Repairing Creaky Stairs

Among the most annoying faults in the home are squeaky or loose stairs and floorboards. More often than not either can be quickly put right with hammer and nails or screwdriver, screws and glue; in other cases more work is involved. Gaps in floorboards are not only unsightly but may cause loss of heat and let in draughts.

Gaps in floorboards may be treated in three ways. They can be filled or caulked, taken up and recramped or covered over. Before starting work, first switch off the electricity mains to avoid any possibility of getting a shock if you should accidentally cut through wires beneath floorboards. Wires usually run lengthways-across the joists-under the centre of floorboards.

The position of joists can be found easily by the nail positions. Joists are usually located apart at centres or distances of 400mm and are about 50mm-75mm wide.

Holes and cracks

Holes and small cracks can be repaired with a proprietary filler. This can be rubbed smooth after it has set. If the floor is uncovered, a small amount of stain can be added to the filler material so that the repair matches the floor surface.

Wide cracks between floorboards can be filled by cutting slightly tapered wood strips. These should be coated with glue and lightly tapped in place with a softheaded hammer or mallet. Any projections can be planed smooth after the glue has set.

First, establish the thickness of the gap, and then mark this on a section of oversized timber. Transfer this measurement, slightly oversized, to a marking gauge, mark the timber and then cut with a panel saw.

Slightly taper with a smoothing plane and knock this into place. Secure to joists, at intervals, with 40mm panel pins.


Gaps can be filled with papier mache when these are under 6mm in width. To make, tear newspaper up into pieces of postage-stamp size and mix in a bucket with boiling water, a little at a time; pound the paper with a piece of timber until this becomes a thick paste.

Allow to cool for an hour and pour in a glue size. Once the mixture is cold it can be trowelled between boards with a scraper; push this well down. The floor can be rubbed smooth with an abrasive paper once dry.

If the floor surface is not covered, a soft, white imprinted paper can be used, since newspaper papier mache is greyish in colour. Prepare as before but bind to a thick paste using a cellulose-based wallpaper adhesive. The mixture can be coloured with a liquid dye to match floorboards.


Timber flooring may shrink and gap considerably. Where there are serious gaps, the floorboards may be lifted and re-cramped to close up the gap. A pair of flooring cramps may be hired for this job.

First, loosen the boards and recramp and nail them in sequence. When you reach the last board, the gaps will have built up and be fairly wide. A wide strip of timber may be needed to finish off.

It is good practice not to lay strips of less than 75mm in width, since narrower ones may break under ‘point’ loading from heavy furniture.

To overcome this, the last board may have to be reduced in width so that a suitably dimensioned strip of timber flooring can be inserted. An alternative is to use a wider board to close the gap.


You can make your own floor cramps and use the following technique to relay floorboards. Start lifting boards close to the skirting at one side but leave the board beneath the skirting in place. Plane off any tongue on the first board you take out.

Next, cut four softwood wedges from timber slightly thicker than the floorboards; these should be at least 455mm long, 50mm deep and taper to a point. A pair of these wedges must be placed at intervals of five floorboards.

Place the wedges together and temporarily fix, by half nailing, a piece of scrap board tightly against the wedges as a support.

With two hammers, knock the wedges together, hammering from alternate ends: this forces the boards evenly together. You can now nail down the boards, using cut nails or screws.

Once you come to the skirting, use a chisel to lever the final board tightly against the others and nail down.

The gap between the board beneath the skirting and the final board may then be filled with a piece of matched boarding, cut to size. If you wish you may use a piece of tongued board, first cutting away the top of the tongue.

Sometimes, a worn section of flooring cannot be patched up and must be replaced. This may be a simple matter of prising up and taking out a complete section of flooring; however, if only a short section is affected or it is easier to replace a small rather than a larger piece, it is best if you can cut through the board in the centre of a joist.

Check carefully that new sections of board are of the same width and thickness as the old. If the boards are merely butted together, the new section is simply nailed back in.

If you need access beneath the board to any services, the section should be screwed back. Drill and countersink the hole, so that the screw head is not proud of the surface.

Cutting out

Cutting is most easily done with a power saw. The depth of the cut should be carefully set to that of the thickness of the floorboards. Avoid cutting into the joist. First, pull out any nails so that the blade of the saw is not damaged.

It is better to make a bevelled joint, so set the blade to an angle of 45° for cutting out the old section and make sure that the new piece is also bevelled so that it fits snugly against the existing floorboard.

A faulty section may also be cut out by drilling a hole through the board close to the joist and then, using a pad saw or saw knife, sawing obliquely through to each edge of the board. This operation is repeated at the other end of the damaged section.

Tongued and grooved

Where the board is tongued and grooved, it is necessary to cut down one edge with a thin, broad chisel or a saw knife along a tongued section, which leaves the boards on either side with a tongue and groove respectively.

The bottom wall of the groove must be removed so that the top one rests on the tongue of the adjacent board. Make a cutting line on the outside of this wall, using a marking gauge.


The replaced board and the original sound sections butting to it must be supported on either side with a fillet or ‘noggin’ nailed or screwed to the relevant joists.

These fillets must be at least 38mm thick and fixed with 64mm long nails. Fix each noggin with two nails into each joist,

Another method of lifting floorboards is with a cold chisel, bolster, or crowbar. These can be used to prise up the end of the board after punching in the nails. Take care, however, that you do not cause damage to adjacent boards. Once the board is raised sufficiently, slip a thick piece of wood beneath it to keep it up. The board can then be cut through beside the joist.

The claw of a hammer is intended to enable you to lever up floorboards. Insert the claw beneath the board to be lifted and tilt the handle, using the head of the hammer as a fulcrum on the joist.

10. November 2011 by admin
Categories: Featured, Handyman Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Repairing Creaky Stairs


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