How to Sand Hardwood Floors with Orbital Sander – A Guide

An orbital sander on the floor! How possible is that?

The name orbital sander mostly reminds people of that handy sanding equipment known as the random orbital sander, used on wood surfaces. However, there exists another sort of orbital sander designed to be used on hardwood floors.

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They can accommodate unusually coarse grit sandpapers that scape through these kinds of floors. Grit sizes as low as 60 and slightly less are used on this equipment.

So, what exactly does this kind of orbital sander have to offer?

What makes it different from other sanders for this purpose?

When should you consider using this orbital sander?

This and a host of other questions will be answered in various segments of this article. Especially if you want to know how to sand hardwood floors with the orbital sander, you should hang on. But first, let us start by asking the question formally.

Sanding Hardwood Floors – Is Orbital Sander an Option?

Hell yes!

As previously explained, there are varieties of orbital sanders designed for this purpose. The popular orbital sander has a work surface that is too small for large working areas. The average hardwood floor is a couple of inches in length and breadth.

The handy design of the average orbital sanders when used on the floor can be a very tedious process. Bearing this in mind, there are varieties of orbital sanders designed to carter to this need. These types of sander allow you to work from an upright position as you can conveniently use features such as the safety button.

This sort of orbital sander has a very large sanding pad. The sanding pads are way larger than the handy orbital sander. In the same vein, they have large sandpaper grit designed to work with these sanding pads.

Undoubtedly, working on hardwood floors emit more dust and wood scraps. What does this mean? The dust bag of the conventional handy orbital sander may not be able to handle that much dust and wood scrap.

To deal with these excesses, the dust retention mechanism of hardwood orbital sanders is better. For one, the dust bag is bigger and able to retain more dust.

We have enunciated on some of the differences but are there any similarities between the 2 equipment? Of course, there are a couple of similarities. Among many things, they both answer to the name orbital sanding. The pattern of sanding wood surfaces is in an orbital manner.

This does a critical job of not allowing loose ends. For instance, as a result of the orbital working feature, you do not have to follow grain patterns while working. For other sanding machines such as the edger or drum sander, this might become a problem.

The grain patterns will leave an awkward look of a sanding procedure done in the wrong manner. However, the orbital sander takes care of this loose end. This machine ensures there are no signs of the sanding pattern. The orbital effect sees to this.

Haven shed light on some of the differences, when do you need the orbital sander services on the hardwood floor.

If you prefer a visual explanation of this article, below is a detailed and helpful video.

Video: How to Sand Hardwood Floors with Orbital Sander (A Guide)

When Do You Need an Orbital Sander

This is no doubt a very important question. Knowledge of the answer is very important for the average woodworker, especially if you deal with hardwood floors.

Hardwood orbital sanders are important tools for sanding hardwood floors. However, their suitability is dependent on a couple of factors.

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Firstly, what kind of wood floor are you dealing with?

Secondly, what is your purpose for sanding?

These among other factors should inform if you will need the orbital sander. First things first, let us talk about the kinds of wood and how the orbital sander comes along.

Types of Wood and the Orbital Sander Suitability

How to Sand Hardwood Floors with Orbital Sander
Photo Credits: Anselm Hook,

You should understand one peculiarity of the orbital sander. When you need something extremely aggressive, this sander is not your best shot. Particularly on the hardwood floor, the drum sander should take care of that for you.

The orbital sander is a milder sort of wood floor sander. It has lesser aggressiveness than the drum sander. It is better off for refinishing an already sanded wood floor or sanding wood floors with a very thin wear layer.

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This way, you are certain the sander would not eat off the wear layer. That is something you cannot trust in the hands of very aggressive sanding machines.

When your wood floor calls for light or medium-duty sanding procedure, then you should consider the orbital sander. Most notably, this equipment allows you to sand properly on very delicate and fragile jobs.

If you aim at cautiously scraping off a little amount of wood with less pace and aggression, this machine does it.

Wood floors usually revolve around 3 main categories. We have what we like to call unadulterated solid wood. These woods are usually hardwood, made and used on site. At most, they use sanding sealers and a couple of wood coating. They are more like fresh from the oven.

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The next category is engineered wood. We could all suppose that the name is suggestive. These sorts are factory invented. Although still a derivative of solid wood, they have synthetic properties instilled in them. These properties are to help them cope with things the natural wood may not be able to do conveniently.

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For instance, these sorts are better at dealing with humidity and moisture. For the records, this is one of the major nightmares of wood surfaces.

The inability of solid wood to properly deal with liquid makes it vulnerable. This is one of the essences of engineered woods.

Lastly, we have what we like to call the entirely synthetic wood. This is by a margin on the other end of the continuum. They are not wood material. They are synthetically created to look and act like one.

Asides the synthetic additions or otherwise, one major difference between these categories is the wear layer features. The wear layer is the most exposed part of the wood. It is also the part of the wood that can and should be sanded. The property of the wear layer determines the sanding procedure and equipment to be used.

In light of this, let us examine the types of wood and if using the orbital sander should be considered.

