Refinishing 100 Year Old Wood Floors

September 18, 2022

Sanding and refinishing the old and damaged wood floor.

If ever you have hardwood floors that are a century old, you are fortunate, for those hardwood floors are usually made of old-growth wood, and old-growth wood is becoming rarer nowadays. However, refinishing such floors might be labor extensive, given that the floor surface might have already been pockmarked with holes and uneven surfaces brought about by layers of repairs over time. Moreover, years of heavy foot traffic and usage might have left the floor surface with many scratches and dings.

However, the good thing about hardwood floors is that the older they get, the more exquisite they become. Additionally, most century-old hardwoods are of good quality. They got nearly ten times growth rings per inch. Hence, they are more resistant to damage and decay and are more stable. So, if ever you happen to inhabit an old place with century-old hardwood floors, you should feel fortunate. 

Steps on How to Refinish Hundred-Year-Old Hardwood Floors

When refinishing old floors, however, you should do it the right way. If not, you might ruin the old wood. If it is your first-time refinishing century-old floors, it will help if you follow these simple steps on how to refinish old floors:

Step 1: Inspect the floor

Before you even decide to bring in your sander and other tools, you should inspect the floor. A careful inspection of the hardwood floor will save you from the hassles of refinishing floors that should no longer be refinished. Check if there are cracked or thin edges of boards. These things are an indication of whether the floorboards would allow for sanding. If the grooves’ tops exhibit unusual thinness, you might not be able to sand without breaking them.

Moreover, if you find that the boards got hidden under carpeting, it might be that the boards exhibit curling. Or it might be a case that some floorboards have already caved in or irreparably damaged. You can sand the carpet adhesive to come up with an objective assessment of the condition of the floors. Check likewise if some boards show discolorations due to sunlight or water.

Step 2: Planning the Refinishing

After visually inspecting the floors, you can now decide whether the floorboards are worth refinishing or not. If ever you choose to refinish the floors, you can make plans for the refinishing. You can employ reliable procedures to correct the defects you will find on the hardwood. 

If one board, for example, is damaged, you can chisel it out or cut it to replace it. However, if there are many damaged boards, you might rethink your plan or scrap the refinishing project altogether. Moreover, replacing many boards might alter the floor appearance even if you apply a new stain to it. 

In case some floorboards are cupped, you can use a drum sander to flatten them. Besides, if the floor got covered with adhesives, you still need to remove the glue. If the wood shows discoloration, you can bleach it. You can do the bleaching after sanding off the finish.

Step 3: Clean the Room and Prep the Perimeter

You can clean the floor using a hardwood floor cleaner. First, you must remove the pieces of furniture from the floor area and spray the floor with a floor cleaner. You can likewise make your cleaning solution using ten parts of water and one part of white vinegar. 

Gently wipe the boards of the floor using a terry-cloth mop. You can also wrap a towel around a mop head. Then, close the doors and windows to prevent dust from going out of the room. Meanwhile, you should wear your safety gear, including a respirator mask or dust mask.

You can use 180-grit sandpaper to hand sand the room’s perimeter. Hand sand any nooks that are not reachable by the buffer. Rub four to six inches with the grain out from the baseboard. Work with each board until you make the finish look dull.

Step 4: Filling and Sanding

Although old-growth woods are primarily of excellent quality because they are denser than the newly harvested hardwood, they are still not impervious to the effects of humidity. Moreover, the fluctuations in humidity can cause extensive gaps between the boards that require filling. Filling in these gaps can radically alter the appearance of the floors. 

If ever you decide on filling, it will be best to spread thinned filler (latex) over the whole stretch of the floor. You might also need to sand using a belt sander in some instances. Yet, as much as possible, it will be best to use an orbital sander. The action of the orbital flooring sander, of course, is gentler. 

Sanding off stubborn finishes might take longer using the orbital sander, but it doesn’t increase the risk of damaging the boards. If you want to hasten up the sanding using an orbital sander, you can first strip the finish using a chemical stripper before sanding.

Step 5: Vacuum and Tack

After sanding the floorboards, you can take a rest and leave the room for ten to fifteen minutes to allow the dust to settle down. After fifteen minutes, prepare the vacuum and start vacuuming the floor. Work along the flooring strips and sweep across the strips to do away with any powder between the boards. Afterward, dry-tack the floorboards using a microfiber cloth. Push this cloth along the grain.

Step 6: Apply the Finishing

As mentioned above, the old hardwood pieces are denser than the newly harvested hardwood. Moreover, there’s a big chance that the floorboards got quartersawn. Hence, it will be best to use a penetrating oil finish than that of polyurethane. Polyurethane, of course, leaves a plastic film on the surface that usually detracts from the appearance of the old wood.

On the other hand, oil finishes provide your old wood with extra protection from within because it penetrates the wood grains. It also leaves a more natural look for the wood. Besides, it is easy to apply and spread using a clean rag. Nevertheless, if you go for a polyurethane finish, you need to use a foam applicator to spread the polyurethane finish evenly.

It will not be necessary to sand the old floor to restore its finish. If, after inspecting the floor, you’ve found out that you can’t sand it without damaging it, then you should only scuff the old finish up with buffer along with a sanding screen. Spread the new finish afterward. If you don’t have a floor buffer, you can scuff the old finish using a liquid etching solution.


If you don’t want to use all your energy to refinish your century-old floors, you can hire a professional refinishing service. However, it might cost you a lot of money if you would hire, considering that the cost of refinishing floors ranges somewhere between $1.5 to $4 per square foot. If a room is 15 by 15 feet, you can expect to pay between $340 to $900. Moreover, if you want a custom refinish that involves sanding the flooring and applying stains, you can expect to pay $3.75 to $5 per square foot. 

Since old-growth wood is becoming rarer, the refinishing of century-old flooring is something worth undertaking. Moreover, the money you would spend for refinishing century-old wood is indeed worth spending. Lastly, if you can refinish them well, they can last for another hundred years.

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