The warmth, beauty and utility of bare, polished floorboards is something that many of us hanker after. But think before you decide to sand them yourself - what looks like a straightforward job is nothing of the sort

What follows is a true story. The written equivalent of a public information film. This appeal is on behalf of anyone tempted to sand their own floorboards. It's not worth the hassle - pay someone to do it for you - leave well alone.

The reason that people encourage others to sand their own, I have bitterly deduced, is psychological - the phenomenon of remembering the first and last things you encounter while tending to forget those in the middle. In the case of floor sanding, the only pleasant bits come at the beginning and the end; ripping up the brown floral carpet of the previous occupant before taking it to the skip, and gazing at your beautiful wooden boards a few days later.

The hassle commences almost immediately. The main sander is too heavy to be lifted by one person, so if you collect it from the shop, remember to bend those knees while lifting otherwise it'll be an expensive way to put your back out. The smaller edge sander is about the size of a large Kenwood mixer and no lighter.

The first thing to do is to remove all your possessions from the room(s) in question. The more rooms you sand, the less available surface area there is to store the sofa, stereo, table, chairs etc. For the next 48 hours, opening the washing machine door, cooking a meal or even getting in bed will be mere fond memories.

After the carpet has left the building, you'll need to remove the spiked plywood grippers from around the edge of the room which were keeping it in place.

The next step is to bang in or yank out the hundreds of nails poking from the floor. Then you should sweep the floor, wash it with white spirit, and thump in the nails you missed first time around.

Decibel wise, the noise of the large floor sander is somewhere between a vacuum cleaner and a Harrier jump jet. It is a fearsome beast, unwieldy as a steamroller, which jerks you around the room, whining, grinding and spitting sparks. Should you sand over a nail - and you will - the roll of sandpaper disintegrates and flies from the rubber drum in a grating cacophony of metal and grit. As you are dragged helplessly back and forth, it is also advisable to employ a cable holder - sanding over the flex is apparently the most common way that machines are damaged.

Each surface has to be sanded three or four times using progressively smoother grades of paper. The first is the hardest as you are removing ancient dirt and varnish. After each grade, you will need to sand the edges of the room with the small circular sander - but be warned, any missed varnish sticks to the sandpaper in a hard resin and burns itself onto your virgin boards. In a final cruel twist, the small sander will not reach into corners, so you will need to sand these by hand.

All this takes a long, long time. Changing sandpaper sheets, moving furniture, sweeping up, washing the floors, emptying bags and bags of sawdust, swearing, weeping, and finally applying up to three layers of varnish. Take it from me: it's not worth it. Get someone to do it for you - the extra expense is well worth it.


Sanders can be hired from shops all over London (look in the Yellow Pages under "Hire Shops"). HSS offers a weekend package of pounds 48.75, from 4pm Friday to 10am Monday, for an edging sander and a floor sander, rising to pounds 78 for a week. This doesn't include insurance, delivery or VAT. Sandpaper is expensive (pounds 1.90 for floor-sander sheets, pounds 1.40 for edge-sander sheets) and can at least double the cost. You will also need varnish, which is roughly pounds 25-pounds 35 for a 2.5 litre tin.

Professional companies charge about pounds 15-17.50 per sq yard (varnish included), approx pounds 300-pounds 330 (ex-VAT) for a 17ft by 10ft room.