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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:
None


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

3 comments

  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!

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  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?

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  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!!!

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