Solid Tongue and Groove Wood

We have a lot of these types of wood in various places around us. It has a wear layer of wood open for sanding. We must stress that it is one of the thickest you can get around.

As a result, this type of wood is open to sanding a lot of times. You can even use more aggressive machines such as the drum sander on this wood. The choice of equipment should be majorly determined by the purpose of sanding.

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If you need to scrape off a large chunk of the wood, you should consider the drum sander. On the other hand, if you simply need to refinish or remove the outer coating, the orbital sander is a great one.

Just so you know, this type of wood floor allows you sand many times and has a very long span. However, it is not as great at dealing with moisture and humidity as the other wood floor options.

Factory Finished Wood

As against the solid wood option completed on-site, this option is completed at the factory. This also implies that the coating among other things is sorted by the manufacturer. This saves the on-site worker and client lots of trouble.

However, this wood floor has a slimmer wear layer compared to the solid option. The size of the wear layer is fair enough but comes at a price. It can only be sanded a couple of times. Maybe twice or at most three times.

As a result of the slimmer feature of its wear layer, the orbital sander is most appropriate for this kind of wood. This machine allows for caution while dealing with the delicate wear layer. This is something you may not trust in the hands of the drum sander.

In light of this, the orbital sander should be the first point of call for sanding factory finished wood floors.

Regardless of its disadvantage in wear layer size, it has an edge over the solid wood alternative. It does a better job dealing with moisture and humidity. The slimmer wear layer of factory wood retains moisture better than solid wood. Ironic, isn’t it?

The synthetic properties added to the wood helps to carry out this action effectively.

Engineered Wood

Except you are a woodworker or experienced at this, you may not be able to tell the difference between both. The engineered wood is tailored to look like solid wood. However, it is a couple of light wood glued together with a very thin wear layer above.

In plain terms, beneath the engineered wood’s thin wear layer, there are a couple of glued pieces of wood.

It is not hard to come to the following conclusion. The wear layer of engineered wood is very fragile and delicate. If you must ever sand this type of wood, you should not do it more than once. Also, steer clear of the drum sander for this wood.

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This leaves you with the orbital sander and edger. As a reminder, do not sand more than once. The sanding should be more like refinishing.

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As with the synthetic trend, this type of wood does pretty well at dealing with moisture and humidity.

Vinyl Wood

Looks can be very deceiving, and that is the tale of the vinyl wood. Do not be blown away by the term wood, as this is not wood. It only serves the function of a wood floor.

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The vinyl wood is an entirely synthetic product. As a result, you cannot sand this wood, not even with the mild orbital sander.

Purpose for Sanding

Asides from the condition of the wood, the intent for sanding a wood floor also determines the machine used.

If you simply require a change of the topcoat, you will likely carry out a process called wood screening. This implies that you are not reaching into the stain of the wood. As a result, you need a mild or less aggressive sander.

In a bid to achieve that, the orbit inclined sander is the best option. This is because the drum sander will reach beyond the desired part of the wood.

Other Wood Floor Sanding Machines

For us, we like to think there are three very important sanding machines for wood floors. These machines tag along at various points and the orbital sander is an integral part of them. The three essential sanding equipment are the drum sander, the edger, and the orbital sander.

Nonetheless, we strongly recommend hand sanding as the last step for certain parts of the wood floor. This is because even the edger cannot reach some places. For instance, places very close to the walls may be off reach. You should hand-sand such places to align with the other sanded portions of the floor.

How to Use Orbital Sanders to Sand Hardwood Floor

As with any other kinds of sanders, there are appropriate ways to use this type of floor sander while sanding a floor. Below are some of the tips for using the orbit inclined floor sanders. Also, we will discuss precautionary measures to be observed.

Video: Random Orbital Floor Sander Rental

Below is a video briefly explaining the use of the orbital sander on the hardwood floor.

Prepare the Needed Sandpaper

Depending on the type and state of the hardwood floor, you will need a variety of sandpaper grit when using the orbital sander. The same applies to drum sanders.

In light of this, purchase the required types of sandpaper grit well ahead of time. This will save you the disappointment of not getting the sandpaper when you are in actual need of them.

You should even buy extra and slightly exceeding grit sandpapers. This will be used if you need them at any point.

Check Out for Loose Ends

One major difference between the wood floor and other kinds of wood is the use. The wood floor may have been used for a while. This implies that there are properties in the wood.

For instance, there will be a couple of nails used to secure the wood. All these nails should be removed and put aside before sanding. Make sure that there isn’t contact between the sander and nails. In general, ensure that the floor is good enough to be worked upon.

Also, remove the molds attached to the wall. This is so that the sanded dust does not store up in these parts. Also, it allows you to use instruments such as the edger appropriately. This is because you will be able to reach into seemingly impossible angles.

Also, check out for cracks and openings on the wood floor. You should fill the cracks with good wood putty.

Ultimately, the hands should be used after the entire procedure. You should hand-sand after the refinishing, and before applying the topcoat.

