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  • Writer's pictureDanny Sandhouse

Should I hire a floor sanding machine? Or Hire a Floor Sander?

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Spoiler alert, the answer is hire a pro, but below is quite an insightful read on the trials and tribulations of hiring a floor sanding machine and trying to achieve a decent result.

To answer this question, I thought it was only fair that I hired a popular UK hire chains floor sanding machines to put my self in the shoes of a DIY'er. As a floor sanding pro and somebody who is paid to refinish wood floors on a daily basis and in charge of Sandhouse floor sanding York, I am called out to a number of DIY floor sanding gone bad jobs in York and surrounding areas. In fact I’d say that ALL floor sanders get a fair bit of custom from the failed attempts their clients had painstakingly achieved.

Firstly, I always say fair play for having a go. I once turned up to quote for a DIY floor sanding job in York for a lovely couple that weren't satisfied with the overall finish and bit the bullet to give me a call. The Husband wasn't there, the wife who answered the door said it had 'broken' him and he was emotionally and physically damaged! This was probably a slight over exaggeration and was said in a joking manor, but she found it hilarious that her proud husband had met his match and the 'how hard can it be' line came back to haunt him.

On this particular occasion they had paid for the floor sanding hire machines, the sand paper/abrasives and the floor varnish and brushes/rollers etc. They then had to pay a floor sanding professional, me in this case to come and rectify it.

More often than not clients don't even reach the end. Having usually hired the floor sanding equipment for the weekend to get the job done, by the Saturday evening I get pictures of half sanded floorboards sent to me asking if I can quote to sand it professionally. Quite often there is the tell tale sign of a poor quality floor sanding hire machine in the background, like in the picture displayed at the top of this article which was sent to me as part of a 'floor sanding SOS'

The picture below was a similar story, you can see how far the client got before realising this was a task for a professional.

I can always empathise with client’s stories of pain and shear frustration of the previous hours that led them to calling me.

The particular photo's displayed in this article are something that all professional wood floor sanders will be sent in one shape or another on a regular basis.

To sand a floor like that of the first picture, with the HSS hire equipment, would be ridiculously difficult and time consuming. The floor sanding hire machine lacks the power and weight to sand such a rough floor. In theory it sounds easy, you walk up and down the floor a few times, like mowing the lawn, and then whizz round the edges then slap a few coats of floor varnish down. In reality and in the case of the clients, the sand paper they were given wasn't aggressive or course enough, and the machine wasn't heavy or powerful enough to tackle the cupped, shabby boards. Not to mention the layers of paint that decorate the edges. Sand paper is great at sanding wood, but sometimes a more specialist abrasive is required to removed paint, as it tends to heat up and gum up the paper, meaning you go through sanding discs like hot cakes. Oh, and the hire company sell you these of course. The sand paper price is conveniently missed out when showcasing their prices to hire, and they give you 'more than enough'. They kindly told me that any spare paper can be returned and whatever I did not use would be deducted off the final bill. Truth is, the quality of the sand paper and abrasives is so shockingly bad, you will probably be using it all and be back for more!

Which leads me to my experience of hiring the same HSS hire kit. I was keen to compare the machines to my professional top range set up, and also assess the abrasives they sold and dust measurement.

Firstly, I was sanding my own floor, which were floorboards in a 1920's semi. I think it’s important to mention that the floorboards had been sanded previously. If you are thinking of going at rough floor boards with a HSS hire machine you can absolutely think again. It’s going to be immensely difficult to get the floor flat, which is an important first step that ties in to the whole floor sanding system. Not only that but if its got a painted border or bitumen around the edges of the floor, then you are in double trouble. If the floorboards have been sanded previously then you may be in with a better chance, certainly when it comes to floorboards and if you especially if weren't planning on doing anything to the colour or tone of the floor like staining.

If you have a hardwood floor like a solid oak or parquet herringbone then you should leave it to a professional. Hardwood floors are expensive to buy and fit, and if sanded badly the whole floor could be ruined beyond return. If you leave the spinning drum on the floor for a little bit too long it then sands huge dips in the floor, and potentially destroys the floor if you aren't careful.

