Good Floor Sander vs. Bad Floor Sander

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Recently, I refinished the hardwood floors for a friend of mine. The refinish included three bedrooms, dining room, living room, and hall.  It was a big job. It would have been easier if the hardwood floors hadn’t been previously carpeted and the previous renters’ dogs had been house broken… Every room that had been carpeted had enormous ‘pet’ stains in them.  It was bad.  Then there were the 12,324 staples I had to remove (which in some cases were rusted).  After the staples, I had to deal with the stains and warping. 

Unfortunately, a simple sand and refinish were not in the stars for these floors. I had to dig deep. Not only did I have to sand the floors level but strip all the finish off so I could stain this monstrosity a dark color. Honey oak was definitely not an option. Ideally for my back, life, and wife, carpet throughout the house would have been the best – but for my ‘buddy’ it we had to factor in the chance that future renters would have more barking urinators, so carpeting was out.

I decided to get my supplies from, well, a large chain store because it was within practical walking distance from the work site (apparently I can heed my own advice).  I knew it would be a mistake, but I tried to settle for convenience. So with that I rented the Varathane floor sander – a three disc oscillating sander.

The non-winner

To start with, it weighed as much as two camels and pygmy goat. I could count the future LeRoy-years dwindling as I wrangled it to and from my truck.  I broke both my collapsible saw horses to boot. Once I got rolling, things didn’t get much better. It seemed I was changing paper every time I made a pass, and at $5 a set of paper it adds up quickly. Apparently, the wax on and wax off motion doesn’t do much for hardwood floors. And everything that I read says you’re not to leave it still to avoid gouging. However, after the initial sanding I realized that I could have eaten lunch and watched the CSI marathon while the thing ran in one place, and the floors would have been fine.

After two days of a wonderful Memorial Weekend that I’ll never get back, I gave up hope on the Varathane Floor Sander and decided to try something different.

So, I broke down and went to the local tool rental place where not only did they have an abundance of sand paper, but they gave me more instructions than the wind-and-a-prayer that the other place did. Plus the Silver Line floor sander weighed substantially less, maybe just one camel and a normal sized goat.

Have you ever heard someone say after you opened something tough, “well I loosened it for you!”?  This was the floor sanding equivalent. I nearly had to run to keep up with the Drum style Silver Line. While it cost about twice as much as the Varathane to rent, I used less paper and completed the entire floor down to the bare wood in less time. Usain Bolt would have been impressed.

After the stain. (A little blurry - sorry, still getting over the fumes!)

Perhaps if the project was small or it was a simple rough up and refinish of the hardwood floors, the Varathane would have done the job, but there was no way that it would have worked in my case. The Silver line floor sander ate through the hardwood floor and finish like a cop at a free doughnut stand. Overall, I give the Varathane floor sander 4 rotten tomatoes and the Silver line floor sander three big thumbs up!

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About Leroy

LeRoy was born into a long line of contractors/carpenters/missing links which maybe why he fell naturally into tools and fishing with his paws, errr, bare hands. He has since punctured, stabbed or electrocuted every appendage that can be discussed in mixed company. Given his natural fur vest, he has never been cold. In his parallel life he is a mild mannered environmental scientist where he builds, destroys and builds again. Which let’s face it is much cooler than Superman’s parallel life.

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8 thoughts on “Good Floor Sander vs. Bad Floor Sander”

  1. I used the Varathane, and loved it… after I stopped used the garbage Varathane sandpaper that is sold with it. Quality of sandpaper makes ALL of the difference. I bought Klingspor sandpaper after a day of getting nowhere. Without it the job would never have gotten done. Having never done something like this before, I was too scared to use a drum sander. A few rooms of our house bare the scars of a previous owner who did and obviously didn’t know what they were doing.

    • Justin, were you able to find Klingspor discs large enough for the Varathane sander? The one I’m using requires 7-inch discs and the largest Klingspor disc is 6 inches. I’d welcome your thoughts as I’ve blown though a ton of money on these discs that were obviously not designed for removing old finish. I’m too far into is project to turn back now, unfortunately. Thanks!

