The biggest renovation task when we moved to an older house involved tearing up old carpet to get to the good hardwood floors underneath. The rusted staples through the underlay made my blood boil, but we managed to bleach most of the stains out. Some rooms were so heavily coated with oily varnish that it proved quicker and much cheaper to scratch the finish off with a brace of hand scrapers than to gum up the sander’s belts in seconds of use.
Over a couple of weeks the floors and stairway succumbed. Most of the varnish went on very well, but I had read that the open grain of oak required filler before the varnish, so in the living room I slathered on a generous dose of the goop and waited for it to set. It didn’t. More research revealed that Japan dryer mixed into varnish makes it dry much more quickly. I resolved to put a coat of modified varnish onto the floor in the hope that it would mix with the filler and cause the whole thing to harden. This left a living-room pool of smelly liquid. Not good. Maybe if I used more dryer. To apply the second coat I had to wade, so I settled upon woolen socks covered by clear plastic bags as the footwear of choice. In I went with the foam applicator on a broom handle, and on went the third coat with a fervent prayer to whatever deity controls the drying of varnish.
It worked. The whole thing set up beautifully. Two more coats of gloss and we had a magnificent living room floor.
Thus emboldened, I set my sights on my son’s bedroom. He needed a desk and shelf-unit, so I picked up 300 bd. feet of red oak from a mill north of #7, ran it through the planer and built a complex work unit. This left a great deal of surface to sand, so I resolved to rent a floor sander for his bedroom floor and then press it into service for the new wood, as well.
The old-style Clarke drum sander hurts my back. The angle is just wrong. At that time I was at the stage of life where I tended to adjust things to suit. It turned out that the handles don’t adjust that high. This discovery came to me as I held dumbly to the handle while the rest of the unit took off down a flight of stairs, under full power until the cord pulled out.
Yikes! Fortunately the oak baseboards were pretty tough and I hadn’t hit any balusters, so I got by with one dent in the pine flooring on the landing.
The day was wearing on and I still had that pile of oak to sand, so I moved the unit to the back deck and smoothed the two desk tops without incident. But the deck was the wrong shape for shelves. Ideally a long, flat area would be best for the narrower pieces. The street! Church Street at that time was a series of long, concrete slabs: a smooth, uninterrupted sanding surface.
Fueled by coffee and determined to complete the job before the sander was due back at the rental agency, I arranged the shelves one after the other along the quiet street. The heavy red cord wouldn’t reach the outlet in the garage. In haste I grabbed an extension, one of those yellow things on a reel which were popular in the 80’s. It reached. I plugged in and started the first shelf. Pop! The sander quit. The breaker on the cord reel had let go.
In frustration I walked over and punched the reset button.
Nothing on this earth accelerates as quickly as a Clarke floor sander on concrete. By the time I could get my finger off the breaker the thing was down the street and out of sight behind a Pontiac. What’s worse, I heard a loud “crump” when it hit the curb. Silence.
I looked around. Everyone in the neighbourhood had vanished, even the owner of the car.
The sander did not enjoy its encounter with the curb. It cracked the cast aluminum casing. Of course I tried to puzzle out how such an accident could have happened – or more likely I tried to find an explanation which made me seem a little less of an idiot. It came down to the clearly-labeled electronic switch on the unit. Electronic switches don’t normally start up after a power interruption. This one obviously did. Turns out the rental guy had replaced the worn-out switch with a regular light switch, but hadn’t changed the label.
Still, returning the sander was easily my most embarrassing moment to that point in our life in Smiths Falls. Later on I bought my own unit, but I’ve never tried to raise the handle. I just sand until my back hurts, and then quit for the day. It works fine that way. Oh, yes, I also threw that yellow, wind-up cord away and bought a heavier one.