How to Remove Glue-Down Wood Flooring

If you need to remove glue-down wood hardwood floor, you are in for some hard work. Unfortunately, water damage to your wood floors or other situations might give you no choice but to rip out the old flooring.

Glue-down hardwood floors are one of the strongest, most durable floor coverings and are made to last for decades. That durability makes them extremely difficult to remove by yourself. While it’s hard work, it is not complicated — so if you are willing to get a few tools and put in the time you can save yourself the money that professionals would charge you.

You might rent a power scraper to make things faster, but you will have a lot of sticky work to do by hand. Follow this complete guide for tips and experience you need to remove glue-down wood floors as efficiently as possible.

remove glue down wood floor

Using a Power Scraper vs. Removing Wood By Hand

Most flooring professionals would use a power scraper to tear out glue-down wood flooring. This is a heavy machine with wheels and a blade on the front which can save you a lot of trouble removing the old wood.

These machines are available to rent from large tool-rental stores and some local flooring installers. If you have a way to transport it and are comfortable driving light power machinery, you may consider saving yourself hours of manual work by renting a power scraper.

It’s a good idea to consult with a flooring installer to see if a power scraper is a good fit for your space.

Removing Glue-Down Wood Flooring By Hand

The difficulty of this job will vary based on the type of glue used, how well the glue was applied to begin with, and how wide the hardwood planks are. If you are lucky enough to have small planks that were not installed by a professional, they might come up easily. Most floors installed by professionals, though, will take a lot of work to remove.

Removing glue-down hardwood is a job that requires a lot of patience. When you’re ready to get started, gather the following items and follow the steps below to make your removal work as painless as possible.

Tools and Materials

  • Circular saw with adjustable blade depth
  • Shop vacuum and sheets to protect the room from dust
  • Standard pry bar (large size)
  • Other prying tools or crowbars (optional)
  • Medium-weight hammer (such as a roofing hammer or small sledge)
  • Thick work gloves, knee pads, and safety glasses
  • 6-inch steel scraper or chipper
  • 6-inch razor flooring scraper with plenty of new razor blades
  • Wide painter’s tape if you are only removing a section of the room’s flooring

How to Prepare the Room for Flooring Removal

Tearing out your wood floor will require the use of power tools, hammering, and scraping up old glue. This process will make a huge mess, throwing sawdust, wood splinters, and sticky old glue everywhere.

Protect your home by laying sheets down on furniture or other items that are nearby. This will save you cleaning up a huge mess later and can protect sensitive items, like electronics, from damage.

When you use a power saw indoors, you may also want to use a shop vacuum to catch the sawdust immediately before it blows around the room. Just have someone follow your saw with the vacuum hose.

It’s also important that you wear proper safety equipment. Thick gloves and eye protection are absolutely necessary, and you should wear a good set of knee pads, too. You may need hearing protection when you use the circular saw and may prefer to wear a filtering mask or respirator to be safe. 

Once you and the room are prepared, you’re ready to get work removing the flooring.

Step 1: Pull Quarter-round and Baseboards

Most rooms have a baseboard nailed to the wall that runs around the perimeter of the room. Hardwood floors usually have an additional quarter-round trim. You should remove these trim pieces when you start a tear-out job.

If you plan to reuse them, you can remove the nails and keep the pieces (unless they have water damage or other problems). Mark the back of the trim so you know where they go. Otherwise, you can throw them away.

Step 2: Cut Wood Flooring with a Circular Saw

Because hardwood flooring planks lock together, it is hard to pry them apart unless you cut them first. You need to use a circular saw set to the depth of the flooring to cut the wood into smaller pieces.

Set the saw to cut at the exact depth of the hardwood flooring. If you are on a concrete subfloor, you may want to set the depth slightly more shallow so you don’t dull the saw blade on the concrete. Never set the saw deep enough to cut into the subfloor, even if it’s a wooden subfloor.

Engineered glue-down wood is extremely dense and strong. You can expect to wear out several saw blades while cutting the old flooring.

