Fixing Gaps In Wood Floors With Cotton Rope And Carpenters’ Glue


Here might be an unusual problem: I live in an old, small apartment – 6th floor. The woodfloor is a mess! Gaps between the boards, uneven (maybe by as much as 1/4″ to 1/2″ in any given spot – chunks out of the floor, plywood repairs in other parts – a nightmare. Now I do not own this building and my landlord is unwilling to replace the floor. I am not willing to cut out the old floor and re-install a new floor. BUT, I would like to find a solution to make this floor workable. I have been raking my brain, trying to think of ways I could build up the gaps in the floor and level it out (at least mostly level it out) – so I could simply screw in plywood on top of it and at least have an even floor that I could paint, etc.

I have thoght of laying down carpet padding ontop of it -then the plywood, filling with wood putty and laying down a tarp and leveling with sand.

Do you have any ideas or experience with this kind of thing? I want to keep this a relatively inexpensive project (like I said I don’t own it) I don’t need perfection, just a workable solution – other than carpeting the whole room with thick carpet pad then putting in wall to wall carpet. Thanks so much for your help!!!



Dear Paige

Your dilemma is not so unusual, we’ve got warehouse lofts in this city of Toronto, and after people move in they sometimes opt to painting the floor. Now the very best way to get the paint to stick to the old floor boards is to have them sanded professionally. This might only cost about a buck per square foot or less. Try not to sand the plywood patches too much just enough to clean them up so the paint will stick . The very best paint to use on the floor a quality polyurethane or porch paint. If it’s a polyurethane formula, apply it just as I suggest in my famous “poly w/o bubbles” article found on the home page.

But if even a buck a square foot is too much, consider just cleaning the wood really well. You would then have to hand scrub the floor with a solution of warm water and TSP. Scrub well and then rinse the wood, not using too much water. This should remove most of any old wax and gunk from the floor, but just to make sure go over the whole floor again with paint thinner, scrubbing but then while the thinner is wet, mop it up with clean rags. Just do a small section at a time, so as not to miss anything.

As to filling the gaps, don’t use some sort of wood filler. Not only will it be expensive, but you will find it will crack out in just about a year, due to the seasonal movements of the old floor boards. Instead use sections of rope. A smooth cotton rope stuffed into the gap, loaded with carpenters glue will stick very well. You can get various sizes of rope to fill the various widths of gaps. Oh, but be sure to clean out the gaps really well with a screwdriver (or awl) and a powerful vacuum cleaner. The surface of the rope will take the paint quite well, as long as it is made from cotton or manila. Synthetic rope won’t work.

This second method (of only cleaning the wood) is a little dicey, as you can’t be sure of getting the old finish to accept the coat of new floor paint. So do a small test spot, doing all the prep, as I said. Wait about 2-4 weeks for the poly paint to cure, cross hatch it with a razor, and rip it off. If more than 20% of the spot peels off, choose another method.

So lastly the plywood option. Choose the very best grade of waterproof underlay 1/4″ plywood that you can find. It will cost about a buck a square foot with wastage included. Before you install the sheets (the 4 foot square sheets are easiest to handle) take a sanding block with 100 grit sandpaper and make a small bevel on all the edges. When you then staple the floor down the surface of the edges will not meet and create a splinter prone edge. Just like the “micro bevels” on the expensive prefinished floor. I would suggest to staple down the plywood with pneumatically driven narrow crown staples. You have to staple the sheets every 6″ along the edge at least, and then 8″ square in the the whole of the sheet. When you use a rented pneumatic stapler, not only will the job go fast, but you can adjust the air pressure so as to have the staple slightly indented into the plywood. You could fill all the staple holes, if you wanted, with a latex wood filler, and then hand sand them smooth. Boy that in itself could be lots of work.

But once the plywood is down and firm, your can certainly paint it with any creative idea you might have. I just know the the polyurethane paint wears the longest, and needs no top coat. And no primer. Just 3-4 coats of the paint, letting it dry, and scuff sanding between coats. You can use a drywall pole sander for this scuff sanding with 100-120 grit screen sheets on it. It’s not elegant, but it’s cheap and easy.

Oh, and if you use poplar or birch plywood, you can skip the filling of holes and stain the plywood with a dye stain (as described in my famous “custom staining” article and finish the wood with 3 coats of and oil modified poly as described in my “bubbles” article. Now this is really a neat looking wood floor. Try a green-blue dye. If you’re brave.