How to Go From Carpet to Refinished Wood Floors in a Weekend

When I initially bought my farmhouse about 5 years ago, the first thing I did after closing paperwork was check what was under the carpet in the living and dining room. I wanted to know if there was a chance there were wood floors under it, and Hallelujah! There was!

I lived in my house for a few years before moving to Florida for work, and recently moved back to Pennsylvania and back into my farmhouse. I decided that after 5+ years, now was the time to finally update the house before moving everything back in. That included paint in almost every room, updates to both bathrooms, the laundry room, new flooring in most rooms, and just an overall facelift. The only room really not being touched in this renovation process is the kitchen. This will be a project for next year.

Refinishing hardwood floors can sound very daunting. It was for me, which is why I put it off for so long. Below you’ll find the steps for refinishing your floors.

What you’ll need:

  • Utility Knife
  • Rubber elbow length gloves
  • Hammer
  • Small pry bar
  • End nippers to remove staples
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Trash bag
  • Broom
  • Safety glasses
  • Empty cup or dish for nails and staples
  • Bucket with clean water
  • Purple Power or other finish remover
  • Sponge / abrasive?
  • Old tshirts or rags for stain
  • Tung oil

Step #1 – Prep

  • Remove all the furniture from the rooms
  • Gather the tools and supplies mentioned above and keep them in a bucket or box nearby

Step #2 – Carpet Removal

  • Put on your gloves and start in a corner and begin pulling the carpet away from the tack strips.
  • Do this throughout the entire room. Once it pulls away, put it back down. Don’t worry about rolling or cutting it right now, just detaching it from all the tack strips along the walls.
  • Once it’s all detached, use the utility knife or carpet cutter to cut out a section that you’ll be able to roll up and dispose of. I’d recommend about 2-4 rolls slices per room to make it manageable.
  • Now, start with the first section and start rolling it back toward you. Once all rolled, take it out to your disposal pile.
  • After you’ve removed all the rolls you cut from the remove, now go back and remove the padding. Most of it should pull up quite easily. Get up what you can with your hands. We’ll come back for the rest.
  • Do a quick sweep so you can see what nails and staples are still left in the floor.

Step #3 – Staple & Nail Removal

  • This is the more tedious part. I would start by removing all the tack strips from the room. This is where the hammer and pry bar will come into place. Start by inserting the pry bar under the tack strip, hammer a few times, and then start prying it up.
  • Wearing safety glasses in this part is probably a wise idea. I personally didn’t, but saw a small nail fly very near my eye and realized after that would have probably been a good idea.
  • Keep prying up the sections. Some may come up more easily than others and in bigger pieces. Do what you can to get up the staples. What you can’t get now you’ll come back for later.
  • Once you’ve got all the tack strips up, now it’s time to remove staples and remaining nails. I’d use the hammer here first to find all the nails to pry them up.
  • Then begin work on the staples. Grab your cup, your staple remover, hammer and mini pry bar. Most staples should come up pretty easily if you have a firm but soft grip. Others that are older may break off mid pull, so that’s where you’ll have to come back and carefully remove the remaining pieces.
  • For pesky staples that are deep enough in the wood to not get to them, this is where the mini pry bar and the hammer come into place. Gently pry up the staple enough to get a grip on it to pull out with the staple remover.
  • When you think you have everything up, check again. There’s usually a few pesky nails or staples still left that will get caught on your rags (or hand) while cleaning so best to get them up now.

Tip: This part took me about 4 hours between a dining room and living room. I sat on the floor or kneeled on a garden kneeling pad to do this. I moved from one side of the room to the other and listened to podcasts to keep my attention. I also didn’t wear gloves the entire time. You’ll see below my hands got a bit wrecked in the process Do this step well and you will have less to do later and will hopefully not have any injuries.

Step #4 – Prep for Finishing

I have oak floors in my house and they were in great condition. The only issue was minor staining where the original padding had been and these “v” shaped marks were in the flooring. I tried to get them out with just a vinegar solution but that didn’t do much. I would try a few more natural cleaners first and see what you can get off. For some of you, you may need to actually do quite a few layers of heavy machine sanding in order to get stains and issues out. If that’s the case, do your research on what you will need for this step. Luckily, I just had some heavy scrubbing to do.

  • I used “Purple Power” recommended by someone who’s refinished many wood floors. I tried it and it did an awesome job getting up the stain as well as removing the previous finish from the floors. This is exactly what I wanted it to do. I did one pass with this and had an empty bucket with water next to me throughout. I had to change out the water a few times because it became really gross as I was cleaning and scrubbing. Some of the stains on my floors were peskier than others, so let me tell you this is an incredible shoulder workout. I was quite sore for a day after from all the scrubbing.
  • After the scrubbing which took about 2 hours for both rooms total, the next day I went back with just water to clean off where the chemical had been. I let this then dry for a day before coming back the following day with tung oil. I’m sure you could probably start on this earlier, but this timeline worked out for me.
  • Make sure the floors are totally dry, free of staples, and nails, and any issues are totally sanded out. What you’re about to do will seal in the current state of the floor so make sure you’re happy with them.

Step #5 – Refinishing the Floors

  • I just used tung oil on my floors. No polyurethane or color. I liked the color of the oak and just wanted to bring out the grain so did two coats of tung oil.
  • I started in one corner with a container of tung oil, my garden kneeling pad, rubber elbow length gloves, and an old tee shirt to apply the oil. I dumped a bit directly on the floors and then just rubbed it in with the grain. I didn’t add any extra thinner to the oil. I know a bunch of people recommend this as I’m sure it’s helpful but I didn’t do this with mine.
  • I used the ragged and rubbed the oil on the entire room and then waited. For any sections that after 40 minutes were still a little wet or shiny, I wiped off any excess. There wasn’t much in this area, but could tell where I was heavy handed with pouring the oil out became more oily than others. If make sure you’re applying a thin coat evenly and rubbing it in well, you should be okay in this area.
  • Wait about 24 hours between coats. I let my first coat dry completely and did not walk on them in the meantime. Then I came back the next day and added a second coat. I waited about 18 hours on this one and then went back and rubbed with just a completely clean old tee shirt the entire floor to pick up any excess anything on them.