Removing tackless carpet strips from your floor

It's one of life's little mysteries.  Why are "tackless" strips loaded with tacks?

Dear NH,

I removed one piece of carpet from the last step on the staircase. I wanted to see if the wood underneath was any good. The wood is nice, but I don't want to ruin the floor by improperly removing the tackless strip. What do you think is the best way to remove them?

Also, why do they call it a 'tackless strip'?  On one of the steps I must have received four or five pricks from the tacks on the tackless strip. Thanks a lot!


Dear KF,

It is called tackless strip to give you a false sense of security! No, really, it is called tackless because in most situations it eliminates the need for using carpet tacks to hold the carpet in place, giving you a "tackless" installation.

For those of you looking "over our shoulders", a tackless strip is a thin strip of plywood use to hold carpet tight around the edges of a room or, in some instances, across doorways and around other types of flooring, such as wood or tile.   The strips are covered with carpet tacks, with the pointy side up and angled towards one edge of the strip.

The strips are installed about a quarter inch or so from the walls or other transition, and placed so that the angle of the tacks is away from the body of the carpet.  When the carpet is stretched over the tackless strip, the carpet pulls back against the angled tacks, holding it firmly in place.

Removing tackless strips is a job requiring a certain amount of patience and care if you do not intend on refinishing the floor. The trick is to use a cat's paw prybar, and to remove all the nails holding each tackless strip.  Instead of trying to pry out each nail from the top... which is difficult because of the tacks... use a hammer to tap the cat's paw into the thin side of the tackless next to each nail. This will protect the floor by keeping the business end of the cat's paw above it, and also pull the nail at the same time as it splits the tackless strip in two.

If you must position the cat's paw over the floor, place it on a thin piece of wood, such as a scrap of 1/4" plywood. If the floor is oak or another hardwood, you may use a piece of flashing or a wide putty knife instead. This is because these hard woods do not dent easily. If the floor was yellow pine, for example, you would have to be more careful to avoid denting. I always get "stuck" a number of times when doing this chore. If you wear thin leather work gloves, you will get some degree of protection, but don't get too aggressive by grabbing loose strips, or you will be sorry.

And, of course, look over your work keep your work area clean. Stray tacks can hurt bare feet, and nails left in the floor can also be painful... as well as damaging to throw rugs and furniture. I make it a practice to put loose strips right into a five gallon bucket, and to vacuum up all loose chips and tacks as I go. Use that wide putty knife to check the floor for missed nails as you work. It is amazing how a nail that wasn't there one minute suddenly appears from nowhere!