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Big Mouth Installer

Sid Bourne on learning to sand & finish correctly

IN my role as an independent inspector of failed flooring and a trainer for FloorSkills and the British Wood Flooring Association I am finding frequent complaints about sanding and finishing. Probably 95% of these are caused by basic installer errors, such as keeping the sanding areas clean and using the correct selection of grit.

I recently went to a very prestigious home to view a sanding and finishing issue which had taken so long to resolve that the consumer felt that the only way to get satisfaction was to take the contractor to court.

The court commissioned me as a single joint expert to carry out the site visit and do a report on my findings with both parties sharing my cost.

The flooring, bought on a sale, was an unfinished solid oak, which had to be sanded, stained and finishing with a matt lacquer. So it was nothing too difficult.

When I arrived at the site, all the parties were present. I started my inspection, asking all the usual questions, like was the place empty of other trades and so on. As it happened there were other trades still working on-site when the sand & finish took place.

The consumer claimed, however, that she had not forced the installer to start the sand & finish. She said she had and advised the contractor that he could carry out his work when he was happy with the situation (meaning when the other trades had left). This was agreed.

The problem with the flooring was that the stain was very patchy and there were overlapping marks throughout the finish. There was also picture framing around the perimeter and raised grain. The job totalled 230sq m, which is a fair sized area.

The consumer, an American lady, knew her stuff. She said she’d had many floors sanded in the USA with none of the problems like those she had found here in the UK.

I gathered all the information from both the consumer and the contractor before starting my inspection. But the cause was obvious before even kneeling to examine the floor close-up.

The problems were all down to the installer.

1. The other trades working around him created dirt and dust.
Other issues included:
2. incorrect grit selection;
3. incorrect edger use;
4. incorrect grit selection;
5. incorrect application of stain
6. incorrect application of finish; and
7. no heating on when the installation and sand & finish was carried out.
Additionally, there were:
8. no moisture checks; and
9. no relative humidity checks.

The list of faults it just went on and on. The installer, being very talkative, succeeded in dropping himself in the stuff that sometimes hits the fan. The machines he worked with had been hired.

This ‘Big Mouth’ installer proudly told me that he was self-taught. It was easy, he said. He did not need to go on any courses as he believed nobody could teach him anything.

It won’t surprise you to hear that my report was 110% in favour of the American lady, who easily won her case.
The point I am making for all you installers, or would-be installers, is – if you want to do sand & finish for a living – go on courses. As I always say to people starting out in the industry, if you know of someone in your area with a great reputation, ask to go out with them and learn from them.

Notice how they always keep the sanding area immaculate and they will own the site they are on. They won’t do sanding & finishing if other trades are anywhere near them.

And if the consumer doesn’t like it; then let them get Joe Bloggs like the ‘Big Mouth’ guy I mentioned above.

To be fair, to the consumer in the above complaint, she did try to get a qualified installer from the internet, but she said she could not find one. She commented that it was much easier getting a highly skilled sand & finish technician in the USA than it is in the UK.

This lady had not heard of the BWFA or CFA. She ended up contacting one of those master trade people organisations. You know the ones – you pay them your money and overnight you are advertised as a ‘skilled operative’.

Why do people join some of these cowboy outfits? Possibly because they are easy to join and have the money (paid to them by the ‘skilled operatives’ they promote) to advertise themselves, unlike the non for profit organisations.

I did manage to put this consumer in touch with a top notch sand & finish guy not from her immediate area, but not too far away. She is over the moon with the results. We in the UK can match anyone in the world for skills, but unfortunately the skilled guys in this country are so good they don’t need to advertise, so they are not known to most of the general public.

I get enthusiastic people attending my sand & finish courses, which is great and shows their serious intentions to become top rated installers. But I do make it clear that if they think they can come on a course for two or three days and then go out there as a master, then they are in for a shock.

However I am amazed at the finishing results some of them actually achieve at the end of the course, which proves my point that if you use the right kit and follow the correct procedures you can get great results.

The point of any course is to show you techniques, correct methods, correct grit selections and correct machines to employ with reminders to clean up and clean the machinery afterwards.

So any budding sand & finish technicians should go on proper courses and we will make sure we get you out into the real world, having learned from the top dogs.

BWFA and FloorSkills are running courses throughout 2013. Check out the websites:
T: 07841 500940

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at