Sanding Hardwood Floor?

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Went to Home Depot yesterday and see they have two sanders for rent. One is a belt sander and the other is a large orbital. Both are intended for floors. I just need to take the varnish off an old floor. Is the big orbital the best tool for this? The room is 15x20ft. Any idea how long this will take me or suggestions on the grit to begin with? Thanks.
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Davej wrote:

Asked at the HD? Some of them have people that know stuff.
Also Google is your friend. Have you tried it?
Lou
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Grit and time will depend on condition of the floor and the species of the wood that you are dealing with, not to mention the number of bump-outs, obstructions, heat grills and other things you have to work around.

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On 9/18/2008 8:09 AM Davej spake thus:

I see the first two replies didn't answer your rather direct question. Not surprised.
Generally one uses the belt sander for the bulk of the floor; the orbital is for the edges and corners.
Use the coarsest grit you can get to start, then work your way up to a finer grit.
It won't take all that long. However, you really need to be careful with those machines, especially the belt sander. If you've never done this before, you might want to practice first. If you let the sander sit a little too long in one spot, you've got a nice gouge you then have to try to smooth out. It's worse on softwood floors (fir, pine) than hardwood (oak or maple). The trick is to keep the machine moving, and to use an overlapping pattern.
The thing that takes far longer than sanding is the subsequent dust removal necessary to do a decent job of varnishing.
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Wood oxidises, to get it to look best you need to sand to new wood, the belt sander is best, the orbital is used inbetween coats of Poly, or as a cleaner-buffer on different types of floors.
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Davej wrote:

The belt sander is faster but unless you are experienced using one it is very easy to dig big gouges in the floor. Get the orbital, it will work fine and it is also easy to do corners with it. Start with the coarsest grit available (24?) for the varnish removal and any necessary leveling; once that is done, work up through at least 2 grits to remove marks left by the previous coarser grit; finish up with the screen...it *is* a screen, not sandpaper. Total time? Been a long while since I did it but - a guess only - three hours.
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Is he talking about a 24" orbital, it wont do corners, will it?
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ransley wrote:

I figured he was talking about the big square/rectangular jobbies. If so, I did corners when I used one.
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ransley,
He'll need to use a hand held sander for the edges and other places where the large sander won't fit. Still the big orbital will get the job done fairly quickly. I think they buy back the unused sandpaper.
Dave M.
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Davej wrote:

The belt sander is for large floor areas. The orbital is for stair cases. You also need a vibrator or block sander for corners, they are the most fun.
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You wouldn't use the orbital _I_ rented on a stair case. It was about 12x16 inches and weighed 125lbs.
s

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Steve Barker DLT wrote:

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We used the oribital on a hundred yo oak floor that is about 12x30. We used (and finished) with 20 grit. We spent about 24 actual sanding hours. Looking back, we should have used the drum, but we were not familiar with it's use and didn't want to ruin the first floor we tried. We have since used the drum, and it takes some getting used to to avoid serious damage, but if you have a place to practice for about 30 minutes, you'll be ok.
s

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Steve Barker DLT wrote:

Another "trick" in learning/beginning is to start w/ a lesser grit paper--the work won't go so fast, but you can get the hang of how to handle the machine w/ much less danger of digging a serious gouge or making depressions.
As Steve says, once you've got a little cockpit time, then you can go to the real stuff w/ more confidence.
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To answer your questions if I can.
At the local HD they had two types of sanders the Clark Square buff machine and a large orbital with 4-6 heads.
All of the posted responses to date have been discussing the merits of a true drum sander and a smaller single wheel orbital sander. The response I have read are correct for those machines but do not address the questions you asked.
I have never used the multihead orbital. I have used the square buff model. It does a decent job for old finish removal if the floors are in otherwise decent shape. The beauty of the machine is that you can not ruin your floors with gouges like a newbie would with a drum sander. I did an acceptable sanding job on about 750 square feet in one hard 8 hour day.
When I say acceptable I mean is was okay for rental property. I am not sure I would have been satisfied if I had to look at it every day. A few more passes with the finer grade of paper might have made it better.
Unless your market is radically different from mine I think with some careful shopping that you may find that you can get a real pro to do sand only for no more than twice the true cost (machine, paper, misc) of the rental. This was the choice I made the next time I needed a different house sanded. The real expense of the refinish is the many trips needed to properly finish the floor over several days.
Good luck with your project.
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Rick,
The local HD was renting both orbitals and drums about 5 yrs. ago. Perhaps drum sanders are not available where you live but I'd be surprised if many HDs don't still rent them out.
Dave M.
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I rented the orbital at HD a year ago, and was satisfied with the results. Expect to spend a lot of sandpaper, much more than the cost of the rental. But the outcome was nice.
One nice thing about the orbital is that it has a dust bag. While the dust bag itself is useless, if you remove it and hook up a shop vac to the port, your sanding is virtually dustless. I don;t think we spent more than 10 minutes cleaning up afterwards.
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If you mean the square one that has the 4 individual round pads, that's the one I used about 9 mos ago. Did like a 10x12 floor and it came out awesome. VERY easy to use. Once started you can actually hold and guide with one hand (not recommended though of course).
It gets VERY close to edges and well into corners and doesn't gouge like the drum type I've heard can. A small electric sander will get the edges. You could even get away with a finishing sander.
The other thing I tried was using a pole with a lamb's wool (?) applicator/cover they had there. Application is fast resulting in no brush marks or lines. Poly is always "flowing & settling" with previous edge.
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Thanks to all for the responses. I guess it is a drum sander and not a belt. These items look like what was in the store...
http://www.homedepotrents.com/diyTools/floor_sander.asp http://www.homedepotrents.com/diyTools/drum_sander.asp
If I tried the drum sander what grit would be safe for my initial "education period" with less chance of doing damage? I guess I'd be ok if I just kept the unit in constant motion? Will the drum sander use less paper? If I went with the safer orbital what would be appropriate starting grit for removing one layer of old varnish? Thanks again.
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If you're starting out a drum/belt sander is a much riskier proposition for you. Unless you have 'the touch' you'll leave ripples in your floor. Even some "professionals" leave ripples in the floor with a drum sander. They're particularly hard to use in smaller rooms as the start and stop marks are almost all in the same place.
The U-Sand orbital sanders that HomeDepoo rents are excellent machines. Like everything else you rent, don't take the first one you see. I end up Frankensteining a machine together by using the skirt from this one, the bag from that one and always choose the one with the best condition pads (remove the leftover sandpaper so you can see the pad itself).
You would be hard put to mess up your floor with a multi-head orbital sander. If your floor is in reasonably flat condition you can start with 36 or 40 grit paper. The 24 grit is for floors that need more work with gouges and such. Skipping grit sizes is usually counterproductive - you _might_ save a little money, but you'll definitely spend more time than you have to.
You can expect to have the rental machine for the full day. It's very unlikely that you'd be able to rent the machine, bring it home, sand a 15' x 20' floor and return it within four hours.
After you've run through a grit size, and you feel it's ready for the next step down in grit size, vacuum off the floor (always vacuum between grits!) and wipe a section with a rag dampened with denatured alcohol. That will show you if the swirl marks are all of a uniform size. If the swirls are not uniform it means you are not spending enough time on a particular grit size. It is _much_ harder (read almost impossible) to take out coarser swirl marks if you are using too fine of a grit paper.
R
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