Need help fixing wood floors in your log home? With a little know-how, you can silence faulty floorboards, repair minor damage and restore a wood floor to its former glory.
By Mary Ellen Polson
Part of the charm of an old wood floor lies in its minor imperfections: the familiar creak of a floorboard; a gentle undulation in the hall; the gouge mark so ancient that the scar has a patina. Any older log home can be expected to have floors that squeak, sag or slope, and, in most cases, these flaws aren’t structural. With a little know-how, you can easily silence faulty floorboards and repair minor damage. We’ll also give you tips on what to do about those pesky cracks that open up as the seasons change. When flooring problems are the result of old age, it’s a pretty good bet that conditions have stabilized. (In other words, they probably won’t get worse — at least not while you live there.) You can troubleshoot your floors by talking a walk around the room.
You’re likely to hear problem spots before you see them. A squeak usually means a floorboard isn’t making adequate contact with the supporting joist below. A deeper-sounding creak is probably an indication that the joist is inadequate. Spongy spots can result from either condition. The solution is to reattach loosened boards using a pair of nails driven into the heart of the squeak or by anchoring them with screws.
Both plank and tongue-and-groove floors can develop unsightly gaps as the floor ages. This is caused by compression shrinkage. During periods of high humidity, a floorboard will expand and compress its neighbors. When dry air returns, the boards shrink, but don’t fully decompress. Since the shrink/swell pattern persists even in the oldest of floors, the best remedy is to do nothing, particularly if the gaps tend to close up during the humid months. If the gaps are especially large or pronounced at certain times of the year, consider the following alternatives.
To replace one or two bad boards, begin by finding replacement wood that closely matches the sound condition of the original flooring. Some tips for matching wood:
Most antique wood floors are composed of individual (plank) or interlocking (tongue-and-groove) boards laid together. Replacing one bad section on a plank floorboard is a relatively simple repair, but there are some caveats. First, the boards tend to run the full length of the room, so a small patch may stick out like a stubbed toe. Second, there may be no subfloor, so any repair should span at least one joist and share support on another. Fastening a sturdy block of wood, or cleat, next to the joist to support the new board is one method of “sharing.” Before making any repairs, determine whether the floorboards are face-nailed (heads exposed) or blind-nailed (heads concealed between boards, usually driven at an angle). Use the same method for repairs.
Minor holes and gouges can be filled with wood putty. To repair a crack in an otherwise sound board, glue down any long splinters, then fill the crack with wood filler or putty.
Old, stubborn stains are hard to remove once they’ve penetrated deep into the wood. Before breaking out the sander, however, try cleaning them. Some stains, like red wine, may come out with common household white vinegar, especially if they are recent. More persistent stains may come up through the use of a bleaching agent. Before you apply any strong agent, test it in a spot that doesn’t show, and protect yourself against fumes and exposure.
Effective on stains containing aniline dyes and ink. Use common laundry bleach (a weak solution of about 5 percent sodium hypochlorite) or dry swimming-pool chlorine mixed with hot water. Even low concentrations of chlorine can burn the skin and eyes, so wear long rubber gloves, eye protection, and allow for plenty of ventilation.
Mixed with warm water and as concentrated as possible, this organic acid removes blue-black water stains, iron stains on oak and lye-blackened wood stains. It’s usually available in dry crystalline form at hardware stores or wood finishing suppliers. Dissolve the crystals in hot water until you get a saturated solution — i.e., the crystals won’t dissolve any more. Oxalic acid is poisonous and should be used with care.
Sold as a caustic solution with a concentration of up to 30 percent, hydrogen peroxide is effective for lightening (aka,“blonding”) woods and last-chance stains. If you’ve been lucky enough to inherit an old wood floor with your classic or historic log home, a little know-how and elbow grease will help you restore it to its former glory.