Methods of refurbishing floorboards

Updated February 21, 2017

Old wood floorboards can be transformed into stunning, modern and attractive flooring applications if carefully handled. Floorboards that have been worn down by years of use or covering by carpet or other applications may need a lot of work before they can be restored to their proper looks. These floors need to be cleaned, stripped, refinished and sealed to be ready for display.


The first step in refurbishing old floorboards is to remove all coverings and previous materials from the surface. In simple context, this can include just pulling carpet and tack strips off of the surface. However, if the floorboards were covered with stone or tile, you need to pry up all old flooring and also scrape away adhesive that is stuck onto the surface. All floorboards should be scraped with a razor scraper --- either a handheld tool or on a long pole --- to remove surface adhesive, wax, oil or grease, ensuring that the rest of your steps are performed on the wood itself and not the covering material.


Before you can restore your floorboards to their original good looks, you must fully clean the surface, which is often done with solvent cleaners such as white spirit or with wood-specific solvents. These solvents will break down dirt, wax, grease, remaining adhesive, old paint and oils from the surface. Mop on the cleaners or wash by hand with a tough-bristle scrub brush. You must remove all of these contaminants or you will simply be sealing this unwanted material to the floorboards. Old materials on the surface will show through the final coats of sealant and colour that you apply to restore the look of the floorboards.


One of the most important steps to accomplish before you can be proud of your refurbished floorboards is to ensure the floorboards are completely safe for use. Attach any loose floorboards to the substructure with finishing nails; hammer or use a nail gun to attach these into place. You can easily identify weak points by the characteristic squeaking noises. You should also fill in any cracks, scratches or gouges greater than 3 mm (1/8 inch) large with wood filler putty. The putty can be applied with a putty knife or trowel to fill in these dangerous areas. A thorough sanding with a floor edger, belt sander or (for very small areas) orbital sander, starting with rough grit and working through to fine-grit paper, will bring the surface completely flush and leave the grain of the floorboards open to the finishing technique.


There can't be any residual cleaner or dust on the surface, so vacuum the whole space with a wet/dry vacuum cleaner to remove sanding dust and any residual left over from your cleaning techniques. Some refurbishers decide to stain the floorboards, and some don't; this is completely up to you and the look you want to achieve. Whatever you decide to do, you must always seal or finish the floorboards' urethane finish to allow it to withstand dirt, dust, spills and moisture without staining. This material is applied with paintbrushes, rollers or rags; follow your chosen product's recommendations for the number of coats needed to complete the project.

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About the Author

Samantha Volz has been involved in journalistic and informative writing for over eight years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a minor in European history. In college she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completed a professional internship with the "Williamsport Sun-Gazette," serving as a full-time reporter. She resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania.