by mimi


If you’ve been to our house, you may have noticed the pathetic state of our kitchen floors. We’ve been in Chateau Fromage going on 13 years. We didn’t redo the floor before we moved in so they are seriously looking their age and I must admit, we haven’t been as nice to them as we should have. We just walk all over them and they don’t complain. Imagine that!

But Larry and I were seriously depressed at the state of the floors. When we take photos of Walker in the kitchen I always cringe when I see them posted on Facebook as it makes our inattention so PUBLIC. I keep telling myself I’ll have the floors redone when we have our serious remodel – knock the wall out between the kitchen and living room, add living room lighting and get new windows – but it has always seemed so overwhelming (translates to expensive and time-consuming).

But, Larry had a work trip planned and I ALWAYS take on some home improvement project when he’s absent. I began to obsess about the floors and with each Facebook photo, I descended deeper into my personal shame. I considered laying laminate or tile flooring over the existing floor but that can warp if it gets wet (and Lord knows I’m not the most careful washing dishes when I’ve had some wine). I considered painting the floor but when we DO remodel, that would make it much more difficult to refinish. So a DIY bee flew in my bonnet and I started doing research on how to refinish wood floors. It wasn’t that expensive and I’m too ignorant to be intimidated by large power tools so it seemed like the best solution.

Late at night, I secretly read How To articles and hatched my plan.

I didn’t sleep more than four hours the night before Larry left because I was too excited about my secret mission. Larry left at 7am, I dropped Walker off at school and I made a beeline to Action Rentals. When I explained what I planned, they looked at me cockeyed but launched into step-by-step instructions for sanding and finishing the floors. They instructed me on the HUGE drum sander and edger and gave me a few helpful hints on how to avoid putting major divots into the floor. I stated what was to be my mantra – “I don’t care how it turns out. It can’t be any worse than what it looks like now.” With a smile, Ed loaded up my tiny little Scion XA with all the machines and materials, and asked me, “Do you have someone to help you get the sander up the stairs? It’s heavy.” I flippantly replied, “No problem! I’m not concerned.”

I drove home excited to begin. I unloaded the car and brought all the materials and the edger up the stairs. I dragged the drum sander out of the car and brought it through the garage. I got it up two stairs to the landing and motivated myself for the nine steep stairs. I lifted that sucker up one stair and determined I SHOULD be concerned. I’m being stubborn. I have to ask for help (note: this is a minor breakthrough for me). I texted Firefighter Ian, our neighbor who was the only person I confided in about the project. As he pulls people out of burning buildings for a living, I figured he could lift this behemoth up the stairs and he graciously complied. He’s quite handy and has done a considerable amount of work on his home so scoped out my project and offered some additional advice. He helped me move the kitchen table into the living room and then he said, “So, what are you going to do with the stove?” My plan for the floor was to leave the fridge where it was and sand around the stove since, you may recall, I considered this a temporary fix. I couldn’t help thinking about what Larry would say if he found out I disconnected the gas stove myself and then used big sanding equipment that throws off sparks when hitting nails (not that it did that for me..) I quietly admitted I was going to half-ass it and leave it alone. But Ian ignored me and started disconnecting the stove knowing I was being ridiculous. Within minutes, we had the appliance in the living room. I knew I’d be safe knowing a firefighter disconnected the gas.

The sanding was easy. It took longer to replace the belts on the drum. I only made a few gouges in the floor by leaving the high-speed drum sitting in one spot for too long and not once did the machine get away from me. I was terribly impressed with myself for unplugging the sander each time I changed the belt (a lesson I learned from Larry). The result: a beautifully sanded floor with about a foot of un-sanded area around the room. I took out the edger, put on the sandpaper disc and plugged it in. Unlike the drum sander, there were no safeguard measures. The damn thing was on and the power tool went sailing right into the kitchen cabinets. Instinctively I pulled the plug and then spent a few adrenaline-filled moments berating myself for not checking something so simple. I mean, I am a seasoned power tool user, right? (Um, no…) The rest of the process went smoothly although I got quite an upper body workout maneuvering that hand sander which was heavier and more powerful than it looked. There was surprisingly little dust thanks to the vacuums that automatically suck up sawdust as you sand. Firefighter Ian returned by 4:30 to put the sander in the car. Upon receipt of the rented tools, Ed said to me, “I wasn’t sure about you at first but you had such an air of confidence, I knew you’d be fine.” I’m wondering if he would be interested in posting that to my LinkedIn profile…

Walker thought having the raw floor was pretty cool and upon seeing the stove and table in the living room said, “Well, you don’t see that every day.” We made dinner and breakfast using the microwave and toaster then I took him to school. I rushed back home to apply a coat of sealer and then returned to Action Rentals for a new power tool – a 13’ buffer. I WAS NOT PREPARED for this thing. We’ve all seen the janitors calmly buffing floors with these tools – it looked so easy and Zen. I was sure I could manage it. The guys at Action were wiser. They strongly advised I practice on the showroom floor which was the first indication that I was in for more than I bargained for. The next clue was the series of buttons and brakes that must be worked in a specific order to make the thing function. I watched the guys use the tool and listened to them tell me to hold it up to go right and down to go left. Now, imagine a disc rotating at 60 miles an hour counterclockwise. The machine sitting atop this disc wants to go the direction of the spinning disc – QUICKLY. So when they say push up to go right, what they mean is, push up to make sure the machine doesn’t take off and end up embedded in the wall. “Start it in the middle of the room,” were their parting words of advice.

The buffer wasn’t terribly heavy and I got it up the stairs with some effort and only a few bruises.  I placed the buffer pad on the disc, plugged it in and positioned it in the middle of the room. I turned it on and held the handles the way it feels most intuitive – down. My buffer careened into the side of the wall at many miles per hour. “HOLD IT UP TO GO RIGHT!” I scream at myself as I inspected the wall (thankfully undamaged thanks to the rubber bumper thoughtfully installed around the machine). A few minor collisions later, I got the hang of it but I decided I WAS NOT going to overachieve and I would take that beast back. I had made my point. I conquered it but I was not going to master it.

I meticulously cleaned the floor of all debris with a broom, vacuum and then a rag soaked in mineral spirits. I applied the first coat of polyurethane and went to return the buffer and pick up Walker. He loved the floor and thought it was cool all our food was in a cooler in the hall. We made dinner (and breakfast) in the microwave, Panini maker, and toaster oven located at the end of the hall. Also, quite fun for a preschooler.

The clock was ticking. I wanted four coats of polyurethane with eight hours of dry time between them. I needed 48 hours to cure (and off-gas) before I could replace the oven and other items. So I found myself coating the floors around the clock including 11pm and 7am while Walker slumbered. I decided I wouldn’t be Type A about it and I skipped the hand sanding between coats, did a quick cleaning without the mineral spirits soaked rag, and despite the air bubbles, I would still use the lambswool mop contraption to apply the finish. “It can’t be any worse than it was,” continued to be my measure of success.  After the fourth coat, I could see random cat and Mimi hairs stuck in the finish as well as pockets of air bubbles but it looked great and I considered it a job well done. We headed to PopPop’s for the weekend while the floor dried and the floor off-gassed the smelly chemicals.

We got home and put the kitchen back together. Larry got home and was hugely surprised! In fact, he thought I had simply covered the floor with something rather than go through the sanding.

I learned:

  • I can use power tools.
  • I will not be a professional floor finisher.
  • I now need to replace my counter.

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