How to salvage floorboards

Big blue house #3 (our renovation blog):  How to get a house load of salvaged Rimu hardwood floorboards for free.

“Do you want to go to that auction?” asks Rebekah.

“What auction, I don’t remember talking about an auction.” I’m suspicious.

“We’ll just go for a look.”

That should have been my first warning.  (The last auction she went to, she came home with a box of old paints and a rug that you wouldn’t step on in bare feet without a tetanus shot).

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Rebekah has signed up to the e-mailing list of the local auctioneer John Walker and he’s tipped her off about a demolition sale for a 1950’s bungalow.  The house belongs to a young couple who are knocking it down and starting again – and they are selling off all the pieces in an effort to see them reused and to save on landfill costs.  There’s an automatic garage door (sold for $110), a heat pump (sold for $140 but cost another $100 to be degassed) a 30m2 deck (sold for $50) a kitchen (sold for $50), an aluminum external door (sold for $10) as well as internal doors, bathroom fittings, windows, carpet, a fridge, a stereo, a coffee table and even a couple of framed art prints.

But we were there for the floor.  Turns out, Bob was too. Bob is an old pensioner who’s building a loft at his house and needed the joists but had no use for the Rimu floorboards attached to them.  We met him before the auction started and came to a deal not to bid against each other.  The floor was the last item to go under the hammer and when the bidding started, it was only us interested and we bought it for $10. That’s $5 each, but when we went to pay Bob he said not to worry about it.  So effectively we got a house lot of floorboards free.

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Bargain! The only catch was that I had to remove it. By hand. By myself.

demolition man

demolition man…

What followed was 8 days (hours spent after my day job and on the weekends) of the hardest, dirtiest, s#@test work of my life.  Without boring you with all the details it went something like this:  Bend, bang, squat, jimmy, squat, cut, squat, cough, choke, squat some more, groan, step on nail, limp, swear, borrow boots from neighbor, get kick-arse power tool, catch red hot metal in your lips, lay on broken tiles, roll in spider webs, break the mother-in-law’s tail light (don’t tell her, she hasn’t notice yet)….

 

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the walls and roof were removed while I was lifting the floorboards

After getting practically nowhere for 6 days, I was ready to give up when the brother-in-law (everybody needs a builder brother-in-law) lent me his reciprocating (repo saw) saw and I got up most of the floor in the final two days. I’m sure there are plenty of smarter people out there who could give you a better way but this is what I found best:

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The foreman keeping watch on my progress

  •          Step 1: Get under the floor and use a sledge hammer to bang up at each board directly to next to each joist.  You need to hit the board hard enough to lift the nails (and create a gap between the board and joist), but not so hard that you shatter the board.  (Old Rimu is really dry and really brittle and easy to crack)
  •          Step 2: Insert repo saw blade between joist and boards
  •          Step 3: unleash the power!  If you’ve lifted each board enough, the saw will slice through the nails like butter.  (There’s nothing as satisfying as feeling each one ping). And once you’ve cut all the nails, the boards should just wriggle apart.

In the end I managed to salvage a little over 60m2 of boards.  It’s 82mm wide rimu that if you look on trade me goes for upwards of $5m/per lineal metre.  That’s approx. $60/m2 which means I managed to harvest about $3600 worth of floorboards.

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A labourer’s impression of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ – I call it, The Stinker

As well as being a massive saving for our budget, the hard work we put into salvaging those boards will make them a sentimental favourite feature of the finished project.

On a sad note, I’d like acknowledge my favorite pair of old footy shorts that sacrificed themselves for these floorboards.  Although much loved, they were just not up to all that squatting and split down the seam from too much squatting.

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Got wood: the salvaged floorboards all tucked up in my garage

If you’re interesting in salvaging your own materials here’s a few things to consider:

  •          (Demolition/salvage auctions don’t come up every day and they’re generally not well publicized.  To ensure you’re ready when they do come up, it’s worth phoning/googling your local auction houses to get an idea of who specializes in these types of auctions and then join their mailing list.
  •          The young couple who owned the house were quoted upwards of $12,000 for the demolition and removal of their house.  By running the auction they made a small profit, saved thousands in dumping fees and gave much of their old home a new life. But before you consider opening your home up to the amateur salvagers, check with your local council to find out about permits and health and safety requirements.
  •          Invest in some basic safety equipment – ear muffs, glasses, and footy shorts at the least.  Also, if working with floorboards, a decent pair of builder’s gloves will save you heaps of pain – trust me!

 

Total cost of salvage:

$40: koha (donation to neighbor) for electricity
$75: for saw blades
Priceless:  my old footy shorts
Total: $115

Total cost of project so far:

$1100 Architect concepts
$115 Floorboard salvage

$1215 Total so far

 

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Categories: Big Blue House | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “How to salvage floorboards

  1. Good call on getting a quality concept design done, looks to be well planned and cost effective changes. Sorry to hear about the rugby shorts, hope they weren’t your favorite pink ones.

    • Thanks Roger, I can’t recommend the architect process highly enough. Getting creative and practical concepts has taken our project to a new level of expertise and will hopefully save us money in the long run. And thanks for the shorts’ sympathy, it’s like saying good by to an old friend. No they weren’t pink but they were great at accentuating the tan lines on my milking white thighs

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