Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood Flooring

What is “Dustless” floor refinishing?


What exactly is all the hype?

I appreciate when people call me for a project. Sometimes in this business I need to hop onto the bandwagon and use industry invented marketing terminology so customers can evaluate services on a level playing field. Let’s talk about the origins of the word “dustless” and really dig deep.

To start, let’s quit using the hype word “dustless”, which is simply marketing speak for DUST COLLECTION.

Hardwood floor sanding used to be associated with huge clouds of dust that left your home a mess for months after everything was sanded. Despite the negative aesthetics of dust, the real problem is that wood dust is a carcinogen to contractors. So, about 15 years ago, manufacturers started experimenting with adding a vacuum to all of the sanders on the job site.  The results were pretty good, but ultimately the systems have some limitations that the industry does not like to discuss. To circumvent this reality and gain valuable PR points to sell machines, one manufacturer in the industry partnered with GreenGuard in order to market machines and market to homeowners. This forward surge in “keeping up with the jones” led to a proliferation of the phrase dustless as a marketing term. I want to investigate the machines involved and where dustless systems actually work and do not work.

What happens when you sand a wood floor?

In order to sand a hardwood floor to bare wood you need to use three or four machines:

  • Belt Sander (We use the Lagler Hummel)
  • Buffer or Lagler Trio
  • Edger
  • Orbital sander (optional)

Belt Sander Basics

 

The workhorse of the floor sanding process is the belt sander which grinds the floor flat. Belt machines have an internal impeller fan that collects dust. This fan is spun by a belt connected to the motor which turns the sandpaper. In the case of the Lagler Hummel the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) that the machine produces is approximately 260CFM. That is a pretty huge volume of air. In order to evacuate the excess air, the machine uses a bag or connected vacuum to collect dust. Some belt machines actually produce more CFM than some vacuums can match. The problem is exacerbated once you split the vacuum and operate more than one machine at a time.

Essentially, adding “dustless” vacuums with hoses to a belt machine is for show and can lessen the inherit capabilities of the machine. 

Buffer or Lagler Trio

 

Buffers are essentially a round spinning disc brought from the janitorial industry to the wood flooring industry. To collect the dust, most buffers have a simple fabric skirt surrounding them with one or two ports to attach a vacuum. The trouble is that the skirt is not always in perfect contact with the floor and if the vacuum is inadequate (because more than one machine is in use) buffers can create dust. The Trio is different from a buffer because it contains a built in vacuum, HEPA filter, and skirting that extracts dust at a rate that exceeds the rate of dust production.

Edger 

 

The edger is another machine that has an impeller motor that captures dust in a vacuum or a bag. Using a vacuum connected to the edger or a bag is less important than ensuring that the edger has good dust pickup. Edgers that use gear driven impellers tend to run at a speed that provides sometimes inadequate dust collection. Belt driven edgers collect dust much more effectively.

Orbital sander

 

 

The orbital sander is occasionally used to do detail sanding and finer sanding for a floor prior to stain and finish application. Without a doubt all orbital sanders sold at Home Depot or Lowes DO NOT have effective dust collection. Good detail sanders are made my: Festool, Mirka, and Metabo.

 

Why does dust collection matter?

  • Sanding Quality– If dust is present on a floor during sanding and not collected by a sander, then the dust particles from each successive sanding simply get ground around into the wood grain. This essentially counteracts the value of doing fine finishing sanding steps and can lead to unsightly scratches within the finish and stain. If you are having your wood floors stained darker, then you can get significant scratches and swirls. It is possible that the swirls can telegraph through the finish coats and create refractive “spider webbing” that appears under can lights. For this primary reason other than aesthetics, dust collection greatly elevates the quality of a floor finishing project.
  • Plastic Cannot Be Put Everywhere– If you live in a newer home with vaulted or open ceilings, then it would be extremely difficult to use plastic to mask off those areas prior to sanding. Open ceilings and vaulted ceilings in areas like Roseville, Rocklin, Folsom, and Granite Bay where the subdivisions and neighborhood are newer are impossible to mask with plastic. In this case, the only defense is to have a good offense and prevent dust from escaping.

Previously I have given a detailed example of how misleading advertising phrases like “99% dust-free” are for consumers. If you talk to me, I am going to give you one common reply no matter what:

Your House Will Be Clean When We Are Done

If you want to know specifics, then here is our approach:

We sand with a Lagler Hummel, Lagler Trio,  Lagler Flip, and Festool Rotex. The Lagler sanders have been tested independently at a German university in order to verify the effectiveness of dust collection. The data and certificates for the Lagler machines is available by reading this PDF. Here is a photo relating sanding to the common process of smoking just to reference levels of particulates.

 

We do NOT LIKE the term dustless, so if you were confused I hoped that we helped you understand “dust collection” that can be used in refurbishing your floors.

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