It varies depending on what we are doing. If we are doing a wire brush, we will hand scrape it, then hand sand it with a rough paper to give it the rigid grain of the wire brush. If I’m doing a superyacht, we have to do a super smooth finish with much more fine sanding for less grain showing and more coats of finish for a glass-smooth result. That is more likely to be done with a machine. In a regular house with a standard red oak job, we would do the normal NWFA guideline sanding procedure with a machine, hand scrape the corners, and also hand sand them to match the machine. Under the cabinets or built-in furniture, that’s probably going to be a hand scraper, since occasionally you cannot have a machine under the cabinets or appliances, and you’ll need to match what you’ve done with the machine to duplicate that look.
The two complement each other on all of my jobs. You should be able to utilize both while maintaining the quality of your work, and being efficient with your time. After we go about with our final sanding using scrapers and several handheld sanders, we walk the floors with a scraper and a light for the ultra touch ups. Sanding a floor is an art form, so you must use your senses and your body to shape a floor. Using machines only disconnects you from the wood, and the value it brings to your subconscious mind.
I prefer both methods. I grew up in an era where I learned from the old school, so we did a lot of things by hand. I’ve also embraced the new school way with technology and dust containment.
On really old floors, there are times we hand sand because we can apply more or less pressure by hand or with the scraper, and we have a lot more control than with a piece of machinery. There are areas where you can’t fit a sander, so you have to scrape and hand sand. It’s probably best that you learn both because if your machine breaks down, are you going to stop working and go home? No, you have to pick up your hand scraper and hand rub the floor.
As long as the end result is good, the customer is happy, and you’re happy with the way you do your work, then you can do it with machinery or by hand.