We both tend to be DIY minded people, plus we had a budget that pretty much ruled out hiring a professional. In the end the project was neither as easy nor as hard as we thought it would be, but we are definitely pleased with the results. Sorry about the before and after pictures that were taken at different times of the day, at different angles, and with different lenses. We're going with the flow here these days; I hope you can still get a feel for the much-improved-ness.
During the research phase of this project I became obsessed—for quite some time—with the idea of staining the floors. I wanted them to be dark. Mocha-ish, espresso-ish, it didn't really matter what dark beverage-ish they would be, I just knew that I wanted dark. In the end, we decided not to stain at all because of time constraints. Not because of the three men that tried to tell me that I didn't really want to stain my floor and why is it that whenever you say you want something different somebody tries to tell you that you actually just want what everybody else has? Anyway, I conducted a very scientific survey for myself where I treated a portion of the floor with stain + polyurethane and another portion with just the polyurethane. I decided that for the extra three days it might cut off our finishing time, I could live without stain.
I know some of you are probably curious about the process of refinishing a hardwood floor, so I have happily compiled a thorough list/tutorial of what we did. Of course our experience will be different from yours, but this may help you prepare yourself:
1. Decide to refinish your floors.
2. Conduct intense internet research via Google. Pay little to no attention to sites that say you should hire a professional.
3. Remove baseboard trim from all rooms that will be refinished.
4. Wonder if you actually should have removed baseboard trim.
5. Wonder where to put the trim while you refinish.
6. Cover all heating vents and doorways to rooms what will not be refinished with plastic to keep dust from getting in.
7. Obsess over stain color.
8. Rent a giant sander (not a drum sander or a belt sander, you want the random kind).
10. Sand some more.
11. Realize that your random sander isn't going to take the old varnish off as nicely as you had hoped.
13. Decide to get quotes from professionals to do just the sanding.
14. Get quotes from 2 professionals.
15. Try to maintain polite attitude while they tell you that you're dumb for wanting to stain your floors.
16. Be completely shocked at the price of having your floor sanded by a professional.
18. Return to Plan A. (see #8)
19. Sand more.
20. Sand with a hand-held random orbital sander.
23. Sand on you hands and knees with a piece of sandpaper.
25. Sand to within an inch of your life.
29. Go over the floor with tack-cloth to pick up the dust that the vacuum missed.
30. Tack cloth.
31. Tack cloth.
32. Tack cloth.
33. Decide that you're okay with not staining the floor.
34. It is important to own this decision.
35. Tack cloth.
36. Lay down a coat of polyurethane. (Yay! You're almost done!)
37. Wait at least four hours.
41. Wait at least two days before you move anything into the house. Waiting longer is even better, especially when it is cold.
42. Admire your new floors!
43. Try not to allow yourself to look too closely at some spots.
44. Notice a few spots where you didn't get all of the previous varnish off.
45. Kick yourself for not doing #25 more.
46. Put down an area rug.
47. Wonder when your house will stop smelling like poly.
48. Smile at your floor every time you walk on it.
49. Tell all of your friends that you did-it-yourself.
50. Pat yourself on the back.
(* Don't you think for a second that this is actual advice. We both still claim to know next to nothing about refinishing floors.)
P.S. Don't forget to vote on the poll on my side bar if you haven't already!