Q: A previous owner drove hundreds of ring-shank nails through the face of the oak floorboards in the living room and dining room — to quiet a squeaking floor, I guess — then ran carpeting over it all. I ripped out the carpet, but I can't pull the nails without damaging the oak, and I can't drive them deeper because the wood is so hard. I'd love to save this beautiful floor. What should I do?

— Deb, Albert Lea, MN

A: Tom Silva replies: Well, you've got your work cut out for you. Ring-shank nails are hard to remove, as you've discovered, and they damage the wood surface when you do manage to pull them out. My suggestion: Try sanding off the nailheads that are right on the surface using a drum sander fitted with 12- or 24-grit cloth-backed paper. To make sure that you don't damage the drum, which will cost you a few hundred dollars to replace, tap down any nails that have popped so the bottoms of the heads are resting against the surface of the floor. Even so, the nails will probably rip the sandpaper fairly frequently, so stock up before you start. Also, take it easy. An aggressive paper like this will eat through more wood than a normal refinishing and shorten the life of your floors.

After the heads are sanded away, you should be able to drive the nail shanks a little deeper with a hammer and a nail set. Then you can refinish the floor as usual, provided there's still enough wood — 1/8 inch — above the tongue. Once you finish sanding, fill all those holes with wood filler matched to the color of the wood. Unless you use a very dark stain, the filled holes might still be visible after the floor is finished. But if you're serious about living with the original floors, maybe you'll see this as character rather than a character flaw.

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