Choosing a hardwood floor finish: Looking for help

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Forum topic by Dan Lyke posted 12-21-2007 09:37 PM 55663 views 1 time favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

12-21-2007 09:37 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question polyurethane finishing refurbishing hardwood sanding

We’re in escrow on a house here in Northern California, a cute little 1947 bungalow and you people who live in real estate markets with sane prices can snicker right now, just to get it out of your system.

The original floors are hardwood, and they seem to be in decent shape, with half of them covered by carpet. So in the week between when we get the house and when we move in, we were hoping to re-sand them and re-finish them. Sanding seems to be a matter of renting a stand-up orbital (even though it’s slower, I’ve read too many reports of deep gouging with a drum sander in inexperienced hands) and just sweating out the time. The finished area of the house is 768 square feet minus the kitchen and bathroom, so probably 500-600. And wherever possible, as we spruce this thing up, we’re trying to do the “pay more up-front so that we don’t have to worry about it for a long time” thing.

Refinishing, on the other hand, doesn’t seem so cut and dried. It seems that we’ve got four options:

  • Oil based polyurethane – slightly yellow cast, spontaneous combustion danger in dealing with wet tools or partially dried scrapings or sawdust, requires a day or so in between coats, extra care in dealing with fumes (although we’ll already have the windows open and activated carbon respirators).
  • Concoctions based on Tung Oil and wax – highly spoken of, everybody says its gorgeous, but even though it looks better than the other options it’ll probably require more maintenance.
  • Water based polyurethane – allegedly clear, modern formulations are harder than oil based, a few hours in between coats, likely less dangerous fumes, which will be nice given that we’ll want to keep the place somewhat warm in order to make it cure better (we’ll still be out of the house in between coats), requires an extra light sanding pass after the first coat because it’ll raise the grain a little bit.
  • Some sort of catalyzed cross between polyester resin or epoxy and water based polyurethane – information is hard to come by.

I’m leaning towards the water based polyurethane, although that last option is also fairly appealing, but…

How the heck do I choose between brands? I see Minwax and Varathane and who knows what else, and they’re all about the same price (between $40-60/gallon, we’ll probably need 4 gallons for 3 coats, but that price is nothing compared to the labor of doing it in the first place, let alone doing it in a few years once we’re all moved in), and the only differences I can see are ad copy which don’t tell why any particular brand is different.

And I see lots of mentions of the catalyzed finishes, but no actual brand names or sources.

Anyone got experience with this? Brands to get? Brands to avoid? Reasons to choose one over the other?

Do I just go down to the Sherwin-Williams store and ask them?

If it helps anyone recommend a local vendor, we’re moving to Petaluma, California. And if anyone knows a wood floor refinisher who’ll work on that kind of limited schedule, we’re also willing to entertain bids for parts of this process…

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

17 replies so far

View Thuan's profile


203 posts in 3846 days

#1 posted 12-21-2007 09:59 PM

Home Depot sell Waterborne Poly by Parks Pro. You don’t hear much about it because they do well enough with the pro’s, this means you get a quality product without the advertising price built in. It actually has a higher Solid count suspended in the solution than other brands. The Vendor recommends the Waterborne becuase it dries fasters, so you can put 6 coats on a day. whereas the oil takes days and days. The Waterbourne is also harder when dried. He recommened 5-6 coats for water, 3 coats for Oil.

-- Thuan

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#2 posted 12-22-2007 12:04 AM

Argh. This is part of the problem: So that’s a brand currently owned by Zinsser, which is under the same parent company as DAP and Rust-Oleum. All of which also have their own branded water based polyurethanes.

It is interesting that Parks Pro seems to be a very high solids to solvent ratio, and to read that I should go for 6 coats, as I’ve been reading 3 elsewhere.

(Don’t mind doing extra coats, I just want to get it right from the get-go.)

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Thuan's profile


203 posts in 3846 days

#3 posted 12-22-2007 01:24 AM

I was trained by the Parks Vendors many years ago before they were purchused by Zinsser, They were pushing me to sell their products I supposed. But three coats is good for cabinets, but if you are putting this on the floor, you’d want extra protection on it. It’s easier to do it initialy then having scuff the old floor with 220 grit to apply a fresh couple coats to it some years down the road. (read the instructions on the back, things can change.)

