I have learned three very important things about finishing floors while researching how to finish our wide board pine floors. First is the importance of clocking your buffer. The second is cord management and the third is having an exit strategy.
Before I started on the floors I knew about exit strategies. I had never thought of cord management other than the computer cord snarl under my desk. Exit strategies I knew. I knew I was very bad at them but I thought it would be like moping to a door and walking out and that it would not be all that hard.
I was wrong. Having a good exit strategy for any of the stages of floor finishing is not the same as having an exit strategy that works. Or if you have one that works being able to put it in place. After layer upon layer across room after room I find myself behind the door rather than through the door far less often than I did at first. Still, my exit strategies are C- at best.
My clocking is good. Clocking refers to an electric buffer. The hardest “bite” of the orbit is between 2 and 3:30 on an orbital buffer. You are supposed to put 12 o’clock straight ahead and keep it there. You should always buff with “purpose.” When you start buffing, working right to left, you buff the edges of the room using an egg shape keeping 12 o’clock in line with the center of your body as you face the buffer. Once you finish your edges you march up and down the rows of boards overlapping about 25% of each row. When you get to the end of one board turn your buffer and start back on the next pass and so forth.
Here is the trick. How do you clock your buffer when you are turning? If you are doing a high school gymnasium I suppose you could keep the center of your body as you face the buffer at the 12 o’clock position but in my 10 ft by 12 ft bedroom, even with a tiny little buffer, all bets are off. Any way you cut it when you make the turn something in that 180 degrees is going to get more buffing than the straight lines you are marching up and down. Here is a trick I figured out that “seems” to work. The greatest pressure on the buffer is with the handle straight over the top of the buffer head. The lightest is when the handle is 10 to 15 degrees to the buffer head. I drop my handle, make my turn and then walk up and down my rows at about 35 degrees consoling myself that 15 + 15 = 30 which is less than 35 so the pressure must be OK since I put half of my 30 in each half of the turn. But, of course, math like that is superstitious thinking.
Thinking if you drop the handle on your buffer to half of what it is when you are making one pass rather than two has nothing to do with geometry. When we play-train our dog Sophie to do different commands for a treat, after a while she gets silly and starts trying about anything she ever learned to see if this one works. When she goes off the rails she always starts with the first thing she learned, a half turn that could be, if she was willing, a roll over. She will try it several times, even when she knows what to do. If I tell her “Close” that means come close to me and you get a treat. If I tell her close, sit, up, down beside, give bring, take, up, she knows them all and can execute them flawlessly in any order or combination, but after a while, she gets superstitious and starts with the half-roll.
I cannot fault her for doing it. I do it too. In floors and in real life if I do something that I though worked, even if it did not, I will do it again. Unlike life, with floors if you muff it you can tell pretty quickly like when you put the stain on your bad sanding marks. Like life, it is not always possible to fix your mess. You usually can improve it but sometimes you get to live with what you did. Knowing you made a mess and having to live with it brings on the next superstitious behavior. “What I did was wrong must be because of doing it on the full of the moon. If I do it on the waxing moon, I know it will work.” After a while we are so muddled we try anything we know even if it is not related to what we are doing.
Which brings me to cord management. I was several days into the floor vaudeville revue before I read about cord management (see Cords of Relationships). I found several articles on it in writing but when I looked for videos I found nothing. I am sure it is there but I did not find it. I can imagine why a video on cord management might not be top of the charts. When you are sanding you usually have two cords, one for the sander and one for the dust management system (vacuum). If you are like me you have extra lights so you can see what you are doing in the darker corners of the room. Should you plug them into the wall where you are headed for your exit strategy? What happens if you are there but the plug is not exactly at but near your exit? Should you plug them where you start so you don’t start tangled? Should you add a 25 ft extension cord, properly grounded, and plug to somewhere outside of the room?
Bottom line with cord management is there are no good cords. Day before yesterday I tried the trick I saw on yet another YouTube video of tossing the cord of the sander over my shoulder when I was on my knees on the floor. Once you figure out how to keep it from sliding off your shoulder when you are crawling across the floor, glory of glories you don’t kneel on the cord. That, I have learned, is a painful mistake.
Finding it very useful not to be crawling on my sander cord, I kept the cord it tossed over my shoulder. Things were going swimmingly and I was delighted not to be bumping into my sander cord all the time. I crawled forward and felt a bit of a tug. The cord to my dust management system (shop vac attached to sander) was entwined with the sander cord so that one went around my neck right to left and the other left to right clasping their cord-hands in the center to perfectly strangle me if I made too much forward progress with my sanding.
Which brings me full circle to exit strategies. Tonight I planned carefully how to finish putting the second coat of stain on one half of our great room. I had half an open side of the room from which to exit so it seemed simple enough. I worked in smaller and smaller bites while I moved closer and closer to my chosen exit. I managed my cord and got it out of the way before my final exit. I crawled back and promptly got tangled in a ladder that was lying on its side protecting my exit so no one would accidentally walk on my wet floor.
Floors have taught me to keep my body center line facing forward or my bite will be too strong. They have taught me to keep up with what is trailing behind me and they have taught me that if I pile a lot of stuff up to keep people out of my space I won’t be able to get out either.