Should I Sand Wood Floors Myself or Hire a Pro?
While your gender won't affect your ability to sand a floor, your lack of training will. You just cannot pick up the floor sanding trade on a weekend. It took me 6 months of full time work, before I was let loose on client's fine wood floors. Suffice it to say I cannot teach you how to sand a floor by e-mail or in this web site. It is a strictly hands on training. And I doubt that the rental places will give you a course on sanding and finishing your floor. The "toy" floor sanders they rent at all the tool rental shops will not, in any case, do a decent job of sanding your floor.
By "toy" floor sanders, I mean the 110 volt drum sanders, that you will find in most all rental yards. Yes, these plug right into the wall outlet, but lack the weight and power to sand a floor well. The machines we pros use cost up to $10,000 and weigh in at about 250 pounds. They have powerful 3 - 7 HP motors that are designed especially not to stall when encountering a tough floor. The weight and balance of these professional machines keeps them steady as they pass across the floor. With a well-maintained heavy-duty floor machine, and a well seasoned pro at the helm, your floor will be quickly and evenly sanded the first time.
Many old floors cannot handle any mistakes made by amateur floor sanders. The floor may become too thin when sanded badly, and you may find you have permanently ruined an expensive hardwood floor. I pity the home owner who does this, as I think they are being duped by the tool rental trade. If you are a tenant of an apartment unit, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, when you permanently ruin the landlord's nice wood floor.
I strongly advise you hire out the sanding part of the job. NOBODY I know that has sanded their own floors will EVER do it again. In most cases they have used far too much rental time and sandpaper. And in the end the results were from barely passable in low light, to downright butt ugly floors. It has lowered the value of the property in some cases. Potential new buyers may realize that the badly sanded hardwood floor now needs replacing, at great expense. Not much money saved here, when they discount the replacement price of the hardwood floors off your asking price for the property.
The rental machines are light duty, and will leave pronounced chatter (machine vibration) marks in your floor. You will not be able to see this until you apply the stain or the finish. The chatter marks show up as stripes or waves going against the grain of the wood, and are really obvious on a stained floor. But by the time you are applying the finish it's far too late to start over. What an EXTREME disappointment !!
The other problem is the machine operator, who has little or no training to pass this machine smoothly and evenly across the floor. Most of the mistakes are made in the first passes with coarse grit sandpaper, and these cannot be removed with the medium or fine paper. The amateur does not recognize things are going wrong until the finish is applied. You simply cannot put the damaged wood back.
So instead here's what I suggest. Hire a well known professional in your area to sand the floor ONLY. You shouldn't have to pay much more than a buck per square foot for about 300 square feet or more. And the contractor will be happy because all his work is done in a day, and he will have no call backs for finish defects.
But by all means do the finishing of the floor yourself, this is where some floor contractors come a bit short. They often won't apply enough floor finish, or will use cheaper fast dry lacquer sealers. Read my article on Lacquer Finish Floor Fires in the Floored News section, and you will see why it's best to avoid having some cheap flooring contractors apply this finish to your floor. And please be sure to read my Hiring Contractors article in the Hardwood Authority section.
You may have a softwood (like pine or fir) floor. These woods are very soft and they will easily gouge. An experienced pro will know how to sand this much smoother than you ever could. But you can take the time to finish this wood better than he would when you apply 4 coats of oil modified polyurethane. You may find hiring the pro for the sanding is only just a little beyond the cost of the rental route. This would undoubtedly be the case if this old floor has been heavily painted. We all carry 16 grit sandpaper in our tool boxes to quickly and easily remove this tough floor paint. But only the rare machine rental place would have such coarse sandpaper. So instead you will find yourself spending a fortune on less effective sandpaper that clogs continually on these light machines. Much to the glee of the rental company, as you return for more rental time and more expensive sandpaper. Just what is you own time and labor worth anyway ?
Be sure to read the Wood Floor Maintenance article and the Chemical Stripping article, both free in the Floored News section of this web site. You may not have to sand the floor after all. And the Orbital Floor Sander article is another route to go. There are many alternatives to sanding a floor.
If you take the time to buy, read and understand the details in my "Applying Polyurethane without the Bubbles" article, the finish on your wood floor will be as good, if not better than most professionals. You could also buy and read my floor sanding articles, if only how to judge a good floor sanding method. This will be cheap insurance when hiring a guy to sand but not finish your wood floor. With this article you will know just how floors are best sanded, not the sloppy and fast way some contractors go about this vital task. Even when hiring a pro to sand only, get references, and a written quotation.
I hope I have talked you out of sanding your own floor. I hope this doesn't make me an enemy of the rental yards, but I have seen far too many butchered wood floor surfaces in my 24 years. But if you are going to have the floor sanded only there will some tools that would be worthwhile renting. You will need an industrial vacuum, a floor buffer (for "screening" the finish between coats) and hand held vibrator sander (for smoothing the edges, if your flooring contractor will not do this step). The rental yards may also sell finishes meant for floor use, and this may be a good place to buy them at a good price.
Oh, and for a limited application, the rental yards have the Orbital Floor Sander, that any amateur can operate well and safely. Just be sure you read my article about this machine in the Product Review section of this site. This machine cannot be used to sand new floors, or remove all the finish from old floor, without really messing up the wood. But read the free article and you will see what I mean.
Good luck and I hope you make the right choice, for the sake of your floor.