varnish (used in our last  house) which I was utterly disappointed about.

ronseal medium oak floorboard varnish

Notice how all the grain and knots have been completely covered by the varnish? How it lacks definition and variation of colour? And how 'medium' is so not medium, but actually definitely 100% DARK?! Needless to say, I much prefer our new floorboards any day!

So that's how I've restored our old floorboards without hiring a professional sander. The savings of using a hand sander is also massive as well - we spent £150 on hiring a floor sander in our last house, where-as the cost this time around was just a mere £20. Which look to you prefer? And what's your method for restoring old floorboards? 

Total Costs

(rounded to the nearest pound)

New Tools Purchased:

Materials Used:
Sanding pads for multi-tool (60 assorted sheets) £20
Wax free from previous job
White Vinegar free from food cupboard ;)

Total Cost: £20


  1. Wow! All that sanding with a multi tool! I am distinctly impressed. We are going to go for a similar look in our victorian semi, and I had considered doing it with a small orbital sander. Having read your experience, I might give it a go!

  2. Hi would you be able to tell me which Wickes colour it is as I can't quite make it out on the tin. On Wickes website I can't find any wax but they do have varnish - is that the same thing?

    1. They no longer make the wax anymore!! I was literally gutted. It was in the colour 'Natural' so I would probably try Ronseal's Floor Wax in the colour Natural instead -->
      Or you could also try Osmo Oil, which is a combination of oil and wax - We used their 'transparent' raw one in the dining room, although I have to say - I kinda preferred the Wickes one! Gutted! X

  3. This is really helpful - we are currently restoring our Victorian floorboards in our first home and glad we researched before slapping on Ronseal varnish!!!

  4. Stunning! All that sanding with a multi tool! I am greatly impressed. I am going for a similar look in our victorian semi, and I had considered making it with small orbital sander.Thanks for sharing

  5. Hello, I was reading your post about refinishing old floors. My name is Ada and me and my husband bought a 175 year old house (wood house with original wood walls and wood floors) and are trying to find out what to do about our chipping floors. Some sections of the floor are still varnished and look shiny but in many places the cover is gone or peeling every time I clean the house. I verified with the previous owner and it is not wax but varnish that is on the floor. Do you recommend any particular varnish for old floors like ours? I wouldnt go with wax just so that I can keep the original appearance since all our floors are varnished.
    Also, would you recommend partially sanding (with a hand-sander) sections of the floor that are damaged (so not the entire floor) and partially varnishing the floors – I would like to minimize the sanding since I want to make sure the floors can survive for many more generations but never heard about possibility of partially sanding (carefully by hand) and varnishing just parts of it? Also are you aware of varnishes I should stay away from for old houses with original floors? Most of it is pine floors I think
    Also since I am in Canada if you have any recommendations for products to use here I would appreciate it (for both sanding then cleaning the floors and then varnishing). I see you use vinegar, I can try that.
    Are there products that you would avoid for pine floors?
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Ada!

      Sorry I haven't replied sooner - it seems I missed your comment!! You can definitely sand parts of the floor and reapply varnish. The only problem I've experienced with varnish is that it can sometimes peel off, which leads to the need to sand more and then it's a kind of constant battle. Applying new varnish can also not match up so well - a bit like putting nail varnish over chipped varnish if you know what I mean? I would try a test patch and see how you get on. I've only used Ronseal varnish in the past which I do recommend for being hardwearing! Hope that kind of helps :) Kezz X

  6. Thanks so much for this post! Our old house has beautiful wide pine boards and I’ve been trying to get the nerve to just wax them ourselves instead of sanding them off to a soul-less finish. We sanded our kitchen before and I hate the yellow look and fake smoothness of that floor, I don’t want to do it to the other floors we unearthed under the carpet.

    1. Yeah I know exactly what you mean! I aim to just sand the wood so that it's not splintery - rather than a perfect across-the-board clean super smooth finish. I'm definitely a fan of rustic though, I know it's certainly not for everyone. But I think it really suits an old house! Hope this helped you :)

  7. Restoring Hardwood Floors - Tips from Professional Floor Sanders. Probably the most incessant inquiries we get got some information about How To Sand Wooden Floors and Floorboards. So here's a well ordered manual for our Wood Floor Sanding Process. I find a very good website for the Best palm sander reviews, If you want you can visit this site

  8. Hi, as someone that sands floors and see most people sand them back to almost new, I think the floor looks great, it has so much character and the only time I generally seeing anything like this is when I'm restoring old furniture... I would love to see more people try this out on their floor boards.

  9. How do you clean the waxed floors, and approximately how long does this last before it needs to be rewaxed?


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