Proper Wood Flooring Equipment Maintenance

How to keep sanders operating efficiently for longer periods of time

By Brett Miller, NWFA Vice President of Education & Certification

Photo 1: Chatter marks are caused by poor machine bearings or wear in the bearings.
Photo 1: Chatter marks are caused by poor machine bearings or wear in the bearings.

Any wood flooring company that measures its growth by new installations only is ignoring a large part of its profit potential. There is an even larger wood flooring market out there which can have a big impact on your flooring business – the hundreds of thousands of square feet of wood flooring already installed. All of those existing wood floors represent a potential windfall for your company through refinishing and maintenance programs.

One of the significant selling points for wood floors is that they can be renewed time and time again, which makes them a great long-term value. When the time comes to refresh those floors, you want to be sure your equipment is in tip-top shape.

Proper maintenance will not only keep your equipment operating at peak efficiency, but will also keep it operating longer. Perhaps just as important, it will prevent costly down-time when you can least afford it.

Keeping sanding machines properly adjusted also will help vacuums perform optimally. Loose pulley belts reduce air movement and inhibit dust collection and can also cause chatter marks. Cleaning the machines out after every job by mechanically blowing out the motor and fan system with an air hose greatly reduces wear on the machines.

Maintenance practices vary among the different kinds of equipment, so it is important to read and understand the operator’s manual. Keep in mind that many repairs should be done by an authorized service center. Repairs performed by an unauthorized center may void your warranty.

To maintain your equipment properly, there are nine primary areas to focus: carbon brushes, machine lubrication, machine bearings, edger pads, sanding drums, sanding chambers, wheels, drive belts, and dust bags.

Carbon Brushes

The brushes are the pathways for electric current. Once the brushes are worn, the electric current will cause heat, arcing and sparking. You also should check the brush spring. It keeps the pressure on the brushes, preventing arcing and premature wear of the armature. Inspect the motor brushes once a month and change all the motor brushes at the same time.

Here’s a good carbon brush next to a worn brush.When the brushes are worn the machine will spark from the top of the motor and feel underpowered. The on/off switch will turn the machine off and the switch will need to be held down to keep the machine on which is not recommended.
Here’s a good carbon brush next to a worn brush.When the brushes are worn the machine will spark from the top of the motor and feel underpowered. The on/off switch will turn the machine off and the switch will need to be held down to keep the machine on which is not recommended.

Machine Lubrication

Discuss with your authorized service center the correct amount, frequency and the type of lubricant to use (See Photo 1).

Machine Bearings

Refer to the owner’s manual for service intervals. Periodically check the guide rollers for wear. Always keep an ear tuned to the sound of the machine. Any new or different sound could be a sign of a bad bearing or wear in the bearing. If it remains unrepaired, a bad bearing can cause sanding irregularities.

Edger Pads

Inspect and clean edger pads before each job. An unbalanced or bent edger pad will cause gouging. Worn and improperly adjusted edger pads also result in uneven sanding.

Sanding Drums

Inspect and clean the sanding drum on split-drum or belt sanders before attaching sandpaper. Dust and debris on the drum will cause chatter marks. Gouged, grooved or badly damaged drum surfaces should be replaced. To prolong the life of a sanding drum, release the tension on the sandpaper or belt after every job, and leave sandpaper on the drum to protect it during transit. (See Photo 2)

The left drum is new and how they should look. The second one in the middle looks like the contractor hit a nail or staple, and a cord. Also there is a buildup of wood particles that needs to be cleaned off. At right, is a drum after dressing was applied, which is not recommended by the manufacturer of this drum.
Photo 2: The left drum is new and how they should look. The second one in the middle looks like the contractor hit a nail or staple, and a cord. Also there is a buildup of wood particles that needs to be cleaned off. At right, is a drum after dressing was applied, which is not recommended by the manufacturer of this drum.

Sanding Chambers

Clean the sanding chamber once a week to prevent accumulation of debris, which can interfere with the performance of the dust-control system and the upper roller and contact wheel (drum). Cleaning the dust chamber also keeps the fan balanced, preventing vibrations that can cause chatter and imperfections in the floor.

Wheels

Always inspect the wheels before you start any job. Debris on the wheels (filler, grit, finish, and stones, for example) can be left on the floor and also cause chatter, wave and damage to the wood during sanding. When transporting the machine, lift it over wet filler, stones and rough areas. After each grit or cut, clean the wheels. Grit can build up and cause the machine to cut unevenly. Keep the weight of the machine off of the wheels during storage and transportation. This prevents flat spots and prolongs the life of the wheels.

Drive Belts

The best way to check drive belts is by hand. If the belt feels rough, cupped, worn, or grooved, then it probably needs to be replaced. The most common problem with belts is letting the belts “take a set” or take the shape of the pulleys. During use, the belts become hot. If they are not loosened during a long shut-down (overnight or during lunch, for example), they can “take a set,” which causes vibration and chatter. Tighten the belts before each use and always loosen the belts overnight or any long-term idle period. Always use a manufacturer recommended belt. (Photo 3)

Photo 3: A sanding machine side cover damaged by improper belt alignment.
Photo 3: A sanding machine side cover damaged by improper belt alignment.

Most belts from a hardware store are for general use only, not high-speed. Belt tension is important too. If it is too tight, the belt life will be short. If it is too loose, the machine can slip and vibrate. Do a visual check with the machine running for belt shake or vibration. Tighten or loosen the belt until it runs true. Check with your service center for correct belt tension. Read the owner’s manual. This is possibly the most important element in preventive maintenance. A poorly maintained machine can be costly.

Shown is a bad motor with the carbon brushes worn all the way through.
Shown is a bad motor with the carbon brushes worn all the way through.

Dust Bags

These should be turned inside out, shaken vigorously, blown out or vacuumed frequently, and machine-washed (if recommended by the manufacturer) in cold water, to prevent pore blockage and loss of dust control. Empty a dust bag when it is half full; never leave a dust bag unattended with dust in it. Sanding dust can ignite and cause injury or damage. Countersink all nails before sanding the floor. Hitting a nail or staple while sanding can cause a spark, igniting a dust fire in the bag. Also, dust bags will eventually wear out and should be replaced periodically.

Taking a few preventive measures with your sanding equipment will help prolong the life of your equipment, and will help ensure a top-quality job. You can learn more about maintaining your equipment in the NWFA’s Sand & Finish Guidelines. These Guidelines are provided to all NWFA members as a member benefit. They are available to nonmembers for purchase. For more information, contact the NWFA at (800) 422-4556 (USA and Canada), (636) 519-9663 (international); or visit www.nwfa.org.

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