Which made me remember the trainer telling me (this is seven years ago) that Parks was developing a new flooring finish with aluminum Oxide in it for excellent abrasion resistance. So I looked up their web site to see if it ever came out on the market and wow! Nano Shield

Pergo and Bruce wood floor complanies put the same stuff as sand paper abrasive between their coats of finish to make it more abrasive resistant. That’s why they have that 25 years wear warranty on it (rub a dime on a Pergo brand laminate floor and the ridges on the dime will wear off). I guess Parks delveoped a way to get aluminum oxide in their Poly to apply consistantly. Anyway, having worked for retail forever, large company buys smaller companies, but the formulas and products are mades at different plants and under different systems. So It’s not all the same stuff with different lables on it. Brand recognition, consistancy and trust is very imortant to these larger Mother companies.

-- Thuan

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4128 days

#4 posted 12-22-2007 01:44 AM

I have done some floors in the past with my business and the first thing I recommend to anyone now is to hire it out. For the people that don’t want to listen to me I tell them this, “OK, so if you are going to do it yourself keep this in mind – it is a lot of hard work, but don’t get divorced over it.” They always think it is a joke until they get half way through the project. At this point, anyone reading this is thinking it’s funny, I can assure you I am serious.

The businesses that specialize in it get it done so much faster and the finish is typically a catalyzed formula. They come in with a crew and knock out the sanding. Is it rocket science? No. It is just really hard work for a longer period of time than you think.

You have to use a wax stripper on the floor first otherwise you will merely grind wax residue into the wood. I have seen more than one floor release its’ homeowner finish job because of this. Here is something priceless: the look on somebody’s face when you tell them why the finish is releasing and that it needs to be done again. Yeah – priceless.

I have applied the oil based MinWax finish, the Varathane, and the Parks Pro. I like the Varathane the best. They all have stood the test of time but it was an application issue. You did correctly identify the differences between the finishes. It depends on the look you want. I like the light color that the waterbase finish provides, but the oil base has a rich warmth to it. The oil base took 24 hrs between coats and They all did nice coverage in 3 coats.

You really have to have a good application plan and never stop moving. It goes on best with a squeegee on a pole. Sand with a drywall pole sander in between coats and a damp rag to grab up the dust. Remember this: it is not a fine furniture finish. You cannot get it that good and it is unreasonable to think that you can. Use a shop vac to suck everything out of the corners and cracks that you can.

When you are done a quarter round typically has to be laid against the base to cover the final bit that the sander did not get as good. The other option is to remove the base trim entirely prior to finishing. I really recommend this if possible because you get new unscarred trim in the end. As a remodeler I am usually tearing the trim out for the job anyway.

Here is a big secret to a wood floor finish. Everybody lets the finish wear completely down to the wood in front of the entry door and concentrated traffic areas. Do not let it wear out this far! When the finish is showing wear clean it with TSP and go over the floor with a pole sander again, then apply a coat or two of finish as needed. How often do you have to do this? Most people seem to get 5-7 years before they hit this point, but you do not have to sand it all the way down to bare wood again. Here is something very important: You cannot do this if you use wax on the floor. Usually a damp mop is all that is needed to clean the floor.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4128 days

#5 posted 12-22-2007 01:48 AM

So I forgot to add this.

In the end I found that I made more money, it got done faster, and it was easier on my body to sub it out.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4128 days

#6 posted 12-22-2007 01:51 AM

Thuan is right about the products changing. My experience with the products is from 8 years ago. Nevertheless hire it out.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Catspaw's profile


236 posts in 3844 days

#7 posted 12-22-2007 02:26 AM

Hire it out. I [know/have worked with/is a neighbor of my boss] a flooring guy of the year. He does catalyzed varnish. If you have any bugs in the house you’ll find them all laying on the floor on their backs the next day with there little legs all curled up nice and neat.

Cat/var is what big companies use because it’s fast and hard. You can’t really service it after the fact, but, big volume cabinet makers and such don’t care. Flooring mfg.s do better.

Poly is for home owners. ....and is good, too.

But, I look at things like this ….it’s a one shot deal. A room you repaint. Floors…well….you really want them to be done once and for all.

I think a pro job will satisfy you alot more than looking back than reminiscing about how you refinished your floor.

-- arborial reconfiguration specialist

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#8 posted 12-23-2007 01:19 AM

Thanks, all, I’m now chasing various leads to let someone else do this. Had someone say they knew a company that’d re-do it for around $2/square foot, which… well… at that price I definitely can’t justify doing it myself.

There’s a time and a place, I’ll be doing my own cabinets, but y’all have convinced me that finding someone else to do the floors is a really good idea.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View phil1950's profile


5 posts in 3833 days

#9 posted 12-28-2007 12:43 AM

The ORIGINAL Company to make water borne PU is still the best IMHO.

