If you've ever lived in an old house—a really old house—then you know about termite problems. They can wreak havoc on old wood floors. If you have access to an alternative wood (in our case, heart-shaped pine planks from the attic), you can get those floors looking like new almost in no time. Knowing how to repair and/or replace wood floors in an older home can really save you some money. Learn this skill and you can increase the value of your home while helping it look great in the process.
Tools You Need to Repair Wood Floors
We recommend the following tools at the ready for this job. Replacing wood floors doesn't take a lot of time, but you'll end up doing a lot of cutting. You'll also need to secure new parts with an air-powered or cordless nail gun.
- flat bar or pry bar
- Shop vacuum or dust collector
- Cordless Circular Saw (with Vacuum Attachment)
- Oscillating multi-tool
- Air compressor
- Ridgid 15ga Finishing Nailer
- Belt Sanders (with Vacuum Attachment)
- Orbital sander (preferably with a vacuum attachment)
Step One: Removing the Old Wood Floors
Before we can show you how to replace a wood floor, you need to clean up the problem areas first. We recommend choosing an out-of-the-way area to start with. Once you get the hang of it, you can go back to those high traffic areas, towards the center of the living room.
The first step in restoring a wood floor is to identify the area to be repaired. You want to remove as much damaged wood as possible. Wood putty doesn't look very good, so unless you absolutely don't have enough replacement material, don't try to save an 80% good piece.
We also want to have a bird's eye view of the work to be done. This is especially helpful for prioritizing when you have multiple locations to replace. Once you've determined the best way to distribute replacement lumber for repairs, you can start working on your first area.
make the first cut
Starting with a circular saw, cut two slits in the middle of the first board. You want to rip both lines because you want to remove the wood by pulling it horizontally away from the adjacent planks. You don't want to lift up as that will damage the tongue of the part you intend to leave in place. We prefer to use a circular saw that can be attached to the shop vac, which minimizes dust.
pry out bad board
After you've ripped a few channels into the wood, you can use a small flat bar or pry bar to remove the channels.
After the channel is removed, you can take out the remaining wood and clean the area of the wood floor that is to be restored.
Hold part of the board in place
Remember that if you are repairing wood floors you don't need to remove the entire plank. You can use the oscillating multitool to draw a vertical line through the wood to create a break. Make sure to cut in the center of the floor joists. This gives you a place to nail the new board:
Remove hard board
You don't want to break any tongues from adjacent boards. If you're having trouble removing part of the board, use the oscillating multitool to cut a wedge-shaped notch near the end. This allows you to safely swing the wood back on itself without snapping the tongue of the adjacent wood floor that you don't repair.
Install new wood floors
After the difficulty of removing the wood, adding new components was child's play. You do need to measure and cut very carefully to minimize the number of gaps between the pieces of wood. We used a cordless circular saw to cut the wood outside and brought it in for final installation. You can also use a miter saw.
Finish the wood floor installation by fastening the planks directly to the joists with a finish nailer. Our 1920's home had no underlayment so we had to pick the fastening points carefully. Two pops per joist is enough, you'll want to angle the nails. This is especially true at the ends to ensure the new wood remains secure. The final steps will be used to fill in gaps and small nail holes.
Finishing the wood requires several steps. First, you'll need to use a belt sander to get the wood flush with the adjacent pieces. Remember to use a tool that can be attached to a shop vac to vacuum up most of the dust again in this step:
After sanding the flush wood, use an orbital sander for a secondary sanding. This will allow you to achieve a smooth surface suitable for varnish finishes.
The final step involves adding wood filler (or wood putty to fill in the gaps and give you a smooth filled surface, suitable for staining or varnishing. You want to use a wood filler that is strong so it blends naturally with the finished wood. Plan on sanding again after applying the putty wood, makes everything nice and smooth, and removes any extra filler from the surface.
You'll hardly notice where you've repaired and replaced wood after you've applied the last coat of topcoat.
Learning how to repair and replace wood floors takes a lot of work. We feel that the end result always makes up for the lack of work. When you are sure that the floor is salvageable and only needs localized repairs, it is much more efficient and practical to replace small areas than to resurface the entire floor. We hope this helps you learn more about how to restore wood floors. At the very least, we hope it inspires you to start your own wood flooring project.