Real-life reno: Scoring free floorboards

THE PROCESS & THE PAY OFF: Me in demo' action, and the result - beautiful rimu floorboards stored safely in my shed.
THE PROCESS & THE PAY OFF: Me in demo' action, and the result - beautiful rimu floorboards stored safely in my shed.

I've recently discovered there are two types of house auctions.

There's the conventional type where the local real estate agent sells the property as a single lot. Then there's the unconventional type where there auctioneer sells off the house piece by piece - naturally that's the type we end up at on a Saturday morning. 

Instead of spending our rare weekend leisure time mountainbiking or going to the markets like normal people, we spend ours jostling with fellow scavengers for second-hand building supplies. 

THEIR FIRST HOME: The floorboards in their original state.
THEIR FIRST HOME: The floorboards in their original state.

Oh to be normal again.

Unbeknownst to me, Rebekah had signed up to the e-mailing list of a local auctioneer John Walker, who sent out a notice of a demolition sale for a 1950's bungalow in Tahunanui.

The email arrived weeks before but Bec kept it to herself because, she says, I am too cynical. The last time she went to an auction, she came home with a box of old paints and a rug you wouldn't step on without steel caps and a tetanus shot - and I like to remind her about it often.

So to avoid certain barrage of banter she waits until the morning of the event and casually drops in her opening gambit: "So, do you still want to go to that auction?"

"What auction?" I counter, immediately suspicious.

"The auction where they're selling off the rimu floor boards." 

 She knows I love hard wood timber floors.

"We'll just go for a look," she closes. (Well played, Bec, well played.)

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 about 20 other bargain hunters gathered on the driveway as John tells us that everything must be sold and that the buyer must remove the goods in the next two weeks or it will be 
bulldozed. I'm not sure about the health and safety rules of something like this, but it seems like pure genius on the owners' behalf. They'd been quoted upwards of $12,000 for the demolition and removal of their house, but by running the auction they made a small profit, saved thousands in dumping fees and gave much of their old home a new life.

There was 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 aluminium external door (sold for $10) as well as the roof, walls, internal doors, bathroom fittings, windows, carpet, a fridge, a stereo, a coffee table and even a couple of framed art prints that all sold for peanuts.

But we were there for the floor. Turns out, Bob was too. Bob is an old pensioner who is building a loft at his house and wanted the joists but had no use for the beautiful floorboards attached to them. As chance would have it, we met him before the auction started and after realising we had complementary interests, we came to a deal not to bid against each other. The floor was the last item to go under the hammer and I'd told Bob we'd go as high as $200. But when the bidding 
started, it was only us interested and we bagged 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 for free. Bargain!

The only catch was that I had to remove it. By hand. By myself. With no proper gear. And no idea.

But hey, how hard can it be right? 

What followed was eight 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 neighbour, 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 noticed yet), hobble around on busted knees for forseeable future....

I did a lot of googling and YouTubing, and tried many different ways but none really removed the boards without cracking them. The 60-year-old rimu was dry and brittle and split like match sticks as I struggled to pry up the two nails in every joist.

After getting practically nowhere for the first six 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 and I stumbled on a technique that 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:

Step 1: Get under the floor and use a sledge hammer (or similar, heavy flat item) to tap the boards up directly next to each joist. It is a slow and methodical process and you need to bang the board hard enough to lift the nails and create a 5mm gap between the board and joist, but not so hard that you shatter the board. 

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. I was rolling around on my back on broken tiles and cobwebs with hot metal fragments blowing in my face - and I loved it. After a week of frustration, the ping, ping, ping, sensation of popping of the nails was greatly satisfying. 

Step 4: Wriggle boards apart then load the bounty up on the trailer. (NB: If you've borrowed the mother-in-law's car to tow the trailer, be careful not to break the tail lights while reversing).

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

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 to acknowledge my favourite pair of old footy shorts (from my days as winger for the Wollongbar Pioneers third grade team) that sacrificed themselves for these floorboards. Although much loved, they were just not up to all that squatting and split right down the seam.

On a practical note, if you're going to look at doing something like this, I strongly recommend investing 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 salvaged floorboards:

Koha (donation to neighbour) for electricity: $40

Replacement blades for the brother in law's repo saw: $75 (I broke a lot of them)

My beloved old footy shorts: priceless

(If the mother-in-law reads this a new tail light for a Range Rover!)

Total: $115