How to Varnish Oak Flooring

Written by kevin mcdermott
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Polyurethane has largely replaced varnish as the most typical floor finishing. Polyurethane is tougher, harder and has a higher shine --- but some people still prefer the softer, more subtle shine of varnish. Varnishing an oak floor is a similar process to using polyurethane. The main difference is that the starting coat of varnish should be thinned, so it acts as a sealant for the wood.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Vibrating hand-sander
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Vacuum
  • Tackcloths
  • Varnish
  • Paint thinner
  • Bucket
  • Brush
  • 220-grit sandpaper

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  1. 1

    Go over the floor with your sander and 120-grit sandpaper, with the grain of the wood, to take up any surface grime and smooth it out. Vacuum up the dust. Wipe it down with tackcloths to pick up any additional dust.

  2. 2

    Mix a solution in your bucket of varnish and paint thinner. Follow the instructions of your particular varnish to determine the ratio of paint thinner to varnish (it's generally either 25 per cent or 50 per cent).

  3. 3

    Brush the thinned varnish onto the floor, starting in the corner farthest from the entrance, so you can work your way out. Brush it on in a smooth, thin layer with the direction of the boards. Cover the whole floor.

  4. 4

    Let the varnish dry for at least eight hours.

  5. 5

    Apply a second coat of varnish, undiluted, applying it in the same manner as the first, brushing it on in a thin, even coat. Let it dry for eight to 10 hours.

  6. 6

    Lightly sand the surface by hand with 220-grit sandpaper, using light, fast strokes to just dull the varnish. Vacuum and tackcloth the dust.

  7. 7

    Apply a third and fourth coat of varnish, undiluted, in the same manner as before, lightly sanding between each coat. Don't sand the final coat. Let the varnish set for 24 hours before walking on it.

Tips and warnings

  • Ventilate the room when varnishing.

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