Here’s how to use wood floor sanders and edgers.
Floor sanding is done with two machines.
The drum sander
The main machine is the drum sander and it is used on the majority of the floor. This sander is operated from a standing position.
But the drum sander cannot get very close to the walls, so to do the perimeter of the room you need to switch over to the edger, a 7″ diameter spinning abrasive disc that is operated from a kneeling or bent-over position.
The edger is used for sanding around the edges of a room as well as for areas that are too shallow to use the drum (for example, hallways where the floorboards run across the width of the hall).
Even though these two machines differ greatly in size, their power is well-matched, and both remove the same depth of wood when using the same grit.
However, they both sand in very different ways and each machine requires that you use a distinct sanding pattern. Before we explain how to operate these machines, you need to know the patterns that each machine will follow.
Sanding pattern for the drum sander
The drum sander looks like a cross between a vacuum and a lawn mower, but you can’t move it across the floor in a vacuuming or mowing pattern. At any given second in time drum sanders are designed to cut a divot into the wood of your floor that is 8″ wide by 1/2″ long.
As long as the drum continues to move across the floor, that cutting area leaves a nice, even swath of smooth floor. But if you stop, even for a moment, the drum will leave a deep trench called a ‘stop mark’ on the floor surface.
This means that a drum sander is sanding safely only when it is moving in a straight line forward, or in a straight line backward. You cannot sand while you are turning or changing direction. So, in order to make the least number of turns, you sand one half of the room first, then turn around once, and sand the other half.
Begin at the left wall with the drum sander
With Clark EZ-8 brand drum sanders that you rent from Pete’s storefront in St. Paul, Minnesota, you will always begin at the left wall.
You must always make sure that the machine is in motion before you use the feathering handle to gently lower the drum to the floor.
Just before you reach the wall, you will lift the drum off the floor and as you begin your reverse pass, you will lower it gently back to the floor as you pull the machine backward over the very same path that you just covered while going forward.
End up where you started
Because you will be walking backward over the same path that you sanded going forward, you will end up in the very same spot where you began. Gently lift your drum off the floor before you come to a stop.
Now you need to move the machine over four inches, so that the next pass you make overlaps the first pass by at least half the width of the sanding drum. EZ-8s have three nice wheels, one of which is a swivel caster, so they are very agile and easy to move from side to side.
Once your drum is in its new position, repeat the technique you used for the first pass, gently lowering the drum as you walk forward, lifting and lowering at the wall where you change direction, and sanding backward right over the path you used to go forward.
Repeat this up, back, over four inches pattern until you have reached the right-side wall. Turn the machine around 180 degrees (with the sanding drum completely clear of the floor of course), which will automatically repositiion you with a wall on your left.
Now you sand the other half of the room just as you did the first half, overlapping the two sections slightly to ensure a smooth blend.
How to operate the EZ-8 Drum Sander
- Install a sleeve of abrasive over the sanding drum, center it carefully, and close the access door. Make sure the dust bag is tied around the exhaust pipe.
- Connect the machine to an appropriate grounded and fused circuit. 20-amp circuits (usually found in kitchens or bathrooms) are best.
- Roll the machine to your starting position (parallel to the floorboards, with a wall to your immediate left, and halfway between the front and back wall). Make sure that the sanding drum control lever is in the ‘up’ position and that the sanding drum is not in contact with the floor. Turn the selector switch to the start (S) position. Once started, allow switch to return to the run (R) position.
- Feather cut-in: begin moving the sander forward, simultaneously easing the sanding drum down onto the floor surface with the control lever.
- When the sanding drum is fully engaged with the surface release control lever and adjust your pace for adequate stock removal, but keep your pace steady at all times. Keep sander in motion while sanding drum is engaged with the floor surface or stop marks will occur.
- Move the machine in the direction of the grain whenever possible. Sand the surface at a constant, deliberate pace.
- Gradually feather cut-out at the end of your pass by easing the sanding drum up with the control lever. Stagger the termination points for a better blend when edging.
- Always press selector switch to off (O) position and immediately disconnect the machine from power supply when replacing abrasive, emptying contents of dust bag, or when sanding operation is completed.
- Empty dust bag whenever it is 1/3 full. Never leave a dust bag unattended with sanding dust in it. Sanding dust can spontaneously ignite and cause a fire or explosion. Empty dust into clean plastic bag, seal tightly, and store away from buildings. Never include stain- or solvent-soaked rags in the bag with the sanding dust.
Sanding pattern for the edger
Edgers run clockwise, so you will spend less time fighting the machine if you sand the room clockwise. Always start from the field (central area) of the floor and move toward the wall so that you can be sure to blend the area sanded with the drum sander into the area you do with the edger.
Sand 1 to 2 feet at a time, always keeping the edger moving back and forth in a Z-pattern, moving closer to the wall with each pass.
Make sure to overlap and blend a new section with the section you just completed.
We strongly urge you to mark up the perimeter of the room with pencil marks so you can track your progress and ensure that you have sanded everything.
Sometimes it is hard to keep a regular pattern (as you do with the rectangular drum sander) with a circular sander.
How to operate the edger
- Install the sandpaper: Turn the machine upside-down. A special wrench is in the bracket behind the motor. Use the wrench to remove the screw and washer from center of sanding pad. Center the maroon pad and sanding disc over the sanding pad. Put the washer and holding screw in position in the center of the sanding pad. Using the wrench, turn the screw clockwise. Make sure the screw is tight.
- Attach the dust bag over the end of the exhaust pipe.
- Move the machine to the location of your work.
- Connect your extension cord to the short power cord on the machine.
- Put the variable speed switch in the ‘hi’ position. NOTE: High-speed mode is for rapid removal of wood. For finish cuts and custom work, use the low speed operation.
- Connect the other end of your extension cord to the power supply. DANGER: Always unplug the machine before changing abrasive. Never leave the machine unattended while plugged in.
- Tilt machine back so that sandpaper disc does not touch the floor.
- Put the on/off switch in the ‘on’ position.
- Keep machine moving as you lower sandpaper disc to the floor surface. Do not press down on the machine. The weight of the machine provides enough pressure for all types of sanding.
Remove the dust bag and empty it (into a safe container and away from any buildings or flame) when the bag is 1/3 full or when the efficiency of the dust control system decreases.
NOTE: Do not store or rest the machine on the sanding disc assembly. It may cause the rubber pad to become warped or cause it to be out of balance.
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Incorrect vs correct drum sanding technique
Incorrect drum sanding looks like this.
When you first start sanding an old floor, you can tell exactly where the sander has been and how effective your feathering technique is, just by looking at your sander mark.
The photo above illustrates what happens when you are using the drum sander incorrectly - you can tell that the drum was still touching the floor when the sander stopped at the wall to change direction.
Correct drum technique looks like this.
In this photo, it is clear that the operator was smoothly lifting the drum off the floor as she prepared to stop at the wall to change direction.
The photo also shows that the drum was correctly feathered onto the floor as she began her backward pass.
Meet Randy Lundin, one of Pete’s owners and Fixer-of-all-Things.
Randy has been with Pete’s Hardwood Floors in MN for over a decade – think of how many sanders he has maintained, how many jammed nailers he has un-jammed, and how many edgers he has brought back to life. He takes great care to maintain Pete’s rental equipment.
Not to mention all the customers he has trained and calmed. When Randy’s in the house, we can fix anything.