  2. when you have pet stains on wood ammonia will neutralize the urine and follow up when the area is dry with oxalic acid. There is also a product specifically made for bleaching wood floors called liten up. When I refinish a floor my final cut is with a 100 grit belt ( my machine is a Hummel sander) followed by sanding the edges with a edge sander The final blending of the edge and field is done with the Varathane machine. This machine is used primarily for blending wood that already been sanded and old finished has been removed and is the final finish sand before staining or applying a finish. It was never intended for heavy removal of wood or old finish . The most important thing before using any type of machine is to READ the operating instructions or contact some one who is in the business. If you plan on just a clear finish usually 80 or 100 grit will for final sand will due. If you plan to stain then the final sand should be no less than 120 to 150 grit. If a flashlight is layed on it’s side and shone across the floor surface any surface scratches will show up as shadows. These same shadows will also show when the stain especially dark stain is applied. The floor must be sanded completely smooth and the Varathane machine is specifically designed to do this. Hope this helps every one. Old dude been doing floors fifty yrs looking forward to another fifty.

  3. The varathane machine is for final sanding, after drum sanding up to an 80 grit. It’s essentially a big palm sander for the entire floor. If the writer of this article had done an oz. of research or talked to anybody who sands floors before deciding to take on the project himself, he would’ve been able to do a amateur job with the drum sander, and then create a pro end result by use of the varathane machine.

  4. I agree with Leroy. Unless you have a perfectly smooth piece of wood to begin with, the varathane is useless. I’ve just spent 4 hours in a 14X14 room sanding, and it looks like 4 more with the varathane “might” get it done. I’m going to the rental center tomorrow to rent something else!

  5. I would like to comment on the above situation. First off, to trash the varathane machine because YOU didn’t know what you were doing is a travesty. A drum machine is necessary when trying to remove an eighth of an inch of white oak. You could have left the staples where they lay, and sanded them off wit the right machine. Then, had you rented the Varathane machine, you would have actually done a really nice job on that mess you produced, and could have finished it with clear. btw, oxalic acid will lift pee, to a point after drum sanding and before finish sanding. That varathane machine is by far the best available, bar none. Used properly for the right condition, it will give beautiful service. I just built a white oak floor with what is called raw oak. Meaning it has to be sanded in. Tongue and groove 3/4 x 2 & 1/4, and that machine was able to do that with the 36 grit, smooth it with 50 and finish at 80. I went 1 step further and found some 120 that I could make fit, and it came out awesome. I am a wooden boat restorer, so I do have a little bit of knowledge on wood and finishing it. btw, varathane is an old name for one of the greatest wood finishes ever made. unfortunately it is no longer politically correct. So I do find it at garage sales once in a while, and buy it up. If you ever wanted to do your friend another favor, finish the job you started.

    • Hi Alan, thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. While you make some valid points and share some great info, your approach with the comment comes across as a bit mean-spirited. One of our writers shared this experience, and they weren’t doing it from the standpoint of an expert floor refinisher. Not all of us are pro’s in every given trade, but a part of what we believe in here is taking on projects outside our comfort zone and hopefully learning some things in the process. On HomeFixated, we share our successes as well as our failures (and often there’s more to be learned from the failures). We welcome your future comments, I just respectfully ask that you please keep them friendly and constructive. Given your interest in this article, you might want to also check out 10 Things I Learned Finishing My Own Hardwood Flooring and a similar article but on Installing Hardwood Flooring. Thanks again for the comment and we hope to hear from you again!

    • I have used the Varathane machine and thought it was awesome as a finishing machine. Granted you can use the more coarse grit pads but if you have cupping or deep scratches and gouges you should use a drum or the more difficult to use sanding attachment for a floor polisher. Regardless of which sander you choose, staining a floor a dark color does not cover up imperfections or urine spots and does not enhance the grain of the wood. Oxalic acid (bleach) helps and so does using a staining conditioner after you sand to at least 120 grit. If you leave the pores too open you risk showing all the problems that the chemicals could not take care of. By staining the floor that dark color you might as well have puttied up the imperfections and painted the floor. Long story short, it’s not necessarily the machine but it’s a knowledgable operator that will get the best results.


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