Is it possible to sand and refinish pre-finished hardwood flooring?
The answer is generally yes, assuming that you have solid hardwood floors.
I often have customers moving into new homes with pre-finished hardwood in some sections. Some don’t like the color, others don’t like the sheen (many pre-finished woods are glossy which is a dated look and shows scratches more).
In the Westchester NY area, site finished floors are strongly preferred over pre-finished floors – many feel pre-finished hardwood looks fake, especially due to the beveled edges. Plus, dirt tends to get caught in the bevels. Sometimes, the floors are just worn and it’s time to refinish them, or the pre-finished floors just don’t match the rest of the home.
So, we naturally get the question, “Can you refinish pre-finished floors?”
The answer is generally “yes,” as long as the pre-finished (or site finished) floors are solid hardwood. If the flooring is engineered hardwood, the answer is usually “No.”
The same equipment and process is used to refinish both site finished and pre-finished wood, although sanding pre-finished wood is bit more challenging and take a bit longer (see video towards the end of this article). Pre-finished (or factory finished) vs. site finished wood has no impact on the structure, thickness or integrity of the wood. “Prefinished” simply means that it was it was finished in a factory prior to installation.
You can read more about pre-finished vs unfinished hardwood here. Please note that some people mistakenly combine terms and call this “pre-engineered” wood. There is no such thing. Rather, there is pre-finished wood and there is engineered wood. Most engineered wood is pre-finished (probably around 95% of it), and solid hardwood can either be pre-finished or unfinished. Usually when people say “pre-engineered,” they have just gotten terms mixed up.
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How do you know if you have solid hardwood or engineered hardwood?
You can read more about the differences with solid vs engineered hardwoods in this article: Solid vs engineered hardwood. As a general rule, solid hardwood can be refinished, but most engineered hardwoods can not. (This of course depends on they quality of the wood, thickness of top layer and installation method (see below).
Indications that your hardwood may be engineered:
- If it’s floating…meaning that it’s not attached to the floor. Often, if the floor moves, bounces or depresses under your feet, it’s a floating floor. You can read more about floating floors in this article – what is a floating floor? Floating floors can not be sanded and refinished as they will bounce and move when the sanding machines are put on them, so you will never get an even finish. Most floating floors are too thin to be refinished anyway, but yes, I have seen several customers “duped” by flooring stores telling them that the top layer is thick enough to be refinished…but that is only part of the equation; if it’s floating it can not be refinished.
- If your floor is “below grade” meaning that it’s lower than ground level, than chances are it’s engineered (as you are not supposed to install solid hardwood below grade because it can buckle). Of course, sometimes people make mistakes or hire non-professional wood installers or handymen that may not know any better.
- If your flooring is directly on top of concrete or tile, it is probably engineered flooring. Solid hardwood needs to be nailed into plywood and can not be nailed directly into concrete.
- If your flooring appears to be thin, chances are it’s engineered. Solid hardwood is generally 3/4″ thick where as most engineered hardwoods are 3/8″ or 1/2″ thick. The easiest way to determine the thickness is if you (or the previous owner) has extra pieces left over. Alternatively, if you have solid hardwood in part of the home and then what appears to be thinner in other areas, that may be a good indication. Sometimes, you can tell at the transition points (e.g. in closets) where you sometimes can see the profile of the wood or by lifting the heat registers in the floor (if they are on the ground).
- If your flooring appears to be rotary sawn, there’s a good chance they are engineered. Solid hardwood (as the name implies is solid made of full pieces of wood. You tend to get a variety of grain variation in them. But many engineered woods, especially cheaper ones are rotary sawn. Think about how you may peel an apple. Rather than cutting slices, you are peeling the outside. Same thing with the wood – the log is rolled as a peeler peals it. They do this to conserve waste and save money. It makes the graining look more distorted. Many of my customer refer to it as the super fake stuff. Take a look at the picture on the right to see an example of rotary sawn wood.
- If your wood is 2 1/4″ inches wide, chances are it’s solid wood. That is the standard size for solid hardwood and it is very rare to see engineered wood this narrow. Most engineered wood is 3 inches or wider.
