How to Use a Drum Sander on Hardwood Floors

parquet floor sanding
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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 4 - 8 hrs
  • Yield: 500 square feet
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $200

When a solid hardwood floor has major problems such as deep discoloration, minor protrusions, or grooves and pits, often the best way to restore the floor is by sanding.

Several types of floor sanders are available, but the one that does the job the fastest is the upright drum sander. A do-it-yourselfer with moderate skills and stamina can drum-sand a moderately sized solid wood floor in about a day.

What a Drum Sander Is

A drum sander is a large, upright machine that works by rotating a wide sandpaper sleeve around a cylindrical rotating drum, much like a belt sander. A drum sander can sand down most types of hardwood floors, from softwoods like pine to hardwoods like mahogany.

A drum sander is the most powerful sander for sanding hardwood flooring. It also has the potential of damaging a floor. If the tool is tilted or if the drum is allowed to grind away at a single spot, the floor can be damaged beyond repair.

How to Evaluate a Floor for Drum Sanding

Sanding a solid hardwood floor makes sense when the floor surface is rough, stained, and scratched, but stripping and recoating the floor isn't helping. Many stains and scratches are actually in the coating, not in the wood.

Most solid hardwood floors can tolerate only two or three deep drum sandings over their lifetime before the sanding reaches the tongue-and-groove joints. A solid hardwood floor might even lose its shape or become bouncier as it grows thinner with repeated sandings.


Deep scratches and deeply penetrating stains will be reduced, not erased. Your floor will look considerably better than it did before. A severely damaged floor will look better but it will not be returned to new condition.

One way to evaluate the thickness of a hardwood floor is to look for a spot where the edge of the flooring is exposed, such as by removing an HVAC floor register. The solid hardwood must be able to tolerate the reduction of about 1/16-inch of wood.

By looking at the edge, you will be able to able to determine if the floor is solid hardwood or engineered wood flooring. Solid hardwood will look like a continuous wood slab from top to bottom. Engineered wood will have a paper-thin veneer of hardwood on top, followed by up to 12 plies (or layers) of a plywood-like base. It's best to sand engineered wood floors with an upright orbital sander, not a drum sander.

When Sanding Won't Help

Some solid wood floors are beyond the help of drum sanding. When the wood floor is bowed, warped, thin, sagging in wide sections, extensively damaged by paint, deeply stained by animal urine, or split, or if the floor has been water damaged, drum sanding may not be able to correct these problems. Remove and replace the floorboards or install a new floor covering over the damaged flooring.

Before You Begin

Drum sander sandpaper is available in different coarseness levels. For initial rough sanding of floors in bad shape, 40- or 60-grit sleeves are typically used. This is followed by a second sanding with a 100-grit sleeve, and a final pass with a 120-grit sleeve.

The sandpaper either comes in the form of rolls or sleeves (belts). Rolls are wrapped over the drum and cut to length. Sleeves or belts have the cut ends pre-attached.

At the time of rental, purchase a range of sandpaper grits—more than you think you need. Many rental yards will take back unused and clean sandpaper with the understanding that users need to buy more than what is needed, but check ahead of time.

Buying a sufficient amount of sandpaper prevents you from being caught short on sandpaper while your drum floor sander is on the rental clock. Running down to the rental yard or home center for more sandpaper cuts into that expensive rental time.


If renting from a rental house, ask a rental employee to put on the first piece of sandpaper. It helps to watch someone else do it first.

Cost of Drum Sanding a Floor

Drum sanders can be rented from major home centers and tool rental outlets. They are typically leased in half-day or full-day increments. Tool rental costs will comprise the biggest expense for this project.

Plan to spend around $80 to $100 to rent an upright drum sander for a day (half-day rental is also available for about $55 to $65). Sanding sleeves or rolls will cost extra.

Rental fees for edge sanders are typically about half the cost of drum sanders. Drum sanders will not sand up to walls without damaging the wall, so it's necessary to rent an edge sander, as well.

Safety Considerations

Drum floor sanders weigh over 100 pounds. You will need help from a friend or rental yard employee to lift the sander onto a truck bed or into the back of an SUV. You will need help with the sander when you get home, too.

When you do get it home and begin using the sander, avoid using extension cords if possible. If you must use one, choose a heavy-gauge extension cord according to the manufacturer's instructions. The motor on the drum floor sander draws so much power that it is possible to melt an improperly sized extension cord, resulting in an electrical fire.

When changing sanding sleeves, always unplug the tool first. The tool's trigger or switch might accidentally activate while you are changing sandpaper.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Nail set and hammer (if needed)
  • Small pry bar (if needed)
  • Broom
  • Shop vacuum
  • Drum sander (rental tool)
  • Dust mask
  • Hearing protection
  • Safety goggles


  • Sanding sleeves (40- or 60-grit, 100-grit, 120-grit)
  • Sheet plastic
  • Tape


  1. Inspect the Floor

    Carefully inspect the entire floor surface, looking for loose or damaged boards, and nail heads that are exposed. If you can feel nail heads with your hand, countersink them using a nail set and hammer.

    Loose boards should be carefully nailed down before beginning the sanding project. If board replacements are necessary, do this now. Sanding new boards along with adjoining old boards will help blend the repair area.

  2. Remove Shoe Molding (If Needed)

    If your baseboard trim work includes shoe molding at the junction of floor and baseboard, carefully remove this molding, using a small pry bar. Removing the shoe molding will allow you to sand right up to the baseboard, leaving a sleek, professional look after you replace the molding after refinishing the floors.

