How to Sand Hardwood Floors with an Orbital Sander

How to Sand Hardwood Floors with an Orbital Sander

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If you are building or renovating your own home, something you might be doing is putting in new hardwood floors or refinishing old hardwood floors. This means that you will need to sand down the wood so you can apply a finish or renew a finish. So, you might be planning to use an orbital sander, which is a fine choice.

Today we are going to teach you how to sand hardwood floors.

Is Orbital Sander the Best Tool for Sanding Hardwood Floors?

One thing that you might be wondering is if an orbital sander is the best tool for sanding hardwood floors, and the answer, generally speaking, is yes. Strictly speaking, there are two types of sanders that you can use for this job, an orbital sander and a drum sander.

Now, drum sanders are the much larger and rougher of the two. Drum sanders are big and powerful machines that you would use to sand down a large and flat surface, such as a large floor.

A comparison often made is that a drum sander is like a chainsaw, whereas an orbital sander is like a hedge trimmer, or in other words, an orbital sander is a much smaller handheld sander.

Therefore, a drum sander is something you would use for rough sanding of a very large surface, such as if you had to remove a bunch of old stain from existing floors, or you need to sand very rough lumber. On the other hand, orbital sanders are much smaller and finer.

They are generally best for the last sanding stage, particular for smaller and tighter areas where a drum sander could not fit. Moreover, orbital sanders, because they are much gentler, they are also easier to use. With a drum sander, you risk sanding off way too much material at once, but this is not something that will happen with an orbital sander.

There is also the fact that orbital sanders are much more affordable to purchase in the first place. Drum sanders are much larger machines designed for constant professional use, and therefore they are also much more expensive.

Clarke Floor Sander Floor Sander Orbital-Dust Control #07081B

How to Sand a Hardwood Floor with an Orbital Sander

Let’s go through a step by step process on how to use an orbital sander to sand your wooden floors.

Step 1: Prepare the Area

The first thing that you need to do is to prepare the room in which you are going to be sanding the floor. Remember, sanding wood produces quite a mess, as dust gets everywhere. This means that you need to empty the room of all furniture and fixtures.

You always want to remove any curtains and fabrics from the room. If removing certain things is not an option, such as fixed curtains, covering them with plastic bags is the next best choice.

Something important to note here is that using an orbital sander on floors should only be done by you if the floor is at least 0.75 inches thick. If the floor is any thinner than that, you may want to call a professional. You don’t want to end up sanding too much material off of the floor.

Step 2: Choosing the Right Sandpaper

The next step here is to choose the right kind of sandpaper for your orbital sander and that meets your needs. When it comes to refinishing an old floor, you will first need to remove the old stain, paint, or varnish.

You will need fairly coarse sandpaper for this. For removing paint, you will need a minimum grit of 20, and for removing shellac and varnish, at least 36 grit is required. As you move along, you will then be able to use finer sandpaper for a finer finish. Therefore, you will need to purchase various types of sandpaper to complete this process.

Step 3: First Round of Sanding

The best advice we can give you here is that sanding your floor is like mowing your lawn. Start up your orbital sander with the coarsest grit you have, and move along the floor, sanding row by row, and making sure to overlap the rows to ensure that you don’t miss any spots. Sand your whole floor moving in organized rows, until you complete the first round.

Step 4: Second and Third Rounds of Sanding

Next, once you have removed the paint, shellac, or varnish with the coarse sandpaper, you can then move onto using finer sandpaper to achieve a smoother finish. Once the second round of sanding is complete, move onto the finest grit of sandpaper, and then sand the floor a third time. You may need to sand the floor a fourth time to achieve the best results.

Step 5: Vacuuming and Mopping

Sanding a floor produces a whole lot of dust –sawdust to be exact. You need to clean this before you can finish the floor. So, get a good vacuum, preferably a shop vacuum, and suck up any and all dust you can find. Then, you will also need to mop the floor or pick up the remaining dust with a wet cloth.

Step 6: Sealing and Finishing the Floor

The final step in this process is to seal the floor. Now, good hardwood floors don’t technically need to be sealed. However, that said, if it is a high traffic area and you want the new floor to last as long as possible, then sealing it is recommended.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Let’s quickly go over some tips and tricks to follow when sanding your floor, just so you can achieve the best results.

  • Don’t start with fine grit sandpaper, as this will take way too long to remove old paint, varnish, or shellac. Always start with coarse sandpaper for removing old stains, and then move onto the finer sandpaper to finish it off.
  • Never seal your floor without first cleaning away all dust created through the sanding process.
  • Always wear a respirator or an appropriate face mask when sanding. You do not want to inhale that dust, as it can be poisonous.
  • Try to keep as many windows as possible open. Sanding and sealing are best done in well ventilated areas.


As you can see, sanding a hardwood floor is not very difficult, but it does take some time and it needs to be done right. For smaller and occasional jobs, an orbital sander is definitely the best tool to use, and if you do it right, you should be able to sand and finish a floor in a single day.

In case you don’t have a sander, you can always consider refinishing your hardwood floors without sanding. To make your floors look even better, you might also want to consider filling in the nail holes.