DIY Post: Replacing Portion of Wood Floors

Jennifer Groves and I purchased our house about 7 years ago. Most of the rooms in the house had carpet in them, though two bedrooms had exposed wood floors. Due to the age of the house we figured that if some of the rooms in the house had wood floor it was likely that all of them did. I peeled up the carpet in some corners and sure enough: hardwood. Then I removed all the carpet in the house. Unfortunately our hallway floors were too bad to sand and refinish. We had an aging dog who would sometimes be unable to hold her water. Whenever she’d have an accident it was often in the hallway. We would then clean up using our Hoover steamvac. Unfortunately the steam vac is incapable of getting up all of the water and so over time the wood underneath became stained. The only solutions at that point would be to either put down some carpet again or replace the wood. My choice was to replace the wood.

Replacing the wood involves of course that you first remove the wood you wish to replace.  This is far more difficult than it seems when removing just a portion of the floor.  If you’re removing all of the wood in the house, or at least on that level, then you can just rip out all the floor without any regard for whether you damage the other floor boards.  When replacing a portion of the floor you need to take care not to damage boards adjacent to that portion you’re replacing.

hallway with wood floors removed and bare sub floor exposed.

The two following images show why it is important to take care during removal.  Proper installation of wood floor involves staggering the boards. Proper replacement requires maintaining the staggering of the boards and therefore requires you to remove the boards entirely. This was pretty easy to do in the hallway where the boards went wall-to-wall.

View of doorway area of floor showing staggered boards

Unfortunately removing the entire board is impossible in the doorways.  Back when our house was built in 1956, the boards they used were 13 feet long. Since our hallway is only 6 feet wide, many of those boards traverse from one bedroom to the next, going through the hallway along the way. Removing the boards that went into the bedrooms often involved cutting them to remove them.

Another view of doorway. These boards are cut deeper into the room.

Finding a proper tool to remove these boards was surprisingly hard for me as I’d never done this type of work before. I experimented with a number of different ideas until I heard of the Fein Multimaster. Holy cow. If you have an oscillating tool and it isn’t the Fein Multimaster, you are wrong.  Prior to buying the Fein I had tried a battery-powered Craftsman oscillating tool and it was horribly inadequate at the task of cutting even one of the boards. It didn’t have the muscle or battery life necessary for the job.  Ultimately I had to make about 18 cuts, so the Craftsman tool clearly wasn’t going to cut it (pun intended). I returned the Craftsman tool, ordered the Fein from Amazon and once it was delivered I finished the cuts in about 45 minutes.

Closer doorway view showing the cuts.

The previous owners had, sometime in the past, experienced a pretty bad termite infestation and the board at the top of the steps required replacement. The existing board had been a 2-by-6, so I replaced it and beefed up portions of the under lying floor joists at the same time.

Showing the 2 by 6 board replaced.

The next step in the process is to lay down red rosin paper as an underlayment before laying down the floor.

Hallway subfloor covered by red rosin paper

The only problem with putting down the rosin paper is that now you don’t know where the floor joists are.  The plywood subfloor has nails on it which show where the floor joists are, but with the rosin paper down yo can’t see the nails.  The solution?  My magnetic stud finder.

Close-up of magnetic stud finder on top of red rosin paper

The way a magnetic stud finder works is by being attracted to nails in the stud. Since the subfloor was already nailed down all I had to do was use the same principle: find the nails with the stud finder!  I made marks wherever I found a nail.

Placing marks on the red rosin paper where the stud finder found a nail.

I followed that up with striking a line across those marks. When laying the floor boards, the boards will be nailed to the joists wherever the boards meet these lines.

View of hallway showing lines on the red rosin paper where the floor joists are

The next step is laying boards. In cases where you’re completely starting fresh you need to make sure your first board is straight and that it is square with the room. Note this isn’t square with the wall(s) because the walls may not actually be square.  Anyway, I decided to cheat by keeping the original “first” board since it wasn’t stained and could be finished.  I then started from that board and started nailing down floor.

First three boards nailed down.

You can either rent a flooring nailer or buy one.  Since I know I was actually going to replace more flooring I went ahead and bought one.  If you rent a nailer, your rental is for 24 hours at a time. After a couple of days of rentals you may as well have bought the darn thing.  So I did!

About half the hallway done.

Here’s the fully installed hallway floor!

All of the floor laid down.

Some commenters on Reddit disagreed with the way I dealt with the staggering of the boards, suggesting that the “wood will never match”. Here’s a view of the finished wood in one of the doorways. While the wood isn’t a 100% match, you really have to be looking for it in order to notice.
Finished view of doorway showing the match-up

What about price? All-in-all I wound up paying for the wood, the red rosin paper, the nails, the Fein tool, and the flooring nailer. I already owned the air compressor and other tools I needed. Despite needing to buy the tools, I saved about $200 from the quotes I had gotten from professional installers.

Stay tuned for two more posts on floor installing and re-finishing

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