How to Use a Drum Sander on Hardwood Floors

Drum Floor Sander

Matthew Hutchinson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

If your hardwood floor has major problems, such as deep discoloration, protrusions, and grooves and pits, the only way to restore the floor to its original glory is with a drum floor sander.

Floor sanders come in three distinct types: edgers, orbital sanders, and drum sanders. A floor edger is essentially a powerful, super-sized orbital hand sander that allows you to sand next to baseboards and walls. An orbital floor sander is even larger and more powerful than the edger, but both operate by randomly and rapidly moving a single sheet of sandpaper around the wood.

A drum sander is a completely different tool in that a loop of sandpaper continually moves around the drum, ripping down the wood as far as you want to go. With an orbital floor sander, it's hard to go wrong, since it's difficult to take off too much wood. By contrast, a drum floor sander is strong enough that it has the potential for going in two wildly different directions: either ruining your floor by creating grooves that can never be repaired or sanding out major imperfections to make your floor look spectacular once again.

Rent a Drum Floor Sander

A drum floor sander is one piece of equipment that you will not, by any stretch of the imagination, want to buy. Drum sanders are very expensive, reaching into the thousands of dollars, and they have only one use: sanding down hardwood. Home centers with rental components and rental yards usually have drum floor sanders.

Purchase More Sandpaper Than You Need

Sandpaper grit refers to the roughness of the sandpaper. At the time of rental, purchase a range of sandpaper grits and more than you think you need. With a drum sander, you will be buying long strips of sandpaper that is unsuitable for any other use. The good news is that most rental yards will buy back unused and clean sandpaper with the understanding that users need to buy more than is needed. The reason that you want to buy a copious amount of sandpaper is that you do not want to be caught short of 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 your expensive rental time.

Ask the Rental Yard to Put on the Sandpaper

Ask a rental employee to put on your first piece of sandpaper. Most homeowners are unfamiliar with putting sandpaper on a drum sander, so it helps to watch else someone do it.

Lift the Drum Sander Only With Assistance

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

Avoid Extension Cords

Use only the attached electrical cord or extension cords that are allowed per manufacturer's instructions. A drum floor sander draws so much power that it is possible to melt an improperly sized extension cord, resulting in an electrical fire.

Use a Dust Mask, Hearing Protection, and Safety Glasses

If you like to work without safety equipment, floor sanding is not the time. Even though the drum sander has a dust bag, the bag only collects the majority of dust, not all of it. Also, safety glasses are a must. Drum floor sanders create sparks when they hit nails and are capable of shooting particles as fast as a bullet.

Treat Your Floor Sander's Power With Respect

Some home improvement tools like paint brushes and bubble levels are safe and benign. Other tools like table saws and powder-actuated nailers are so powerful and capable of causing destruction and personal injury that they deserve nothing less than the utmost care and respect.

Floor drum sanders fall into this latter category. Let the fact that drum sanders are often used by flooring professionals to artificially distress floor planks point to drum sanders' potential for ruining floors beyond repair. Massive gouges are possible if you let a drum sander rest in one place for too long. Personal injury is possible if you fail to follow all safety considerations.

Sand in the Opposite Direction of the Drum Motion

You will be pulling your drum floor sander, not pushing. This means that you are moving the sander in the opposite of the drum motion. Do not attempt to get close to trim, baseboards, doors, walls, and other elements that will not be sanded. You can damage these items with a drum sander, either from the moving drum or by hitting these areas with the machine's housing.

Sand Lightly and With the Grain

Use only the weight of the sander when running the sander. No extra pressure is needed. Following the grain of the wood, pull the drum sander in straight lines, overlapping each line the way you would when mowing a lawn. Stop frequently, so that you can rest your arms and empty the dust bag.