How To Reclaim Hardwood Floors

I've seen too many homes torn down before proper deconstruction has taken place. With a bit of effort, there are many treasures to be removed from an old house before the wrecking ball arrives.

Harwood flooring is a beautiful thing. The old pink house that will make way for the Mill Creek NetZero Home (MCNZH) contained about 400 square feet of maple hardwood before I salvaged it. Here's how to do it.

Is It Salvageable?


The primary consideration when deciding whether to save hardwood is its thickness. I'm talking about how long it measures if you start measuring on the sub-floor and measure towards the ceiling. Some hardwood started out thin (3/8") and has been sanded once or twice. It's probably too thin to reclaim, because you need to sand reclaimed hardwood once it's been re-installed. If the tops of the nails/staples are showing, it's definitely too thin reclaim. The maple in the MCNZH is 3/4" thick - the thickness that it was when it was installed, so we're good to go.


The second thing that could kill you hopes of recycling hardwood is its condition. Miracles can be achieve by sanding, so surface damage is okay. The most common culprits are screws - luminaries in the 1970s decided that shag carpet was nicer than 100-year old oak hardwood, so they put screws into the wood every 3" to stop it from squeaking, then laid down the beautiful, luscious friend of disco music. The screws make the job twice as hard, and the holes all need to be filled - it's generally not worth trying to save a floor full of screws.


First, you make wedges. Take an old 2-by-4, and cut a length of about 12" with a chop saw (see picture). Then, set your chop saw to an angle of 7 - 9 degrees. You will have to experiment, depending on how easily your hardwood comes out. In the end, I was using 9 degree wedges, which pry the wood up pretty high. Cut as far as the chop saw will go, then flip and turn the board and eye the blade so that it meets up with the original cut (again, see picture)

Along with the wedges, you will need a sledge hammer and a good pry bar:


Peter Amerongen (the MCNZH's builder) showed me how to take the hardwood out.

You will want to lift the wood up with the wedges from the groove side of the wood (the groove is the indentation that the tongue slides into when installed). Note: Peter and I have gone back and forth on this. I now think that lifting it from the tongue side is better - it causes less damage if the staple or nail stays behind in the subfoor. Figure out which way the grooves and tongues are by looking at a register or peeking at the ends of the boards in doorway.

Choose a spot near the wall to start removing the wood. This is the most discouraging part, because you are forced to destroy some of it until you get room to swing a hammer at the wedges. The picture at the top of the post is of us starting out. Once the stuff near the wall was done, we turned the wedges around, and making it through the rest of the room was pretty easy.

The wedges are used to pry up the boards without breaking the tongues off. You will need to make quite a few wedges, because they get wrecked as they hit staples/nails when you are pounding them in.

Pound the wedges along the entire length of the hardwood. Once they are completely pounded in, you should be able to pull/wiggle the outermost plank off. You may need to gingerly loosen the plank with the pry bar before it comes out.

Once the boards come out, grind off the staples with an angle grinder (if they have nails in them, you may be able to pull the nails out with pliers) like this:

You get to make sparks! And your hair gets to look good to your millions of loyal readers.

Plus, you get to make cool-looking piles of nails:

Reclaiming a hardwood floor really is a labour of love - I enjoyed every minute, because every plank that I saved gave me a real nice feeling inside. If your taste for granola isn't as strong as mine, the job might be tedious. It does pay though - I estimate that I saved $15 - $30 worth of wood per hour. Not bad for an ethical job.

Here is about 350 square feet of maple hardwood that I saved from being wasted in the landfill:

We probably won't be using it in the MCNZH, because I found an even better prize in other parts of the house: 100-year old Douglas Fir.

(cross posted at

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I'm really concerned about photo evidence here of forced child labour, under grievously unsafe working conditions. Where is this tyke's Personal Protective Equipment - his hard hard, his steel-toed boots and safety glasses with protective side shields?

It's all well and good to save the planet, you hippy, but not at the expense of even one child's well-being.

(Excellent practical instructions here and excellent writing throughout this website. Great job, granola boy.)

I have great respect for anyone who has done a salvaging job like this. It's hard physical labour and takes a strong sense of commitment. I salvaged some gorgeous fir hardwood last summer for my kitchen reno, but I may have looked for a different wood type if I could do it over again.

Fir is really soft, so put it in a low traffic area, or put a nice rug on top. My fir floor definitely has the distressed look to it, which we love by the way. But, if you aren't going for the wear and tear look, hang onto that maple.

To Whom It May Concern:

We have a large quantity of maple flooring for sale that was reclaimed out of a community hall in Granum and an historical building in Medicine Hat. We also have large Fir Beams for sale as well as other reclaimed timber. If you are interested in this type of product please contact Alain at 403 634 5204. We are located in Fort Macleod 1 ½ hours south of Calgary. Thank you for your time and consideration Cynthia

Um, is that supposed to be sarcasm, Dinoburner?

My "little tyke" helped me reclaim my Douglas Fir floors a couple years back and he was super thrilled to be helping and learning. The child in the pic on this site is in no way in any danger and obviously the adult is right there with the camera. It is in no way evidence of "forced child labour", children love to be involved and part of what is happening. I would rather see pics of kids like this than sitting and staring at the TV.

On a lighter note, I love the writing in this article! I am about to reclaim some fir floors again and I was looking for a refresher.


Thanks for the comment Concerned. I do think that the referenced comments were indeed made in jest.

Thanks for the instructions now I just need to find some flooring to reclaim. Can anybody suggest who/where I can contact to find a house in which I can reclaim from. I have searched on sites like craigslist but I can only find wood flooring that has already been reclaimed. How do I find the houses I can possibly reclaim from? I was thinking the city and trying to get into some houses before they tear them down but I figured they probably wouldnt allow me to being that the houses are unsafe. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

I would advertise on kijiji. Another option would be to contact Dave at Home Re-Use-Ables. He is always in contact with people who are interested in getting their houses deconstructed.


A lot of places don't want you to go into the buildings slated for demolition since there are safety and liability issues. There are also WCB issues as well.
I did have an opportunity to remove some hardwood from some homes along Jasper avenue many years ago. What I did was get hold of the demolition company and expressed my interest. They were open to it but we never connected again before the building were demolished.
I would also suggest that you could do guerilla removal of the wood (like on a Saturday/Sunday). Wear the safety equipment (glasses, gloves and ear protection). There is something satisfying getting the wood from a space that was not going to be salvaged in any way. There are lots of houses being torn down throughout the city.
As Andrea and another person mentioned above not all wood flooring are created equally and perhaps not worth the work.
Michael Kalmanovitch

Just reclaimed a floor. The wedges were helpful but limited because the floor was nailed down with old fashioned framing nails. We mostly wedged the boards out one by one with a pry bar. I estimate we saved about 75% of the floor or 300-400 ft2. We did a lot less damage going tongue to glove then vice versa. They were also demoing the house so we were able to start the floor with a circular saw. I estimate it took about 10 hours per 100 ft2.

One option for the holes is to drill them out to a standard diameter, then tap a glued peg into them. This can be made from a dowel or custom using a plug cutter. The plug cutter allows you to use the same wood as the floor you are reclaiming. Then again, using a dramatically different wood is a great way to make contrast, which shows off the fact that you reclaimed the floor.

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