If you are unsure if you have solid or engineered wood, and you can’t find “left overs” and get in touch with the previous homeowner (if it was done before you moved in), it’s often best to contact a local flooring contractor.
Can you eliminate the bevels when you refinish pre-finished floors?
Usually, most of the bevels on pre-finished floors will be removed during the sanding process, assuming the bevels (sometimes called v grooves) are not that thick. The sanding will (as the name implies) sand off the top layer and hence most of the bevels will be removed. However, if the bevels are really deep (and I occasionally see these especially on the older pegged floors), the sanding will not fully eliminate them.
Video on refinishing pre-finished and beveled hardwood floors
This is a great video from Ken Fisher which explains the process of refinishing pre-finished floors and how to eliminate (or reduce) the bevels. As you’ll see, refinishing pre-finished hardwood floors are a bit more challenging to do (and best left to the professionals). There are some extra steps in the process, so most places will charge a bit more.
Please note that the machines we use are a bit newer, and for pre-finished floors, we do 2 sandings on the 45 degree angles (so it covers both directions).
One issue with some pre-finished floors is how well the installation was done. Sometimes, do-it-yourselfers and handymen attempt to install site-finished floors, and there are gaps between boards as the board aren’t as tight as they should be. And sometimes, there will be gaps against the walls (although often these can be fixed by adding shoe molding or quarter round).
Please understand that when floors are sanded and refinished, the installers are working with what’s there and they are not miracle works and can not correct poor installation, gaps that are too large or super thick or deep bevels or v-grooves.
So, can you and refinish pre-finished hardwood flooring?
Generally yes, if it’s solid hardwood.
Other useful flooring articles:
- How long does it take to sand and refinish hardwood floors?
- Stain color trends on hardwood flooring
- What types of hardwood are best for dogs (and pets)?
- FAQ’s for hardwood floor refinishing
If you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here.
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9 thoughts on “Can you refinish prefinished floors?”
Got it, thank you for sharing. The finish is a protective top coat that seals a hardwood floor against damage from everyday wear-and-tear, moisture, and stains. Prefinished floors have the finish applied during manufacturing. Unfinished floors have the finish applied on-site – at the customer’s home.
Yes indded, Joeyann.
We have 5/16 solid wood glued down is ot safe to screen and restrain and seal
I doubt that. In order to stain, you need to sand the floors and I seriously doubt there is enough room to do that. You could look at the profile of the wood to see, but I doubt it. And, there is high likelihood, especially if you have an inexperienced sander that you will go through the thin layer. However, you may be able to screen and recoat to add some poly (use Bona Traffic for that). Again, make sure you have someone experienced on this (it’s not expensive, but it’s super easy for a novice to ruin the floors). Then, you would need to replace them.
Oh I just realized I misread this. It’s sold 5/16″. Really? That’s odd. You almost never see that. Sounds like really cheap wood. So the answer is maybe. You’d need to look at profile of wood and where the tongue is. It might work, or it might not as it’s so thin. Also, it would need to be glued down well otherwise it pop up from the pressure/weight.
I want to repair some gouges on my engineered wood flooring with wood putty. They are pre finished. What kind of top coat should I use?
Mary – I would recommend you call the manufacturer and ask them. I have no idea what you have. You’d need to get their recommendation both on wood putty type/color as well as finish. You will probably have some difficulty with this as most prefinished woods have blends of stains and polyurethanes. Your best bet is to call whoever makes the product and speak to their tech department. Or if you have extra wood left over, you may be able to replace the boards (or order more boards).
I have prefinished veneer engineered hardwood floor with slight gaps between tongue and groove planks. My senior dog frequently urinates on the floor. While we wipe up accidents immediately, I’m worried about residual urine getting onto subfloor and between planks since it is not sealed/waterproof.
1) What’s the best way to clean up urine to prevent odors?
2) Are there ways to seal (or at least minimize exposure to urine) prefinished floating veneer engineered hardwood flooring?
Jennifer – Honestly, I don’t think there’s a good solution for this, exception prevention. maybe place something on top of the floor for the dog to go and be sure it’s coated with plastic underneath to prevent seapage onto the floor (and this will prevent seapage into the subfloor. You may also want to call the manufacture to see if they have a recommended cleaning product for this. It’s beyond my scope of knowledge.