Monday, August 16, 2010

I hate the floor buffer

Lucky me is spending a few hours sitting in the lounge at the auto mechanic, waiting for my car to get an oil change, tire balancing, and alignment. Perfect time to catch up on some outstanding business, right?

P pointed out that, what with the computer being out of service and our busy summer, I failed to complete the story of our floor refinishing. Actually, he simply wanted nice "after" pictures showing the results of his hard work. But I can't do that without finishing up the nitty gritty details. (Plus the auto mechanic doesn't have wi-fi for customers, and I haven't unpacked our cd of office to install it on the new laptop, so I'm writing this in Notepad. Text now, pictures later. So, lots of text! Everyone's favorite part of a blog, right?)

So when I last left you, we had just survived a somewhat hairy night of applying sanding sealer to the floor. But all of the speed bumps weren't behind us yet....

Since we were using water-based sanding sealer on our oak floors, it raised the grain tremendously. While P was at work the next afternoon, I got out the pole sander and knocked down the grain on the edges and corners (with 220 grit sandpaper, and 150 grit sanding sponge in the corners). Since it took a few hours just to do the edges of each room, it was clear we needed to bring in some mechanical reinforcements if this project was ever going to get done. So off we went to Home Depot to get the floor buffer.

When we got home with the buffer, I felt that P was not getting on to the job fast enough--he was doing something unimportant like eating his dinner--so I decided I was going to get this job rolling. Not wanting to scuff our delicate floors by wearing shoes, I took them off and headed out in my wool socks.

Let me mention here, for those of you who have never rented equipment from Home Depot, that each piece of equipment comes not with an instruction manual, but with a single sheet of instructions. These instructions rarely contain any useful tips on how to use the machinery, but cover other important things like, "Don't use electrical equipment with frayed cords! You could die!" and "Dust can explode and catch fire! Handle your dust properly or you could die!" and "Don't inhale around this machine, or you could breathe dust and die!" So we just stared at the buffer and used our deductive powers to decide how I should turn it on. We decided that it would start by hitting the button on the side, and stay on by gripping the triggers on the handles (sort of like brakes on a bike). I have hands of roughly average size and strength for a woman, so it was simply impossible for me to hold both handles and hit the start button simultaneously. So I grabbed one handle, hit the button with my other hand--and the buffer took off, dragging me after it. Around and around we spun, until the buffer slammed into the wall and the handle was ripped out of my hand--at which point the trigger was released and the machine turned off. Or maybe the machine had wrapped the electrical cord around itself so many times that the plug had pulled out of the wall. I'm not sure--it all happened really fast.

Yes, the sensible thing to do would have been to let go of the trigger earlier. But all of this happened in the span of a few panicked seconds, and I wasn't up to rational thinking. I was going with my instincts, and desperately hanging on to the machine in a futile attempt to control it.

Damages included a nice hole in the living room wall, scuffs on our lovely floor, and some impressive bruises to my elbow, right side, and right foot where the buffer had gotten the better of me. I slunk off to lick my wounds and sulk, and refused to ever touch the buffer again. P was on his own from here on out. Our walls breathed a sigh of relief.

P was gracious enough to have some difficulties of his own controlling the buffer. He was even kind enough to console by creating his own (much smaller) hole in the living room wall.

He even remembered the story of which his older brother A had used a buffer to refinish floors--A had found the buffer so hard to control that he had had to recruit a second large guy to follow him around, holding onto A's shoulders to steady him. This was quite consoling, since A runs a landscaping business and is a very strong, indefatigable guy--but I really wished P had remembered this story before I turned on the buffer.

For this first buffing, where there was a lot of grain to knock down, P used a sanding screen on the buffer. Unlike the sanders we had used, the floor buffer does not have a built-in dust collector. Instead, we discovered that the particles of sealer and wood remain under the sanding screen, and eventually stick together and build up on the screen. This clogs the screen so it doesn't work very well. More disturbingly, these areas of build up will scratch the floor. So P had to stop fairly frequently to pick them off the screen.

Once the floors were buffed and the dust cleaned up, we applied one more coat of sealer to the floors--since so little was left after the parts that had raised with the grain were knocked off.

Lessons learned from our experience with the buffer:

1. Using a buffer is not as easy as it looks. I used to see the janitors at my grad school using a buffer 2 times the size of ours on the stairs of the library. I figured, this must be easy! Moral of the story: respect the buffer.  And the janitors.

2. The buffer is a lot harder to control when you're using an aggressive sanding tool on a rough surface. That is to say, the buffer has a real mind of its own when you're using a sanding screen on a floor with raised grain. It's a lot easier when you're using the smoothest buffing pad on your penultimate coat of poly.

3. The best way to control the buffer is not with sheer brute strength (sorry, A and other guy holding his shoulders), but by carefully balancing the amount of pressure you apply with each hand--this will keep it from spinning out of control in circles. Which is to say, never hold it with only when hand. Even when trying to press that pesky start button.

4. This is the proper garb for running the buffer. Shoe covers, not socks!

Okay, one more post on floor finishes, and then the final reveal!

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