Floor Sander and Finisher
Floor Sander and Finisher
Education and Training: None
Salary: Median—$12.88 per hour
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Floor sanders and finishers make new wood floors smooth and shiny and make old wood floors look like new. They use a variety of sanders, buffers, and steel wool to smooth the floors, as well as brushes and other implements to apply finish coats of varnish, polyurethane, or wax. Floor sanders and finishers work in homes, offices, stores, and other buildings.
After carpenters have installed a new wood floor, sanders and finishers go over the floor to smooth out any imperfections. They may have to remove excess glue or sink protruding nails. They may sand the floor with drum sanders, which look like large vacuum cleaners, or orbital sanders, which run a disk of sandpaper over the flooring. They choose the appropriate machine for the type of wood and for the way the flooring strips were laid. To get to areas the larger sanding machines cannot reach, they use smaller devices called edgers or they sand by hand with sandpaper. To refinish existing wood floors, workers may have to refasten or replace pieces of old flooring before sanding. Old floors may need to be sanded several times, depending on the condition of the floor.
After sanding, workers sweep and vacuum the floor. They may apply a sealer, which closes the pores of the wood, or a stain, which changes the color of the wood, before applying a finish of varnish, polyurethane, shellac, or lacquer. The choice of finish depends on the client's taste, as well as on durability and care requirements. Some finishes resist stains and moisture better than others, and some require waxing, while others can be cared for with a mop. Workers go over the first coat of finish with a buffer or light sander before applying any additional coats.
Education and Training Requirements
A high school education is good preparation for this field. Courses in business arithmetic, mechanical drawing, and shop provide a good start. Classes that improve communication skills are also important, because sanders and finishers often deal directly with clients.
There are several ways to enter this trade. Formal apprenticeships, which are supervised by trade unions or building contractors, teach trainees how to handle different sanding machines and tools and how to apply finishes once the wood has been sanded. Trainees also learn about the various kinds of wood and finishes and which work best together. Some vocational and trade schools offer courses in floor sanding and finishing. On-the-job training is the most common way to enter the trade. New employees begin as helpers and work under a skilled worker. Summer work as a helper is also a good way for high school students to prepare for this career.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to floor sanding companies or building contractors, which sometimes have openings for helpers or trainees. In some areas, apprenticeship programs may be available. Local union offices and building contractors often have information. State employment services, newspaper classified ads, and the Yellow Pages are other sources of employment information.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Fully qualified workers can become job or work crew supervisors. After several years of experience, about forty percent of all sanders and finishers start their own businesses. The success of their companies depends on their ability to find jobs and to develop a reputation for doing good work.
Floor sanding and finishing is a small trade. Only about seven thousand people work as floor sanders and finishers in the United States. Employment opportunities are expected to grow more slowly than the average for all jobs through the year 2014. While many builders and homeowners choose wood floors, many are turning to pre-finished hardwood or laminate products that look like wood, which they believe are easier to maintain. In addition, finishes used today last longer than traditional finishes, which means that floors require refinishing less often. Floor sanders and finishers will continue to find job opportunities because of the high turnover in the field.
Almost all floor sanding and finishing is indoors, so weather is not usually a factor. Humidity can increase the time it takes for finishes to dry, which can delay workers if several coats of finish are required. Sanders and finishers do a lot of bending, kneeling, and lifting in the course of their work. Work sites are usually dusty, and workers are exposed to fumes from stains, varnishes, and other materials. Safety goggles and masks are common protective gear.
An eight-hour day and forty-hour week are common. Overtime work can be necessary on certain jobs, including evening and weekend work on floors in stores or offices that cannot be interrupted during normal business hours.
Earnings and Benefits
In 2004 the median wage of floor sanders and finishers was $12.88 an hour. The lowest ten percent earned less than $8.91, and the top ten percent were paid more than $21.03 an hour. Self-employed sanders and finishers work either for individual clients or as subcontractors for construction firms. Subcontractors often earn more than salaried employees; however, they do not have guaranteed income and must maintain their own trucks and equipment.
Trainees usually start out earning half of what experienced floor sanders and finishers are paid. Their wages increase as they progress through the training period.
Where to Go for More Information
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
101 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Wood Flooring Association
111 Chesterfield Industrial Blvd.
Chesterfield, MO 63005
Salaried employees may receive vacation pay, pension plans, insurance, and other benefits. Self-employed workers have to make their own arrangements.