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Tips for Installing Solid Wood Floor

About the Project

Wood is a timeless option to add to your home. Even if our taste in décor regresses to what we saw several decades ago with the popularity of carpet, it’ll still come back. There are so many different types of wood, including maple, oak, bamboo and some exotic Brazilian types. There are pros and cons to different types of wood but just remember you also get what you pay for.

Some issues you may run into with wood floor that’s a “bargain” are they: 1) may have a thinner protective coating making it more susceptible to scratching the actual wood and not just the coating, 2) package a lot of smaller length boards in a box (10”- 16” instead of 3’-5’), 3) have ends that aren’t cut perfectly square resulting in uneven gaps between boards, 4) have a small tongue or groove on a board, 5) don’t have a tongue or groove, or 6) have lots of area that have been filled to hide imperfections. That said, you don’t have to spend top dollar to get a good looking floor.

Common Questions When Installing Solid Hardwood Floor

As I always say, preparation is key.  Always think through the entire process before you even start demolition. I mean seriously sit there are stare at the floor and think step-by-step what you’ll do to complete the project, from tearing out the old floor to installing shoe molding. Here are some questions to get you started.

1.                   What happens if I start installing right after delivery?

Wood is a very porous materials and therefore very prone to effects of moisture, which means expanding, contracting, and even warping. Allowing the flooring to rest in the room it will be installed with allow it to acclimate to its surrounding environment and limit the movement of the floor. All wood expands and contracts differently so be sure to check on the specifications of your wood.  However, it should rest in the room (with boxes open if possible) for at least 48 hours. Installing the floors AND not allotting for expansion along the walls (about ¼”) may ultimately result in areas of your floor buckling or crowning up as the wood is looking for a place to go.

2.                   How many nails do I need to use on a wood floor?

On a nail down floor you generally want to use a nail about every 8”. To help with the math, if your room is 10’ wide and your boards are 6” wide then you’ll have 20 rows of wood (10’x12” per foot = 120” / 6” = 20 rows). If it were 4” boards then it would be 30 rows If the room is 20’ long then you’ll have approximately 30 nails per row. 20 rows x 30 nails per row equals 600 nails.

3.                   Do I need an expansion joint on a wood floor?

As mentioned above, wood swells and expands as moisture enters the materials, whether through humidity in the air or moisture in the subfloor. Failure to leave space for expansion can have catastrophic results. Fortunately, nailing the floor helps to control the amount of movement but nothing controls mother nature.

4.                   Can I put very heavy things over a wood floor?

Yes, go ahead and put your countertops on those cabinets on top of the floor. However, isn’t necessarily true when it comes to laminate flooring.  While laminate flooring can work well, given the correct application and installation, it can be more susceptible to moisture.  I installed a floating laminate floor in a nursery and left about 1/2″ expansion around the perimeter. Unfortunately, the facility chose not to use underlayment despite my appeal due to installation over concrete which resulted in in major movement of the floor. To make matters worse they put a very heavy boat in the middle of the floor which did not allow the floor to freely move.  As such, the floor ended up pulling apart in multiple places around the room because the floor couldn’t move. That was an “I told you so” moment but unfortunately it also looks bad on me as the installer.

Tips When Installing Solid Hardwood Floors

Don’t reinvent the wheel or try to solve a problem that tons of other people have already solved.  Do some research and don’t think that you’re the first person to have the issue. Below are a couple tips for you.

1.                   How do I start a wood floor?

After checking measurements to see where you should start (so that you don’t have a tiny piece), make sure you are using a perfectly square/perpendicular line to get started. This starting line is CRUCIAL for the rest of the floor to flow without issue. There isn’t always nice wall to mark your starting line off of; not to mention interior walls aren’t always straight. Sometimes the best approach is to have 2 people hold a chalk line on the ground.  From here you can walk back as far as you can and see how straight the looks.  I know this sounds weird but it’s all about your point of view or perspective when looking at the floor. If a straight installed floor looks crooked because walls are all out of whack then you may need to adjust so the floor isn’t perfectly straight. It’s all about what looks best and sometimes that also means picking the lesser of two evils. Once you get that line looking good, take a tape measure do a comparison measurement to the walls on both sides to see how close to square you are.

