Whether you’re planning to lay your own wood floor or have it installed, a lot of choices need to be made before you start hammering. In fact, one of the first choices to make: "Are you going to hammer at all?" While traditional solid wood floors were kept in place with rows of nails, today, wood floors are often stapled down or glued in place. Some tongue and groove floors notch together with a snug fit and don’t even need to be adhered to the subfloor.
Here are tips you need to keep in mind for your new wood floor.
First things first: You want your floor to look great. In some room designs, cedar is impressive, in other rooms, oak completes the look. You may even want two different types of wood in adjoining rooms. You can research how to transition between the two.
Another big consideration? Solid wood versus engineered flooring. While solid wood naturally expands and contracts with humidity and natural wear; engineered floors are layered to stop the planks from shifting during those natural cycles. Your choice may also be impacted by the material of the subfloor. Nailing solid wood into a plywood layer can be accomplished by a DIYer with decent woodworking experience. If you’re dealing with a concrete subfloor, you may need to glue down engineered material, and you’ll definitely want to understand how those surfaces interact.
Of course you’ll want to measure the floor space, taking into account any unusual corners or angles that need to be cut out and covered. Be sure to check that the planks you want come in various lengths. Creating a natural look in a wood floor means the board seems won’t align perfectly. Plan to vary the board sizes with the seems at least six inches apart. It may seem counterintuitive, but that staggering will make the floor appear more natural.
Before you lay out the floor, you also need to let the planks sit in the room for at least a couple of days and maybe a few weeks. This resting period helps the wood acclimate to the area’s humidity level. If you want to be extra careful, you can check the wood’s moisture level with a moisture meter.
Don’t forget an underlayment. What’s an underlayment, you ask? Akin to a carpet pad, the underlayment keeps wood flooring in place and dry. Common material choices include cork, felt, rubber and foam. Definitely read the recommendation from your floor manufacturer before buying one. Some planks even come with the underlayment The appropriate choice may also depend on what the flooring is being laid on top of.
Plywood and concrete create two different types of layering. If your floor is uneven in areas, you may also need to lay down shingles or another durable material to ensure the surface you’re building on is level. If not, the wood planks may buckle or crack.
The tools you need for the job depend on the materials you’re installing and how. A floating tongue and groove floor that stays in place without glue or nails may need the least tools, but it will still need several. Make sure you have the right kind of power saws for the job. A table saw will assure the straightest cuts, but also doesn’t come cheap. If you don’t have one, you can often do the job with a circular saw or miter saw as long as it's set up for long cuts. A jigsaw will help if you have to do shaped cuts or curves. When you’re lining up the pieces that will go along the doorway you may need to trim off the bottom of the frame. For that job, a pull saw or Dremel Multi-Max may do the trick.
A flooring malett will help knock together the boards. You'll likely need shims to ensure the boards are held in place against the walls. These shims may either come with the boards or need to be cut from scrap wood. Planks that need to be glued down will require an adhesive such as Bostik’s Best, which manufactures options specifically for wood flooring.
Traditional installations that used to be done with a hammer and nails are now secured with a pneumatic flooring stapler or nail gun or both. Some companies even make a combined flooring nailer and stapler. Most of the longer strips will be stapled down. Once you get closer to the wall there will be less room for the angled stapler so you may need to a vertical nail, possibly with glue on the underside.
Of course, the approach to installation will vary depending on the materials and tools used. The first step: Measuring the room to know how the boards will be distributed throughout. If there’s furniture in the space, you may need to move everything to one side of the room before starting and then move everything to the other side of the room to finish.
One of the most important steps is to carefully line up a chalk mark for the first board with the wall. The proper arrangement of this first board can make all of the difference in an installation looking professional or needing to be redone. Once the first row of flooring is properly attached, other rows usually fall in neatly. For a floating floor, the first row needs to be shimmied and wedged against the wall.
At the end of each row, leave between one-eighth and one-quarter of an inch and the wall. This allots for any swelling that may occur or minor shifts in the boards from repeated use. The baseboards will eventually cover these crevices, so you can safely leave the space without much concern.
Before you get too far along in the installation, you’ll want to cut the pieces that need to be aligned with the stairs and under the door. Work on the top of any stairs first. They’re highly trafficked and well viewed areas. Make sure they are structurally sound and look great. If they don’t, it’s likely someone will notice.
For door casings, you may need to cut away the bottom of the frame to make room for the board underneath. As you work closer to the wall, it may get tougher to hammer the boards together with the flooring mallet and adhere them at an angle with the pneumatic stapler. You may need to rely on a pull bar or similar tool to shift the boards into place. Once all of flooring is complete, consider covering the nail and staple holes with putty.
If you're not confident completing the installation, choose an experienced contractor to do it for you. By applying the tips in this article, you'll end up with a floor that looks great and serves its purpose for many years to come.