  3. Clean the Floor, Prepare the Room

    Thoroughly sweep, then vacuum the floor to remove all dust and debris. Follow this up by mopping with a barely damp cloth.

    Although drum sanders have dust-collection bags, a considerably amount of dust will be raised. Block off HVAC vents and doorways with plastic, and open windows to help ventilate the space. You may also want to cover electrical outlets with tape to prevent dust from infiltrating the slots.

  4. Wear Safety Gear

    Wear a good respirator mask and safety glasses when using a drum sander. Even though the drum sander has a dust bag, the bag only collects the majority of dust, not all of it. And safety glasses are a must—drum sanders create sparks when they hit nails and are capable of shooting particles.

  5. Install the Sanding Sleeve

    The first pass of the sander is typically done with 40- or 60-grit sanding sleeve. Lift the front cover of the sander and slide the sleeve onto the drum roller. Close the cover.

  6. Practice Moving the Sander

    With the tool turned off, position the sander in the middle of the floor, oriented in the same direction as the flooring boards. When running the sander, you will be raising and lowering the sanding drum onto the floor as you begin and end each pass. How you do this depends on the type of sander you have rented. With some sanders, the drum is lifted from the floor by tilting it backward so it pivots up against the rear wheels. With other types of drum sanders, there is a lever on the handle that raises the entire body of the sander up off the floor and lowers it back down to engage the sanding drum to the floor.

    With the tool turned off, practice raising the sanding drum by whatever method is appropriate for your sander, moving it to different positions on the floor, then lowering the drum back onto the floor.


    Before beginning on your actual hardwood floor, it is a good idea to practice drum sanding technique on a sheet of plywood laid on the floor.

  7. Make the First Sanding Pass

    With tool turned off, wheel the sander to a position near one side wall, midway between the end walls, oriented in the same direction as the flooring boards. With the drum lifted off the floor, turn on the sander, then carefully lower the drum onto the floor while firmly holding the handle.

  8. Raise the Drum Before the Wall

    As you approach the far wall, raise the sanding drum before the tool reaches the wall. Avoid hitting the walls, and don't try to get too close to the baseboards; these areas will be sanded later with an edging sander.

  9. Bring the Sander Backward

    Ppull the tool backward along the same path to complete the sanding pass over the same section of floor. As you begin to walk backward, lower the moving drum onto the floor. Again, lift the drum as you reach spot where you started. Each sanding pass will consist of this same pattern: forward, then backward over the same strip of flooring.

  10. Continue Sanding

    With the sanding drum raised and the motor still running, reposition the sander about 4 inches to the side, then repeat the same forward-and-backward action to make the next pass. It is critical that the sanding passes overlap to ensure a smooth surface.

    Continue in this fashion until the room is covered. You can then reverse the direction of the tool to sand any remaining floor area that was behind you during the first phase.

    Most sanding sleeves will sand 100 to 400 square feet before they need to be changed. When you notice that the sander is no longer quickly removing the old finish, then it's time to change the sleeve.


    Keep an eye on the dust bag, and empty it whenever it reaches about one-third full. This will keep the suction high and prevent sanding dust from filling the air.

  11. Change Sanding Sleeve, Sand Again

    Change the sanding sleeve to a medium-grit (100-grit), then complete the room again, following the preceding steps.


    An edge sander is an orbital hand sander that allows you to sand next to baseboards and walls. After using the drum sander, you will need to use this tool to complete the job.

  12. Perform the Final Sanding

    Conclude by changing the sanding sleeve to fine-grit (120-grit), then make a third pass of the entire room.

    With the drum sanding phase now complete, you can finish the edges and corners of the room with the edging sander.

    Make sure to clean the entire floor before moving on to applying your chosen finish.

  • How often should you sand a hardwood floor?

    Deep drum-sanding should be done two or three times over the lifespan of a solid hardwood floor. Drum sanding should be reserved for floors in serious need of refreshing. It is often done when old carpeting is removed to expose a hardwood floor that was previously covered. It is also an excellent project to prepare a home for a future house sale since it freshens up the floor and makes it look new again.

  • Can you use a drum sander on an engineered wood floor?

    Sanding is a combination of the sandpaper grit and the force that is applied to the flooring. Technically, a drum sander could be used on an engineered wood floor. Due to the thin veneer, an upright orbital sander is the best tool. An upright orbital sander works by moving a large sanding disc in small random orbits against the floor. An orbital floor sander can take a little longer than a drum sander, but the chances of damaging the floor are reduced.

  • Should I use a drum sander or orbital sander on a solid hardwood floor?

    Either a drum sander or an orbital sander can be used on solid hardwood floors. Drum sanders are used for deeper sanding, while orbital sanders are best for light sanding. If the solid hardwood floor has been drum-sanded several times, it may not be a good candidate for another round of drum sanding. Shallow stains and scratches can often be erased with the orbital sander. Deep gouges and dark stains can be removed with the drum sander. If in doubt, start with the orbital sander, then switch to the drum sander if scratches aren't adequately removed.

When to Call a Professional

When using a drum sander, it is quite easy to badly damage a floor if you hurry the work. Sanding a floor requires handling heavy power tools and some amount of time on hands and knees. It is hard physical work that's not for everyone.

Professional floor sanding services are widely available, and they usually offer a full range of floor finishing services, including staining and varnishing. If the project seems too big or you are concerned about damaging your floor, consider hiring a professional. Professional floor technicians can sand and refinish a floor. Nationally, complete floor refinishing typically costs $3 to $8 per square foot.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. How Much Does it Cost to Refinish Hardwood Floors? HomeAdvisor.