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There has been creaking in some areas of the second floor in my older home. I tried out the simple fix of screwing down the floor sheathing (they're actually some kind of particle board it seems).

While that did seem to help in some areas, in other areas it did not. A picture of one of them is shown: we can see both the old nails and newly placed two-inch screws (Yes there was water damage too - could have been ages ago, I'm not sure).

enter image description here

I want to replace some sections of the subfloor with plywood, while shimming the joists where needed to level it all out. My question: while removing the screws is simple-simple, how can the nails be removed? They're embedded into the joists through the boards: and I know how difficult it is to remove nails from 2x4s: it's not going to be any easier to so from the joists especially given they're also going through these boards.

We're talking maybe 100 to 200 nails in the area I'm thinking to dig up. A way to get this done efficiently would go a long way to simplifying/expediting this job. Any tips?

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  • second that about the particle board. how much did these guys save by not at least putting plywood? Commented Mar 5 at 21:53
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    Particle board was standard practice in the 60s and 70s. It may have been a minor cost saving measure, but it was mostly used to provide a more smooth surface for carpet than the plywood of the day would have.
    – isherwood
    Commented Mar 5 at 21:55
  • @isherwood wouldn't nailing help with the arch on plywood? does the plywood remember that arch into antiquity and thus continue to fight the nails holding it hostage? Commented Mar 5 at 21:58
  • i mean a bow in the plywood: that seems to be what you were saying were common in the boards manufactured/available in that earlier timeframe Commented Mar 5 at 22:03
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    I was referring mostly to surface quality and interior ply voids, not flatness. Yes, plywood flattens out nicely when fastened down, and modern B grade is as nice as particle board. It wasn't so readily available or was much more costly back when, and manufacturing has greatly improved to prevent most internal voids.
    – isherwood
    Commented Mar 5 at 22:04

2 Answers 2

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  1. Cut the perimeter of the areas to be removed with a circular saw set to depth. Err on the shallow side so you don't damage the first layer. For tight areas an oscillating saw works well, or simply leave the strip your circular saw doesn't reach. Chances are it's not a problem, or it could be filled if it's too low.

  2. Using large pry bars, shingle shovels, hammers, etc., rip and tear the particle board up. It'll readily crack and crumble away. That may seem aggressive, but it's the best and fastest way. Getting started is the hard part. Find an edge or drive a bar under at a seam. If you like, make additional cuts to segment the sheets further.

  3. Pull the remaining nails with a hammer and "cat's paw" or bar. I like to use a floor scraper or similar tool to be sure I got them all, and to look for protruding fasteners in the bottom layer.

The broken edges can be sharp, especially if they catch you on the back of a hand. Those nail heads are also knuckle rippers. Use good gloves and eye protection. If you're using metal-on-metal tools, also use ear protection.

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  • Using a spacer(wood) to raise the hammer to the level of a raised nail helps.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 5 at 21:54
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    this sounds about right. I'm unfamiliar with a floor scraper, will look that up. accepting in about 5 mins tick tock. Update: oh it's just a scraper, have those I even sometimes supplement with flat edge of a rake. Commented Mar 5 at 21:55
  • re: PPE I am a fanatic for same including 100% duty cycle wearing a mask and gloves and 75% ear and eye protection. you know when the protection is definitely needed (e.g. using a cutoff wheel on any steel) but surprises can happen when the situation seems inocuous. Also: it's easy to get caught up in helping out a co-worker and in the rush to execute not remember you're not wearing the PPE (if it's not already in place) Commented Mar 5 at 22:01
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    @crip659 You're describing scenarios that clearly require it. Any work involving tools would apply. I don't always have eye protection when moving stuff in wheelbarrows. Commented Mar 5 at 22:35
  • @isherwood I have cut out the perimeter of one of the 4'x8' particle board sheets. Cutting out the edges is needful to be able to get at the nails on the edges. But given the general weakness of particle board and it's also water damaged the result is predictable: the particle board disintegrates around each nail. I'm staring at digging out every single perimeter nail individually. I don't even know what the solution will be for the nails on the internal area of the board (short of getting out the skilsaw again). Commented Mar 5 at 23:30
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I need a way to extract the nails more rapidly then just a flatbar and am investigating specialed nail pulling tools. Here is one Nail puller. It has three steps:

  1. dig into the wood
  2. grab the nail
  3. extract

I'm only doing this one job so will look for a compromise of cost and function.

enter image description here

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