Polishing Timber Floors
You can bring an old timber floor alive with careful sanding and finishing but there are a few essential things to remember before you tackle this job.

What you'll need

Whether it's a newly laid timber floor or you've just rolled back the carpet to reveal an old floor you want to bring alive, there's nothing like the effect of a new finish. All the equipment required to do this job is available from your hardware store or hire shop. This is what you'll need:
  • A drum sander (with sandpaper of various grit - the coarser the paper the lower the grit number);
  • An edge sander (with sandpaper discs of various grit);
  • A rotary sander/polisher (with sandpaper discs of 150-180 grit);
  • A mouse sander (with sandpaper of various grit);
  • A lambswool pad applicator and paint tray;
  • A 60mm pure bristle oval-cutter brush;
  • A putty knife;
  • A vacuum cleaner;
  • Mineral turps for clean up;
  • Your chosen floor finish and similar coloured putty; and
  • A hammer and nail punch
  • Safety equipment such a glasses, mask and ear muffs (also knee-pads for the edge sanding, or an old cushion will do).

Polishing Timber Floors


Remove everything in the room and give the floor a good vacuum. Nail in any loose floorboards then go over the entire area and punch every protruding nail head at least 3mm below the timber surface. Protruding nails will rip your sandpaper so pay special attention to this.

Notch holes, usually found in pine timbers, can be filled by inserting a wine cork cut down to size to fit firmly into the hole below the height of the timber and then covered with putty to fill the area (use putty of a similar colour to your final finish).

If the floor is new, do the sanding and polishing before you attach the skirtings. If the skirting is already in place, use masking tape around the base so you won't have to clean off the polish later.

Remove all staples and tacks, being careful not to dent the timber. Ensure the floor is free from such things as wax, grease, silicone, oils and glues as these will clog the sandpaper and may cause the coating to reject. Fill any nail holes or other small holes with wood putty and once this is dry sand again along the grain with 150-180 grit paper until putty excess is removed.
The sanding process produces a lot of wood dust so you should try to seal every room cavity before you start.

Polishing Timber Floors

  • Use the drum sander with 40-60 grit sandpaper at a 45 degree angle to the grain of the timber in both directions to remove unevenness and old treatment coats. This helps to level the boards and is the key to a good result.
  • Be careful: drum sanders are quite heavy and they can 'bite' into timber leaving gouges that are very difficult to get out. Always tilt the machine so the sandpaper is off the surface before you start it. Some drum sanders have a lever that enables you to do this.
  • It's a good idea to start sanding in a low visibility area like where a sofa or wall unit would sit. This allows you to get the feel of the sanding machinery in an area where any mistakes will not be so noticeable (this is good advice for beginners on any job.
  • Never start or stop the sanding machine while the sandpaper belt is in contact with the floor. Tilt the machine on its rollers to lift the belt off the floor before you turn it on or before you turn the machine around or stop.
  • Once you start the sanding machine, slowly move it forward, gradually lowering it so the sanding belt makes contact with the timber. To stop or turn the machine around gradually tilt the sander up to lift the sanding belt off the floor.
  • Change sandpaper regularly. Clogged or worn out paper may lead to burn marks.
  • Vacuum then sand along the grain (ie along the length of the boards) using 60-80 grit paper. Repeat this process with 80-120 grit paper and vacuum again.
  • Sand around the perimeter with the edge sander and 80-120 grit paper. Repeat this step using 150-180 grit paper (the higher the number, the finer the grit).
  • Vacuum the floor and remove any dust from the walls. It's a good idea now
    to wipe the floor with a damp cloth to get the fine dust and to do a final check that your sanding job has produced an acceptably even result.

Polishing Timber Floors

  • Once the floor is dry and as clean as it can be, start applying your finish around  the edges - this is called cutting in. Use your brush and only do a small section at a time because you don't want it dry before you apply the finish to this section of floor.
  •  Soak the applicator in finish, squeeze out any excess, then apply it to the floor section where you have already cut in the edges. Always work from end to end  along the boards. Apply the finish (following instructions on the can label) in the direction of the timber grain working on 4-5 boards at a time and keeping a wet edge to help minimise lap lines. Use a paint brush to apply finish to the edges, hard to reach areas such as under stairs and the corners of the room.
  • Avoid going over the same area too much with the roller or applicator as this may create air bubbles and affect the level of the finish.
  • Apply even coats of finish not too thin, not too thick. Allow longer drying time if weather is cold, very humid or wet. A general rule is to think of your washing - it takes longer to dry in cold, wet or humid conditions and so does your coating. So good ventilation, temperature and humidity are important for proper curing of a finish and can affect drying times dramatically.
  • When the first coat is dry, go over it with the rotary sander / polisher (150-180 grit). Then apply the second and third coats in a similar manner without sanding in between.



The greatest damage to polished timber floors is dirt and grit being walked on the floor which creates a sanding effect and greatly increases the wear of the surface. Try to put proper grit capturing mats at all entrances.

Wait until your floor has fully dried before you use any cleaning products on it. This usually takes about a week. The surface should be swept daily with an anti-static mop to remove dust and grit from the surface. Use a neutral floor detergent as acid and alkali detergents can damage the coating. High-speed buffing can also enhance the appearance of the floor.

With a little patience and by following all the steps outlined above, you can achieve an extraordinary transformation of a room.