The key to this whole project is accepting right up front that your old worn soft wood floors are probably never going to be perfect. Once you swallow that you’re life is going to be so much easier. We’ve been remodeling our old house this summer and the big driving project was getting the floors taken care of. They are the original floors from 1935 and they are extremely soft wood, they splinter, chip and generally make walking without shoes a painful choice. They had to be refinished.

We went in to the project with a wide eyed innocence, in our minds we were going to “whip these floors into shape” HA! So, so wrong and now we can laugh about it. Like I said our floors are soft wood and in bad shape, bad enough that the tongue and groove was being exposed. They’d been refinished once before, we think in the 50s, and wow did they sand the DAYLIGHTS out of them. My husband noticed it first, dips where the floor meets the wall. This indicated that the drum sander had been used heavily, and settled in on some areas, no wonder the tongue and groove was showing.

That was our first big hurdle to jump, we were careening off into uncharted territory, no one writes about how they break the rules refinishing floors, they only write guides on how to do it right. So once we figured out we were on our own we took a good look at our floors. They were in bad shape, splinters up to a foot long commonly peel off, the unknown finish was spotty and the boards were deeply scratched in areas. Did we want to paint or attempt something unknown. After we made the choice to paint we both felt bad, the sunlight on our old floors in amazing, we didn’t want to lose that look. We chose to go forward with refinishing even if the way was unclear.

We had several broken boards to deal with first, so my husband pried them up, cut a few “new to us” (read–used and salvaged) to fit and jimmied them back. He read a few online guides to replacing tongue and groove boards and made it work. I would recommend you either read up on it or hire someone. Since our project is remodeling 100% out of pocket we are DIY all the way. We also selectively sanded small areas that needed it, 30 year old mastic though, we stripped off with Jasco Stripper. If there were bigger cracks or damaged places we used wood putty to fill them and let them dry well. Once the boards were replaced and the repair work done, we washed the floors well and let them dry completely.

It was now time to apply finish. But what kind? For us, we thought we had Shellac on the floors and we were going to use that, except after reading up on it we’re scared off. Shellac can chip easily, once it gets wet it can turn whitish and look terrible. Hmm with 3 boys and mastiff we needed heavy duty, so we went with a Minwax stain in Ipswich Pine and a top coat of Varathane Heavy Traffic Polyurethane. I’d like to suggest you look around, read up, ask your hardware store employees, and decide on what works best for you. Maybe Shellac is perfect for desert living?

It took 2 applications of stain to match the color of the unchipped floors, rubbing off the extra with old rags. When staining it’s important to wipe off all the stain after 10-15 minutes or else it will set up and get sticky. Don’t worry if that happens, you can just add a we tad more stain and wipe all the sticky dried stain right off. Minwax Ipswich Pine is almost a perfect match for our old floors. Look for small cans and try a few to see which works best. There are a LOT of other brands of stains out there, so find what works for you or use what we did.

Once the stain dried and was not sticky it was on to sealing the floors, I applied 4 coats about 4 hours apart. Once they were done they had to sit for 3 days untouched, hard but not impossible. We did our floors in rooms, so one room we moved out of then did the floor waited 3 days and moved back. You could do the entire house at once but it would mean not walking on any newly sealed floors for 3 days, did I mention we have 3 boys and a mastiff?

Once we could walk on the first floor we refinished we were sold, the color was close enough for us, add some furniture and no one will know or care that the floor has variations in color. The seal coat is what sells it though, it filled in some of the places where the original stain was missing, it made the whole floor overall smooth and lovely. Is it perfectly smooth like a brand new hardwood floor or laminate floor? Nope! Is it smooth enough to walk on barefooted or in socks and not regret it? You bet!


We love our imperfect wood floors, they have so much character and age now. Everyone who sees them is impressed with what we were able to do without a heavy duty sanding. And the price difference? Amazing. We had set aside 2,000 dollars to do the floors on the cheap, hoping it would be enough. Instead we spent roughly 200 dollars on supplies and kept our money for bigger better things, it still took a significant amount of time. Anyone who wants to do this project can do it, it simply takes the time and the will to do it, no special skills needed.