Wood flooring is one of the easiest types of floors to install. While other floors require mortar, stretching tools, or floor-size patterns, you can install wood flooring with tools you're familiar with: drills, saws, and hammers.
Wood must adjust to the “climate” of a room before it's installed. Don't have it delivered on a wet day. Make sure all humidity-producing aspects of building and remodeling have dried before bringing the wood home. Acclimate the wood to proper room temperatures for five days prior to installation, at temperatures of 65 to 75°F. You can stack it log-cabin style or just spread it around the room, but not directly on concrete. Plan to provide 4-in. air space between hardwood flooring and concrete.
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•15-lb roofing Felt
Mark the walls to show the location of the floor joists. Cover the floor with 15-pound felt paper. For strength, run the strip flooring perpendicular to the joists. Start your layout at the longest uninterrupted wall that’s perpendicular to the joists. At each end of the wall, measure out the width of a floorboard, plus 3/4 in., and make a mark. Drive nails into the marks and stretch mason's line between them to lay out the first row.
The first and last rows of flooring have to be nailed through the face of the boards. All the other boards are nailed through the tongue only. To prevent splitting face-nailed boards, drill 1/16-in.-diameter holes for the nails, 1 in. from the grooved edge. Space the holes so the nails hit a joist, or as directed by the manufacturer.
Align the first board with the layout line, with the tongue facing into the room. Put a 3/4-in. spacer against the adjoining wall, and slide the end of the board against it. Drive 6d or 8d flooring nails through the pilot holes, then drill additional pilot holes through the tongue. Countersink all the nails.
Put the next board in place along the layout line. Seat the end tongue and groove into each other and push the two boards together for a tight seam. Nail down the board, moving down the row until you reach the side wall. Cut the last length to fit, leaving a 3/4-in. expansion gap, and nail it in place.
Spread the boards from several bundles across the room. Mix bundles, and mix shades, colors, and lengths, using the natural variety in the wood to create a random pattern. Lay out the boards in the order you’ll install them. Pros call this "racking the boards." Flooring bundles tend to be uniform in color, and if you don’t rack them, you’ll create noticeable light and dark areas in the floor. Make sure you finish the process by arranging the joints so they are sufficiently offset across the floor.
Put the first board of the new row in place. Cut it, if necessary, so the end is offset from the end of the board in the previous row by a minimum of 6 in. Put the end against a 1/2-in. spacer and seat the edge snugly against its neighbor. Drill pilot holes in the tongues, then nail and countersink them through the tongues (but not the faces) to hold the boards in place. Work your way down the rows, one row at a time.
Switch to a flooring nailer as soon as you can. After installing the second or third row, you’ll have enough room to get a flooring nailer between the wall and the board you’re placing. Position the nailer so it will drive a nail through the tongue of the board, then hit it with a mallet to shoot the nail through the tongue. Adjust the air pressure as needed so the nail countersinks into the tongue.
Work your way across the room, row by row, power-nailing the boards through the tongue. Leave a 3/4-in. expansion gap between the end board and the wall. Stagger the ends of the boards in adjoining rows by 6 in. and rack additional bundles as you go.
Even the best flooring comes with pieces that are not perfectly straight. Set these aside initially; if these end up as extras, you won't have to use them. If you must use a slightly bowed piece, drive a chisel into the subfloor and pry against the edge of the bowed strip to straighten it. If the piece is badly bowed, screw a piece of scrap to the floor about 1 in. from the strip. Tap a wood wedge into the gap, as shown, to straighten out the board.
Often a floor will meet an obstruction such as a fireplace or counter. If so, miter boards to create a border that frames the obstruction. Position the boards so the tongue or groove mates with the rest of the floorboards. Cut off the tongue if it’s on the edge that meets the obstruction. Apply the rest of the floor as you normally would, fitting the pieces into the frame as you go.
Where the flooring meets a jog in the wall or a similar obstacle, cut corners to fit. Snug the piece of flooring against the obstacle and lay out the cut by marking where the edge of the obstacle meets the board. Allow for a 1/2-in. expansion gap at the end of the board and a 3/4-in. gap along the edges; make the cut with a jigsaw.
As you approach the wall on the far side of the room, it becomes difficult to use the flooring nailer. Once you don’t have enough room to swing the mallet, begin drilling pilot holes for face-nailing, but nail only when you’ve laid down all the boards.
You will probably have to cut the width of the boards in the last row to fit. Measure the space and subtract 3/4 in. for the expansion gap. Cut the boards to width on a tablesaw. Put the boards in place. Pry against a piece of scrap on the wall to seat the boards and close any gaps between them. Face-nail to hold the boards in place.
Install the baseboard and shoe molding to cover the expansion gap. Keep the lower edge of the baseboard even with the top of the floor, and nail the baseboard into the wall. Once the baseboard is in, set the quarter-round shoe molding on a piece of paper to keep it just a hair above the floor. Nail it to the baseboard, not to the floor or subfloor. Nail threshold or transition strips in place where the edge of the floor is exposed.
Flooring in a hallway should run the length of the hall regardless of joist direction. If the flooring will meet wood flooring in other rooms, install the hallway flooring first, then work your way into the adjoining rooms. In order to make this work, sometimes you’ll need to join two boards groove edge to groove edge. If so, cut a strip of wood, called a spline, that is wide enough to fit into one of the grooves and about halfway into the neighboring groove. Glue it into one of the grooved boards and nail it to the floor. Slip the groove of the neighboring board over the new splined tongue.
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