Make long, straight cuts perpendicular to the long edge of your floorboards. The recommended width to cut is every 2 feet. This will make sure you never have to pry up a piece wider than 2-feet, which will be many times easier than removing longer boards.

If you find that removing 2-foot-wide planks is still too difficult, you can go back and cut the rows even smaller.

Step 3: Pry To Remove Wood Planks

The procedure for prying up wood flooring is to stand facing the board and hook a long pry bar under one long edge of the plank. In your other hand, swing a medium-weight hammer parallel to the floor to force the pry bar under the wood.

If you can’t find an edge to make your first move, use the circular saw to split a board down the middle lengthwise. You should be able to pry up this smaller piece from the middle and work outward from there.

If you can’t get under the plank at all, try hammering the pry bar in at an angle so it starts on one sharp corner. You can also try a different location on the plank or a different shape of pry bar until you find a spot that works.

When you seat the pry bar firmly under the board, pry up on it.

If you are lucky, or if the floor was not glued down well, the pieces will pop up with minimal effort. If your floor is more secure, you might find that you have to splinter every piece as you pry up.

Discard flooring pieces in a large trash can one by one as you free them from the floor. Do not stack them on the floor where you can trip on them. It’s best to clean as you go because this is a messy job already.

If you absolutely cannot get the flooring pried up this way, you might have no choice but to call professionals or rent a flooring scraper. This is the best way to remove glued hardwood flooring.

Step 4: Scrape Small Leftover Pieces

Once you get all of the whole planks off the floor, you will probably be left with some splinters and broken corners still stuck to the glue. Be careful walking on the floor at this stage because sticky glue can trip you and there may be nails or other fasteners under the flooring.

Use a flat steel scraper to break any pieces of wood or fasteners off of the floor. Take wide, strong sweeps and always work away from your feet.

After you bust these smaller pieces off of the glue, you can sweep them up in a dustpan and throw them away.

Step 5: Scrape Remaining Glue

To prepare for any new flooring, you will need to finish by removing all of the old flooring adhesive that is stuck to the floor.

While you may be tempted to go straight for a chemical adhesive remover, this can produce dangerous fumes and it may be hard to find the right solvent for your type of glue.

It’s better to remove the glue manually if at all possible. The right tool for this job is a 6-inch razor flooring scraper. Even with a good scraper, you should only expect to clear a few inches of glue with each stroke. This can be the hardest step in the whole process.

Hold the scraper blade at a 45-degree angle and push hard to cut under the glue. If you’re on a wood subfloor, be careful not to cut into the subfloor when you scrape. Replace your blades often to keep them sharp.

Flooring glue is very strong stuff, so be patient while you scrape the remaining glue and always scrape safely away from yourself.

If you find it’s absolutely necessary to use a chemical glue remover, try different types by testing a small area first. Follow instructions carefully and always ventilate the room and wear a respirator to protect yourself from dangerous fumes.

How to Remove Only A Section of Wood Flooring

The steps above will tell you how to remove any amount of hardwood flooring. If you only want to remove part of the floor, such as to create a tile entry in a room with a wood floor, then do the following:

Use a tape measure and a large square to mark out the area you wish to tear out. Mark these measurements on the old flooring in pencil. Connect the measurements so you have a clear and complete outline of the area.

Use wide painter’s tape to outline the area you marked. This will create a protective layer for the flooring you are keeping so the saw does not scratch the wood.

Apply the tape to the outside of the lines (the area you are not tearing out). The tape should line up with your markings exactly. Lay several strips of tape outward to protect the floor. It should be as wide as the guard on your circular saw.

Set the cutting depth on your circular saw to as close to the thickness of the floor as possible. Tear-out will be easiest if you cut all the way through, but you don’t want to go too deep — especially if the flooring is over a concrete subfloor. Try to set the depth to the exact thickness of the hardwood.

Cut around the entire border that you marked out with tape. Work slowly as you approach the corners so you do not overcut and leave gaps in the flooring (if you do, you will have to fix them with color-matched wood putty).

This will give you a clean border to start your tear-out. Follow the rest of the steps above on the section of flooring that you are removing.