So, back to my experience with a floor sanding hire machine.... I prepared my floor by punching along the nails ensuring they were sunk below the floor level. This is because the moment the sandpaper touches a nail protruding from the floor, its game over for that particular abrasive. It will tear into literally hundreds of tiny pieces, the spinning drum of the floor sander making sure it gets thrown all over the place until you are quick enough to turn the machine off and then remove the sheet.

What frustrated me the most was that even though the nails were sunken, the paper repeatedly tore and 'exploded' within seconds of putting the machine on to the wood surface. I got down to my final sheet and if that tore, it was back to HSS to buy even more. What made me chuckle was that I was assured I'd have more than enough. Luckily the last sheet of 40 grit sandpaper stood firm and it was just about enough to sand the previous varnish off the top, ready to then repeat the process with medium and finer course sheets of sand paper.

Even putting the sand paper sheet on the sanding drum is a faff. A screwdriver is needed to secure the paper in place, and the paper was not backed like the durable 'belts' that pros use so if the paper tore like the 75% of the time it did, then you are back to square 1. It gets frustrating quickly. I remember thinking 'this is the 5th sheet of sandpaper I've attached and haven't even started sanding the floor yet!'

The paper dust bags were particularly interesting. I only received one dust bag for the larger machine, and within minutes I had accidentally made a small tear in it. This meant as soon as the big filled with air when the machine was turned on, a plume of dust shot out from the tear. This was a continuous dust plume and filled the room with so much wood dust! It was like a sandstorm had rampaged through my living room. My wife was mortified!

I got the main body of the floor sanded (just) with the big machine and moved on to the edges, using the 'edger' which is a fairy heavy but small tool used to sand the edge of the floor where the big machine can't get to. Because these machines are used for the DIY market they have to be rather idiot proof, which actually made it harder to use.

If your back and legs are hurting at this point from sanding the main body of the floor, you are about to be in for a very painful shock. Your body is going to be hating you after the 3rd time you sand the parameter of your room - going up through the grits from course, to medium and ending on fine, its a slog and rushing it will only cause further complications. The useless paper dust bag on the back was a faff (of course) and because it's idiot proof you can't leave the machine switched on - you have to keep your thumb pressed on the switch. This is pretty tricky and after 10 mins your thumb will seize up with cramp. After about an hour you will lose the feeling in your thumb, probably for the best.

Clients can be exceptionally unlucky and sometimes catch the radiator pipes or a cable with the aggressively spinning disc and that means... you guessed it! A call to the plumber to fix your rather urgent leak, which will be spraying all over the floor.

So when all was said and done, there were still the corners to do (HSS don't give you a tool for the corners) because the orbital edging sander only gets so far. They are not going to be pleasant or easy, but its one last job to do then the floor is sanded, right? Wrong, its time to use that god awful poor quality varnish you got off the shelves. Ronseal is usually the elixir of choice to the all un-knowing DIY'er. More often than not its 2 coats instead of 3, and more often that not there is no 'cut back' in between coats. There is a reason Pro's don't use Ronseal, that’s all I will say on that matter. See below:

If you've managed to sand the floor and varnish (like this bad DIY job shown above), then congratulations. You will know buy now how hard it is, but the cognitive bias and pride will tell you that a good job and it looks great. Truth is, even my end result was not satisfactory enough for me to justify charging money (It was my own floor so no victim here). As the light hit the floor there was some strange pattern, almost invisible but visible enough to annoy the hell out of you. This is called 'chatter' and comes from where metal strip that pins both ends of the paper together on the sanding drum. This spins rather fast and as it hits the floor leaves an unpleasant ripple effect in the finish. Pros have an additional sanding process called 'finishing sanding' to ensure the floor is finely sanded to perfection.

Sometimes for the sake of £150 - £250 its best to get somebody who knows what they are doing and who will use the best machines and products for the job. Floor sanding is one of them things that people assume is straightforward, but it absolutely is not. Just because you can hire the kit, doesn't mean it’s going to be easy or straightforward. I could hire a combine harvester if I wanted, but does that mean I could plough a field? Actually, how hard can it be?

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