Learn How To Install Hardwood Floors

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Many novice do-it-yourselfers long to tackle one of the toughest, yet most satisfying home improvement projects of all: a hardwood floor. Learning how to install hardwood floors takes plenty of patience and time, but the final result is a thing of beauty that is a joy for decades.

There are two choices of hardwood flooring: pre-finished and unfinished. Many novice installers prefer pre-finished flooring because it cuts back on work, but veteran installers know there’s no real substitute for a beautiful wood floor that’s been sanded and finished by hand. Once the type of wood is chosen, it’s best to buy about 30 percent more stock than the job requires to replaced boards that are cut incorrectly or otherwise damaged. Even longtime installers make mistakes that require replacing boards. It’s also essential to bring the wood inside the structure and allow it to acclimate to the temperature and humidity in the building for about two weeks (or longer, depending on conditions). Installers who skip this seasoning time are only asking for trouble, because the flooring will then acclimate during installation or shortly thereafter, with the result that the floor will most likely buckle and squeak. That’s one way to tell whether a hardwood floor has been properly installed.

The first step to a good installation is to build a proper base for the floor. The finished floor’s quality depends directly on how well the subfloor is installed. Any imperfections in the subfloor will show up in the finished floor. In other words, the installer can’t hide his or her subfloor mistakes under the wood planks.

Most subfloors are created by nailing down half-inch to three-quarter-inch plywood. The subfloor must be completely flat, even if it’s not level in some places. To keep the wood floor from squeaking, cover the subfloor with Rosin paper or the new cork underflooring. This extra step means more work, but it keeps down the noise of boards rubbing against each other.

Once the subfloor is down, expert installers do a “dry lay” of the top boards. That way the pattern of the wood can be corrected and perfected before nailing begins. Installing the first board is crucial to a successful project. Many installers say that the entire floor rests on how well that first board is laid down. It’s worth every minute to spend extra time assembling the pattern in a dry lay, then laying the first board, and repeatedly checking to see that the boards “square” properly with each other.

The boards should be nailed tightly to each other, but the back of the flooring should be loose to allow the wood to “breathe” with changes in its environment. Be sure to use the proper equipment for this task, a specialized nail gun called a blind nailer. This tool hides the nails in the tongue of each board so that the wood fits together snugly and smoothly. Pneumatic blind nailers are available to rent from many home improvement stores. This power tool helps the installer enormously and is well worth the rental price.

Another special tool that’s helpful when you install hardwood floors is a Japanese pull saw, an implement that cuts on the backward stroke instead of the forward stroke like most manual saws. Using this tool an installer can cut out a small portion of the doorjamb to allow the flooring to run beneath it. The Japanese pull saw has saved the knuckles of many installers.

Finally, a properly installed wood floor can be ruined by a bad finishing job. Novices should always get a professional to help sand, stain and coat the floor. Finishing is a critical task that takes plenty of practice to do correctly. Without expertise, novice installers may see their hours of hard labor come to nothing instead of a beautiful, gleaming hardwood floor.

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