Can I Floor-Sand Over Exposed Nails?

Q:  I’m planning on sanding my pine floor, but it’s got a number of exposed nail heads.  Can I sand right over them and will them sand down or what to do?

A:  Sanding over exposed nail heads in your wood flooring is a beautiful experience.  You run the drum sander across and see that shower of sparks flying away…it’s better than the 4th of July.

But sparks lead to problems, not because of fire or anything (though keep an eye out for this, since you’re dealing with dry sawdust, t00).  When you sand over an exposed nail, you will rip the drum sander’s sandpaper.  It may be just a little nick at first, but give it a minute and it’s a goner.  And believe me, drum sander sandpaper is not cheap.

Exposed Nail Heads Not Always Obvious

Sagging Floor

But you may not see these nail heads at first.  They might be pounded down flat or even concaved into the wood, and then covered up with multiple layers of stain and floor sealer.  Then the drum sander rips that sealer and stain right off and–flash!!–sparks.

The thing is, a wood floor should not have exposed nails.  But it will in these cases:

  • The last board nailed by the floor installers was face-nailed.  By face-nailed, we mean that nails were pounded into the top of the floor board, not through the tongue-and-groove side area.  Every wooden floor will have this.
  • A repair was made in the floor, and the repair was inexpertly done.  Experts don’t leave exposed nails; amateurs often do.

What to Do?

  1. Find exposed nails in wood flooring visually and confirm with a magnetic stud finder.
  2. Pound down hard with a nailset.  This will be hard pounding.  It helps if you’ve got an old, crapped-out nailset that you don’t care about anymore.  This will save your “good” nailset for the “real” work of pounding in finish nails.
  3. Mark the area by setting something on top of the area (a paper coffee cup?).  When you back up to the area, you can easily kick the locater away.  That way, you’ll know to go lightly across this area.

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