Sanders to Use When Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Sander machine passing over hardwood floors

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

In This Article

If you have a solid hardwood floor, chances are good that at one point you will need to refinish it. Along with staining and top-coating, sanding your wood floor is a major component of refinishing the floor.

Floor sanders are special tools designed for floor use only. Most homeowners will not have these types of sanders in their workshops. However, it is not necessary to purchase these expensive pieces of equipment. Most of the sanders can be rented at a local tool rental yard or at some home centers that have a rental section.


Smaller shop size belt and orbital sanders can be useful for hard to get to spots.

Drum Floor Sander

A drum sander is a large, heavy belt sander. The user operates the drum sander while standing up.

The drum sander consists of the sander body itself, a large dust bag, and a drum on which you attach large belts of sanding paper.

The drum sander rips off the bad spots, the high spots, stains, paint drips, and even some deeply embedded stains from your floor. If you need to take your wood floor down to bare wood, a drum floor sander is a perfect tool to do it. Be careful, though, as you can carve unsightly, permanent grooves in the wood.


An even more powerful floor tool than a drum sander is a floor stripper for removing dried glue, mastic, mortar, understanding, linoleum, and vinyl tile.

Buy the sanding paper at the tool rental yard—you likely will not find this type of paper at your local hardware store. The rental yard employees may recommend that you use at least three gradations of sandpaper: coarse, medium, and fine. It is better to overbuy sanding paper, as most rental yards will buy back unused paper, though you should confirm this ahead of time.

The drum sander is the real workhorse of hardwood floor sanding. It is a massive piece of equipment, too heavy for most people to lift—two people are required to carry it.

What We Like
  • Strongest floor sander available

  • Can remove deeply embedded paint, stains

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult to move due to its weight

  • Potential of sanding too deeply into the wood

  • Sanding belts can be hard to change

Orbital Vibrating Floor Sander

An orbital vibrating floor sander is, like the drum sander, operated while standing up. The difference is that the sanding head and sandpaper do not rotate; instead, they vibrate in tight circles.

After using the drum sander, the next step is usually to smooth out the wood with a vibrating orbital sander. This sander works well for all types of solid hardwood flooring, parquet, engineered wood flooring, and even cork and wood composition flooring. This sander can take your wood flooring down to its smoothest finish.

Roughly the same size as the drum sander and also employing a dust bag, the vibrating sander will come as a welcome relief from the drum sander. This type of sander is lighter and easier to move than the drum sander. There is less danger of hurting the wood with an orbital vibrating floor sander.

What We Like
  • Easy to carry and move

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • Will not sand down deep scratches or stains

Edge Floor Sander

An edge floor sander is a small, hand-held sander designed to get in those hard-to-reach areas that the drum sander and large orbital sander cannot reach. An edge floor sander has a dust bag.

Edge floor sanders available for rent are far more powerful than hand-held orbital sanders that many homeowners may already own. Because edge floor sanders are relatively inexpensive to rent, it is worthwhile to do so.

Edge floor sander hand-held over hardwood floor

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Floor Sander Safety

Floor sanders operate at a higher capacity than most tools already found in homeowners' shops. For that reason, pay attention to safety precautions.

  • Because of the high power draw (especially with drum sanders), use only the type of extension cord recommended. In some cases, extension cords may not even be allowed.
  • If using an extension cord, do not loop the cord tightly around a spool or reel as this can lead to heat build-up that can melt the cord.
  • Always unplug the floor sander when changing the sandpaper or working on any part of the machine.
  • Though floor sanders have dust bags, they do not collect all dust. Use dust barriers to protect other areas of your home. Wear a dust mask when operating the machines.
  • Air-borne fine dust can explode. When using the floor sander, always make sure that no flames are present in the room or nearby. Always ventilate the room well.