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How to Repair Hardwood Flooring

Tips on Removing and Replacing Square-Edged or Tongue-in-Groove Floor Planks

© 2010 by Kelly Smith all rights reserved

A hardwood floor floor in the sunlight, photo by Hotblack

The two most common types of hardwood floors are tongue-and-groove and square-edged. Either type will give your home a classier look and will enhance equity better than wall-to-wall carpet, but eventually they’ll need some maintenance. The steps in this article have worked well for me, but other carpenters have tricks of their own. Always wear safety glasses.

What are some signs that your floor need some TLC? Swelling boards from a home flood is an obvious one, of course, but other signs are creaking and raised sections. A close examination and making notations of problem areas is the best way to start this project.

Next, try to figure out what’s causing problems before you start digging into the repair work. For instance, if a large portion of flooring is warping along a straight line, you might be dealing with an underlying issue like a floor joist. Or if your finished floor was installed on top of a concrete slab foundation, you might be looking at a issue with an added plywood or OSB subfloor, engineered wood materials, or sleepers.

In other cases, issues with wood plank floors are the the same as creaking stairs since all wood is an organic material, regardless of where it’s installed. Fortunately, many of these issues can be fixed by a handy DIY homeowner although some require calling in a building contractor or local handyman specialist.

The Proper Way to Remove Tongue-in-Groove Floorboards

As mentioned above, the most common flooring is either tongue-and-groove or square-edged. Carefully removing either kind is essentially the same, it just takes some additional effort and attention to detail with the first kind.

To remove partial boards, first set set the cutting depth of your circular saw blade to the thickness of the board. This step is really important when floor joists are involved. Why? For one thing, plumbing pipes might be notched into them. Next cut across the plank at both ends. Because of the way a circular saw cuts, you’ll need to finish the cuts using a sharp wood chisel and hammer to avoid marring other boards. Also, I’ve had a lot of luck my Roto-zip rotary tool.

If you’re working on tongue-in-groove planks, you’ also find it necessary to saw down the tongue edge as well. In order not to damage the adjacent board, cut close to the edge and work the tongue portion out by hand. For pulling nails out in situations like this, I like to use a pair of end nippers and a block of scrap wood as a fulcrum.

Removing Square-Edged Planks

For removing square-edged boards, carefully pry up the end of the board. To avoid damage to the butt-end of the next board, cut out about 6” of the bad board and pry out that chunk from the bad side. Then you can use a pry bar to begin raising up the bad board enough so that you can slip a piece of batten strip beneath it, perpendicular to the board. This will let you stand on the raised end of the board to pop it free of the nails (or glue), kind of like bouncing on a swimming pool diving board.

Replace the Hardwood Planks

Usually the biggest challenge is is finding an optimal color match. If you’re having a problem doing this off-the-shelf, purchase a slightly lighter shade and put on your creative wood staining hat. Buy an extra board to practice on.

Finding the exact size is sometimes a problem. If you can’t find an exact match, purchase a bigger board and cut it down to size.

Next, securing the plank with finish nails (or glue, it that’s what the original was). For nails, use a nail set to sink the nail heads 1/8” lower than the wood surface, apply custom wood putty, and sand down.

Plywood or OSB Subfloor Repair

In some cases, especially when your floor has been damaged by water, you might need to repair your subfloor. The simplest thing to do in this situation is replacing entire sheets of OSB or plywood. Otherwise, cut out and remove sections and repair as needed.

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© 2010 Kelly Smith All rights reserved.