UndonePile I’ve been pretty neglectful at working on interior  house restoration projects in the last year, favoring doing farm work outside. But, I was glad to get a nagging project crossed off the list in the last month!

I think it was winter-before-last when I first tackled the huge pile of reclaimed vintage fir flooring sitting in our upstairs. It had been salvaged from another to-be-demolished house in downtown Snohomish. I had even installed some of it, starting in our upstairs bathroom. But a large and unruly pile of the wood remained. It was not neatly stackable, because it still had all the nails in it. So, the first thing was to get the rest of it cleaned up and stacked.

The piles above represent the mess – on the left is the “done” pile. On the right is the (diminishing) pile with long nails sticking out at 45 degree angles. It ends up being more of a tangled mountain of wood than a stack, until the nails are removed. These pieces are all sixteen footers. Whoo, they sure had generous lumber back in those days!

The flooring was extracted from the previous house using a technique a friend showed me. For floors like these, where there was no subfloor, once you get a few end boards pulled up, you can start using a long 2×4 to leverage individual boards up off the floor joists. You just see-saw the 2×4 using the joist as the lever point, and work the flooring board nails up from each joist as you go along. This wood-on-wood action is less  damaging than using a metal crowbar; and less back-breaking, because you don’t have to bend over, and the long 2×4 gives you really good leverage. This also works well for pulling boards off of a deck. It goes pretty fast.

Once piled in a mountain in your unfinished upstairs, 😀 you can tackle the unpleasant task of removing the hundreds of nails from the salvaged boards. I’m sure there is more than one good way to do this. I tinkered with trying to cut them off, using nippers and a couple different grinder and Dremel attachments, and that worked OK. But I found that the little nib of nail head left in the board affected the way the boards would lay on the new subfloor, and even created some creaky spots. So I abandoned that approach and instead went to removing them completely.

My favorite method ended up being something another friend showed me. First, I’d bend the nail straight with the claw end of the hammer, if it had become  curved from the pressures of sitting in a disorganized pile. Then I’d pound it backwards out of its hole, as far as it would go.


Extracting the nail is the tricky part. Of course you want to avoid damaging the tongue through which it was nailed, and damaging the top part of the flooring that will be visible after installation. So, using a nail-nipper type tool works well to do the final extraction maneuver. The nipper has a sort of “cam” shape that allows you to rock it on the edge of the tongue and leverage the nail out of its hole. Hopefully without the tool coming into contact with the edge or top of the board;and hopefully without tweaking the tongue much. It works best if the nipper is very snug against the tongue, and sometimes you have to reposition it more than once if the nail doesn’t come out in one fell swoop.

Nail1 Nail2

After I pulled the nails, then I ruined a perfectly good chisel by using it to lift up old carpet staples and scrape off carpet padding and other mysterious glued-on stuff (but chisels work so well for this purpose!):


And then pliers to pull them out the rest of the way:


And finally, I’m done, after three years of tripping over these messy piles, I have two neat stacks of wood, ready to use. You might be turned off by the fact that this flooring has a layer of what looks like paint primer that somebody probably slopped on from spraying the walls. But no worries, that’ll sand right off when the floors are refinished. This flooring is in beautiful shape, I think it was under carpet a good portion of its life, so has very little wear or damage.


And now that it’s stacked and I can count and measure the boards to estimate how many square feet are there, I realize there isn’t enough to cover the entire upstairs. So, I’m keeping an eye on craigslist for some more. Which may mean more de-nailing is in my future! <sigh>