Lifting the House A Chronicle of Mayhem and Plunder

The Porch Floor SNAFU - 8/4/2005

We hit a snag getting ready to paint the porch floor. The tongue-and-groove fir boards had gapped apart more than 1/8-inch on average. I made these floorboards from standard 1x4s on my tablesaw with a dado cutter. I was a little worried about warpage, but right after I installed the floor we had a week of rainy weather, followed by a month of sun. During this time another project came up, and the floor boards sat there baking in the sun and shrank.

I did some web research and found that other people have reported warping and separating on porch floors, even with more expensive woods such as ide (a Brazilian hardwood). So I didn't feel too bad, apart from the fact that I had to fix it.

One flooring guru suggested filling the gaps with flexible paintable caulk. The only other choice I could think of was to pull up the boards and renail them closer together. After testing some of the flexible paintable caulk on one gap, I decided that applying it and wiping off the excess was probably going to be as much work as ripping up the boards. Not only that, the goop was over $3/tube, and I estimated it would take about 30 tubes to do the whole thing. And based on my little test I didn't think the result would look good.

So I spent most of today laboriously prying up all the boards, very carefully so as not to split them. Some of the tongues and grooves did break, but that's life. Pulling out the nails involved using special nipper pliers I have that were made primarily for that purpose. Incidentally, the best way to remove finishing nails, especially brads, is to get hold of the pointy end and pull them right on through the wood. Trying to back them out can rip up a larger hole in the top surface of the wood, and with brads it's nearly impossible to hammer them backwards anyway. Once my wife Kay came out and took over the job of pulling the brads through, the flooring removal went a lot faster.

My web research says that for porch floors using a sealer before painting is better than a primer. A primer prepares the wood to receive the paint, but does not necessarily seal it against moisture. So tomorrow morning my wife and I will be painting BOTH surfaces of each board with a sealer. Then I will renail the boards in the same order they were removed, only tighter together, adding a new board or two as the extra space from the gaps adds up. Then we will paint the floor with heavy duty porch paint IMMEDIATELY, instead of letting it sit there for another month. My hope is that completely sealing the boards will prevent absorption and release of moisture that causes expansion and shrinkage. If I'm wrong and the boards expand when the weather gets damp again, we may get some weird warping and popping. Hopefully not. But Danger is my middle name.

Fingers crossed.