Beyond the Machine: Game Changers in the Floor Sanding World

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The phrase “game-changer” is being used more and more during these past few years. It seems like the task of sanding floors has become a huge work of art, rather than just getting them flat and smooth. I commonly am asked what are the biggest improvements to the sanding market, and how did the “older” floor companies get the floors sanded as flat as we do today? In speaking with some of the more-experienced floor sanders, the responses have quite a wide range. And many are related to factors beyond the sanding machine they used.

Wood flooring is manufactured differently today than it was 15-20 years ago. There are scanners with set programs to judge when to cut or how to use the best of a wood blank. The side matching and end matching systems are cleaner and more accurate. The overwood and underwood are controlled and much tighter. Inline moisture meters scan each board and reject blanks. Kilns are more automated and gather data faster. The bottom line is that fewer human hands touch the flooring in today’s process. 

The result of this automation is that the floor sander does not need to start with a lower grit paper to get the floor flat and remove imperfections. Back in the day, it was not uncommon to start every job with 36-2 grit with the big machine. The quality of the wood flooring changed the sanding and is a huge improvement. 

A great sand and finish job begins with the install. Old floors that were hand-nailed seem to move more, and give the floor sander a harder time to get it flat and keep it flat. Types of subfloors also play a role in the sanding with today’s homes. Think about the ramification of using solid board subfloors laid on a 45° versus plywood and OSB. The prep work time is decreased, and the subfloors are flatter. Glue and glue-assist methods also work to keep all the movement out of the flooring. The installation method allows the floor sander to cut on less of an angle and get the floor flatter without 3-4 cuts. The 45-degree cut is used less due to the installation methods. Less angles result in less of a scratch to remove and is less abusive to the grain. 

The days of “grit is grit and all that matters is how long it lasts” are gone. The type of mineral and backing of the paper will make or break the look of the finished flooring. Understanding the mineral, how it cuts, and the type of scratch it leaves is more important than ever. 100-2/0 grit silicon carbide next to a ceramic is dramatic. Now compare that to aluminum oxide. Now we even have blended minerals with different backings. Know that a manufacturer can take the same grit size and make it cut hard with a poor scratch or cut less with a great scratch. 100 grit is not always the 100 grit of yesteryear.

With filters, fade, zoom, color adjustments, time-lapse, and more, our cell phones can take amazing photos. The sharing of the images and the ability to ask for tech support from friends and manufacturer reps with quality photos has come a long way to improve workmanship. Live video allows us to go live, share, help, and chat with other flooring professionals. 

Not having the home covered with dust and not cleaning the home for a week or so after the floors were done has been a great change for homeowners. For the floor sander, it made PPE better and the jobsite cleaner. The less dust, the less cleaning, and fewer imperfections or junk in the finish. We are seeing some amazing finish coats.

We can get our name out to hundreds of contacts, target markets from search keywords, and share that amazing photo from that excellent camera we also use as a phone. The possibilities of social media are endless, and if you are not working that advantage, you best rethink it. Within social media groups, folks share outstanding work, skills, and a few laughs. We seem to push the skill level to a new standard and share the method used to get there, making friends across the world, and sometimes finding a friend in our same town. We lift and build each other up. Many share personal challenges, work challenges, and life’s up and downs. Through it all, we gain a better understanding that we are in this together.

Have you ever coached your child’s team? Tried to teach a sibling? It just seems like they don’t believe you or think you know what you are talking about. Often, it’s the same with a new employee. Thankfully, there are resources available to assist. The NWFA training programs have set the bar very high with some of the best instructors in our trade. Printed guidelines are spot-on and shareable when needed to get out of a jam or teach others.

Manufacturer training has stepped up with product knowledge and new concepts that make our task better, faster, and in some cases, less expensive. They offer up-to-date information, hands-on or live training, and interactive product knowledge. 

While these changes are plenty, we cannot help but wonder what the next game-changing part of the wood floor sanding market will be. 

Wayne Lee is Business Development and Technical Advisor for Middle Tennessee Lumber in Burns, Tennessee. He can be reached at wlee@midtnlumber.com

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