If by chance you have a perfectly straight wall you can run a perpendicular line by placing a mark on that line.  Then you’re going to use the Pythagorean theorem to find a right angle.  The measurements for this are 3’x4’x5’ or 6’x8’x12’, etc. Measure 4’ down that line and mark it VERY exact. Then use 2 tape measures and put the end on each mark while adjusting both tapes until the 3’ mark overlaps the 5’. Mark that spot VERY exact. Strike a line from the original dots to this new dot and it will be a perfect square angle…assuming you did it right.

To make it easier you can use a laser level that does it all for you. See the link below or find it here.

2.                   Can I start a floor in the middle of a room?  How do I keep the first row straight?

Once you identify your starting point and get your line struck on the floor, find the straightest possible boards you can get your hands on and screw them to the ground along the chalk line. This will serve as a backing for the first row of boards and keep them from moving as you nail them down with the floor nailer. Do not remove these boards until you have installed a good number of rows, the more the better as it will keep the floor from moving when you nail in the opposite direction.

3.                   Can I nail in the opposite direction if there are two grooves and no tongue?

The quick answer is yes, but you need to put a spline in the groove to essentially make a tongue. These are life savers when you have to switch directions.  Do not just put two grooves together and nail down. Without the tongue and groove being utilized it is a point of potential failure and buckling. I bought splines from a local flooring store and they should have plenty on-hand. Make sure to put glue on the spline when you slip it in to give it additional strength.

4.                   How do I get the wood floor tight?

To get the floor boards tight simply tap them together. Often times the floor slides easily into place with a slight tap but other times they need to be reminded where they belong.  In those instances you’ll want to use an offcut piece of flooring to hit.  For example, find a 8-12” scrap board that you don’t mind get messed up and put the groove part of this board onto the tongue of the board being nailed and give the scrap piece a smack with the hammer to get the board in place.

Even if you’re using a rubber floor mallet/hammer to install there is a chance you’ll damage the finished edge of the floor or smush the tongue, which will make it difficult for the next piece to go in.

5.                   Can I use a board that’s bowed?

Usually, yes, but it depends how bad it is. Often times you can convince the board to go in by using a generous amount of power.  Start by getting the board in place and then use your mallet to hit your flooring nailer really hard. You really won’t do any damage if you hit it “too hard”.

6.                   When should I install my trim?

Install the baseboard wall trim should be the last thing on your list.  My build installed the trim before the flooring went down and didn’t leave enough room for the floor to slide under. As a result the trim doesn’t look as tall as it should and it required shoe molding everywhere. Wait until after you’re done and then install the trim to cover the expansion gap.

7.                   How can I touch up my wood floor?

There are many different kits out there but it’s always hard to find a match.  I recommend talking to a wood refinisher and show them a piece of your floor to see what their opinion is on color.  Not all brands stain the same and not all woods stain the same so there may be some variations. However, they can give you a very good starting point if you need to stain an edge, piece of trim, stair tread, etc.  We’ve been able to successfully match color across acacia (floor), alder (door), pine (stair treads), and oak (bullnose trim on stair platform) but it may take a little practice.  If it’s too light, apply another coat. If it’s too dark, try wiping with mineral spirits to take some off.

Finally, it’s highly recommended you use a pneumatic floor nailer (air-powered). You can find ones that aren’t that are cheaper but you’ll pay with your sweat and frustration.  Trust me on this!

Identifying Tools Needed to Install Solid Hardwood Floor

Identify Tools

Below are tools that are either critical to the job or that I would highly recommend to make your life easier. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an extra 2 hours of time with inadequate tools just to save $40 by not buying what you need.

I am not the seller of these products, however, I have used these or similar tools in my projects.

Critical Tools

Recommended Tools

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