Basic Coatings. Their product Street Shoe is probably Still the Most Urathane content on the market.

Why the Urathane portion of Poly Urathane????

That is where the wearability is found.

The Poly portion is there to make the “U” easier to apply, as well as lowering the cost.

I was factory trained to apply Basic Coatings Street Shoe just after it came out.

At the time I was working for Jack Stuart Hardwood Floors out of Cloverdale, CA.

IIRC, that was … Twenty Years ago., maybe 19…. Old minds get cloudy about dates….

Please be seated when you hear the price per gallon….

But just like Fine Wines, & Fine Cigars… the best costs MONEY!

Hope that helps.


-- Keep your Chisels Sharp.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#10 posted 12-28-2007 02:03 AM

Thanks, Phil. I’m now soliciting bids, but if the timing doesn’t work out I may be back to doing it myself.

Price-wise, from what I can find that’s about what I expected to pay for the good stuff. Yeah, it’s twice as pricey as the cheap stuff, but when the house (in this area) costs mumbledy-mumble hundreds per square foot, spending an extra half-a-buck per square foot on a floor finish seems like it’s moot.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View calin's profile


1 post in 3410 days

#11 posted 02-24-2009 12:06 PM

Some information about Hardwood Flooring. Their most popular woods are heart pine, oak, maple and redwood.

View Todd Thomas 's profile

Todd Thomas

4969 posts in 3477 days

#12 posted 02-24-2009 02:00 PM

O.K…..I’m in the process of doing about 1600 sq ft of flooring….and I have done a half dozen floors in the past year..not saying this is gospel

1. like Todd said…if you can get the baseboards up you’ll be better off and it makes it easier…

2. did this on the last floor I did…first round of sanding I used a drum sander….why? it’s 2 to 3 times faster at getting the old poly off the floor than a orbital sander… just have to pay attention to what you are doing…don’t stop to answer your phone with the sander running…...

3. After we get the poly off we now do a 3 step orbital sander…60-80 than 100 grit…..this gets the floor nice and smooth and is very easy to do with the orbital…..

4. on the last floor I did and the 1600 sq ft I’m about to do, in my own home we used a product called Waterlox…..the floors looked great…... and the last client told me that when they get a small scratch, from their dogs, they just wipe it down with a rag of Waterlox and they are good to go…they also said the it beads up water, liquids, just fine…..they have these floors in their bathrooms as well.

It was lot easier to put down than a poly finish….
Floors really looked great….

if there is a down side the product cost more than a poly…...but I think the finished results are worth it….

just my thoughts …..I’m not the master floor guy…..I LIKE the look….you may not…I don’t like working with that much poly…......Todd and the others my have different ideas on this…..I have 2 more floors to do with this finish after I get mine done….

Good luck hope some of this helps

-- Todd, Oak Ridge, TN, Hello my name is Todd and I'm a Toolholic, I bought my last tool 10 days, no 4 days, oh heck I bought a tool on the way here! †

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 3811 days

#13 posted 02-24-2009 05:27 PM

I used the Parks water based poly 18 years ago. Very easy, very fast. 5 coats in 2 days, not becauce of dry time, just started too late the first day. I would start at the front of the house, do the front room, 90% of the dinning room, then 2 bedrooms then back out & finish off the dinning room & could walk out the back door, around the house & walk on the front room ( sox only) with no problem. In 18 years I have had to lightly sand the liv/din room floor once. 2 kids, one full time grand kid, 1 Golden Retriever & 2 cats put many small scratches in it so a quick scuff sanding with my 5” ROS & 180 grit & a new coat of the same finish & the looks like new.


View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 4019 days

#14 posted 02-24-2009 07:40 PM

You know, I’d be curious what the pro’s you’ve got bidding prefer to use. Some might use cheap stuff that won’t last to keep their bids low and generate future work.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View ListWhisperer's profile


11 posts in 3141 days

#15 posted 12-04-2009 03:49 PM

This is for me, one of many very interesting topics here. I just posted a reply to another thread about flooring, as I am about to embark on such a project myself. Since I will be making the flooring before installing it, I will have the luxury of putting finish on it before it gets installed on the floor. So I won’t have to deal with orbital or drum sanders, etc.

I loved Thuan’s post about how you can rub a dime’s edge on a Pergo floor, and the dime’s edge ridges will wear off. That’s the kind of wear resistance I want my floor’s finish to have! Since I can rig up whatever special environment is needed to apply whatever finish will be best, I’m looking to put a finish like that onto the boards before they get installed on the floor. I’d like to know more about the UV-cured finishes that I’ve been hearing about.

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