How to change a floorboard

5 steps to a fixed-up floor

By Michel RoyMichel Roy


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Your cottage floor may suffer more from dropped-outboard dings than stiletto-heel marks, but the fix is the same. Most wood floors are tongue-and-groove laid over a subfloor. The tongues slot into the grooves to keep the floor flat, with a minimum of visible fasteners. This construction makes replacing a board a little tricky, but with rudimentary carpentry skills, it can be done in an hour or two.

1. Find patching material

Buy replacement material from a local mill or millwork shop (bring in a sample to help match species, grain, and dimensions). For a more exact match, you may be able to use flooring hidden in closets or under cabinetry. Pull the boards you need by accessing the tongues—you might have to wreck a board to get some good ones—and punch out the old nails with a nail set.

2. Cut to the chase

While you can use a chisel and a mallet to remove the damaged board, power tools will speed up the job. To take out a short section of a board, start by making square cuts across it at each end with a plunge router and a 1/4″ straight-cutting bit. A straight-edged piece of plywood, large enough to kneel on, will serve as a guide rail: Use your body weight to clamp it to the floor. In several progressively deeper passes, plunge the bit into the board and cut across it, stopping short of the neighbours, of course (top left). No router? Chain-drill a series of 3/8″ holes across the ends and clean up with a sharp chisel.

3. Pry it out

Next, use a circular saw to make one or two lengthwise release cuts (bottom left) to split the board so that you can lever it away from its mates on either side. Set the blade a smidgen deeper than the thickness of the flooring. Begin with a plunge cut at one end of the section and continue to the other end. Finish up with a sharp chisel and continue to cut and pry until you gain access to the nails. As you expose the nails in the tongue, cut them where they meet the subfloor using a hacksaw blade, punch them through with a nail set, or remove them carefully with a hammer claw. Proceed slowly to avoid damaging adjacent boards.

4. Fill the void

A couple of simple modifications to the replacement board will help you fit it into the opening (top right). With a table saw or hand plane, remove the bottom flange on the grooved side, so the board will fit over the tongue of its neighbour. Bevel the bottom edge of the tongue slightly, and the bottom edge of the board on the tongue side.

5. Pivot into place

Apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the grooved side of the replacement, insert the board’s tongue into the neighbouring groove, and pivot the piece into position (bottom right). Place a towel-wrapped block on the new board to protect it and, with a hammer, convince the board to settle down. For the best results, face-nail the new board at 12″ intervals and fill the holes with wood putty. In high-traffic areas, you might countersink screws, covered with a wood plug to match.

This article was originally published on November 19, 2009

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Michel Roy