If you simply want to screen the floor, you should also sand with your hand before applying the final coat.

Install the Sandpaper

We like to think this is one edge the orbital sander has over the drum and most sanders. The ease at changing sandpaper grit is second to none.

Usually, the sandpaper is attached to a velcro sanding pad. When you attach them with the abrasive surface facing outward, they sandpaper stick firmly. This is unlike the drum sanders that require you to fix the sandpaper with a more complex procedure.

To fix the sandpaper, start by turning the machine on its back. This will enable you to see through properly. Afterward, install the sanding pad by pushing it into the face of the sanding disc. These pads mostly come in white and red colors. However, the colors do not matter.

Next, after selecting the appropriate sandpaper grit, remove the backing from the sandpaper. Very important while attaching to the velcro sanding pad, the abrasive surface of the sandpaper faces the floor.

Sanding with this machine or even the drum sander isn’t a spontaneous activity. It is a deliberate act with a couple of techniques. You are to sand the wood surface a couple of times as against once.

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At least you should make passes on the floor with 3 kinds of sandpaper. You should kick-off the process with a very coarse sandpaper grit. Something around 40 or slightly less should be alright. However, this is dependent on the nature of the job and floor in question.

If you simply need to refinish, you do not have to use something that coarse. The same applies when you need to change the outer coat of the wood.

We like to divide the sanding procedure into 3 stages. We have the initial sandingsanding mid-way, and final sanding. As stated earlier, this does not in any way limit the amount of grit used to 3. You can use more or less depending on the project at hand.

However, we like to judge from conventional sanding experience. For the first stage of a solid wood sanding, use something around 40-grit sandpaper.

For the mid-way sanding, proceed to a 60 – 70 grit. Ensure that the switch of sandpaper grit is warranted. Do not be in a hurry to switch the sandpaper until it has performed to your expectations.

Eventually, the ultimate sanding should use a grit size of around 90 and above. Something around that should help you get the smooth finish desired.

Dust Retention System

The dust retention system is usually made up of a dust bag. This dust bag is big and allows a large amount of dust and wood scrap into it. Before use, make sure the dust bag is empty and in the right shape.

When you sand, do not allow any more than half the size of the bag to be filled with dust. This ensures that the bag remains in the proper condition. Furthermore, it enables the dust retention system to work without complications when trapping the dust.

The dust bag can be emptied by unzipping the base of the bag or anywhere it is placed.

Furthermore, you can choose to use this machine with a vacuum cleaner. This provision is more effective because of the amount of dust it can retain.


Except on rare occasions, floor inclined orbital sanders available are wired ones. This implies that they must be connected to a power source.

Plug the machine into the power source preferably on the wall outlet. Next, release the outlet as this will make the equipment as comfortable as possible.

While doing this, hold the safety switch. When you are ready, release the safety switch to start sanding the floor.

Dealing with the Dust Properly

The dust bags are pretty impressive. They do a great job trapping dust and some wood scraps. However, there are limits to what they can do. This is considering how much dust and wood extract the machine churns out.

This is usually a large amount and the dust retention mechanism cannot trap all. So, what should you do?

Use a vacuum to clean up the sanded floor after a couple of passes. You can do this after changing the sandpaper grit. This will ensure that the sanding procedure is not interrupted by dust particles and scraped wood.

So, if you use 3 kinds of sandpaper grit, you should clean the floor at least 3 times.

Protect Your Eye

There is one thing every woodworker and client has in common – the desire for a good job. However, you should put yourself on the line for that. You should ensure that you are protected health-wise.

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Very important for you to use google. To a reasonable extent, this will protect your eye from flying dust particles and wood extracts. Because you do not want accidents of this nature, you should not question the use of eye protectors.

Breath Clean Air

Even when refinishing hardwood floors, you are exposed to a lot of dust. To breath safe air, you should use a respirator. This will ensure you do not breathe in unhealthy substances.

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Protect Your Ears

Unsurprisingly, many woodworkers are guilty of this. In a bid to do more in less time, they leave out the use of ear protectors. This is also because it seems the least harmful side effects of sanding.

You should know that sounds beyond a certain decibel is harmful to the human ears. The side effects start gradually as workers do not notice on time.

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Bottom line – ensure that you use ear protection while using this sander or any other kind.

Protect Your Knee

As a result of the working position, you might need to do things on the floor. Therefore, you should protect your knees.

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There are products solely designed for this purpose. Do not leave your safety to chance as you use this item. It could also be the saving grace in cases of a protruding nail that was unnoticed.

Wrapping Up

Orbital sanders as discussed in this article is different from the random orbital sander. While the random orbital sander is used on wood items placed upright, the latter is a floor inclined machine.

It has a milder approach to sanding hardwood floors. On that note, it may be used for hardwood floors with very thin wear layers. Because of its orbital feature, you do not need to worry about the likely slight scratches as with other types of sanders.

Also, it may be used to screen hardwood floors, as well as for refinishing hardwood flooring. The precautions and tips shared in this article must be put to use whenever you use this equipment.

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