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
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.
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors
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