Timber as a building material has a lot to offer: it’s readily available, cheap, light and easily worked – and it is ideal for flooring. However, timber does has its drawbacks, due mainly to the fact that it was once a living material and is affected by damp or dry atmospheres, by insect attack and by rot.
Over the years a timber floor can suffer considerably from wear and tear. The joist may warp or sag, boards may shrink to open up gaps through which draughts whistle, or they may become loose or damaged. The whole structure may be weakened by woodworm or rot. Fortunately, many of the minor problems can be cured easily, although serious rot or insect attack may mean complete replacement.
Probably the most common fault with a timber floor is creaking floorboards due to the fixings working loose. The cure is simple: either drive the nails back in or replace them with longer nails or screws. Punch nail heads below the surface and countersink the screw heads.
Curing Gaps Between Boards
Gaps may open up between square-edge floorboards if the timber shrinks after it has been laid. A few narrow gaps can be filled; if, however, there are fairly wide gaps between all the boards, it may be more satisfactory to lift them all and relay them closer together, adding a narrow filler board at one side of the floor.
Gaps of less than 6mm cam be filled with paper-mache, which you can make yourself. Half fill a bucket with small pieces of torn, soft white paper, adding boiling water gradually while you pound the paper into a thick paste. Allow it to cool and stir in wallpaper paste, adding plenty to make a thick mixture. You can also add wood stain at this stage to match the colour of the boards.
When the paper-mache i s cold, force it between the boards with a filling knife, leaving it slightly proud of the surface. Leave this for at least 48 hours then sand it smooth. Fill wider gaps with softwood fillet: cut the fillets fractionally wider than the gaps they are to fill, using a circular saw if you have one, if not a hand saw. The fillets should be fractionally deeper than the floorboards: that is, about 25mm.
Plane the fillets so that they taper slightly at the bottom then tap them into the gaps with a hammer and block of wood. Use a plane to shave the top edges of the fillets flush with the floorboards. Make sure the ends of the fillets meet on a joist: secure them to the joists with panel pins.
These techniques work well in older houses and can save a lot of time and money by way of correcting common flooring faults. In some cases however, floorboards may be in such a bad state that the only sensible option is to replace them. I will continue this article in further detail tomorrow, where we will discuss how to replace and repair damaged boards.