Installing Wood Strips or Planks

This story covers installing hardwood strips or planks.

Intro

Hardwood lasts longer than other flooring options and can be refinished several times (solid hardwoods can be refinished an unlimited number of times) -- or even restained to change the appearance. Today's polyurethane finishes allow installations in kitchens and half baths, as long as you take precautions to minimize water spills. Engineered woods are considered more stable for kitchen and bath applications.

Unfinished flooring gives you almost unlimited color stain options. The drawback: Unfinished flooring must be sanded and finished after installation, which typically requires the expertise of a professional and puts the room out of service for several days.

Prefinished flooring features a factory-applied finish that homeowners sometimes favor because it eliminates sawdust and finish vapors, and the room can be used within 24 hours after installation. The color options for prefinished flooring are not as varied as for unfinished flooring. Most engineered wood flooring is prefinished.

Prestart Checklist

Time
One day for a 10x10-foot room

Tools
Measuring tape, pencil, hammer, chalkline, backsaw, pneumatic staple gun

Skills
Measuring, sawing, nailing

Prep
Prepare the subfloor

Materials
15-pound tar paper, wood flooring, flooring nails, wood filler

Acclimate flooring

Stack and acclimate the wood planks or strips in a part of the room that you plan to floor last so the stack isn't in the way as you work. A bay window served as an out-of-the-way spot to store this supply of wood strips. For more on acclimating the materials, see below.

Step 1

Working near one end of the longest wall that's perpendicular to floor joists, drive a nail partially into the floor as a joist locator. (Nails securing subflooring offer clues to joist locations.) Use a measuring tape to find subsequent joists, which are usually 16 to 24 inches on center; mark this end of each joist with a protruding nail.

Step 2

Undercut the bottom portion of the casing so planks or strips fit neatly below. Lay a wood plank or strip alongside the casing and rest the backsaw on top. The plank or strip keeps the saw at the correct height as you cut.

Step 3

Staple one layer of hardwood floor underlayment onto the subfloor, running the lengths perpendicular to joists and overlapping edges by about 4 inches. (Allow the nail markers you've driven into the subfloor to poke through the felt.) This cushioned layer helps prevent squeaks.

Step 4

Working along the opposite wall that runs perpendicular to the floor joists, locate the end of each joist. Mark the location of this end of each joist with a nail. Snap a chalkline between marks.

Step 5

To serve as a guide for laying the first course straight, snap a chalkline perpendicular to the joist lines and near your starting wall. The first course in the installation shown here abuts an existing wood floor. Start the first course with the groove side facing the wall or existing flooring.

Step 6

First and last courses must be nailed through the face of the planks or strips, 1 inch out from the wall. Predrilling 1/16-inch pilot holes through the board face prevents nails from splitting the board.

Step 7

Lay the first board so it parallels the guidelines you established for square. Use spacers supplied (or suggested) by the manufacturer to position the course the prescribed distance from the wall. (This gap -- usually 3/4 inch -- allows for expansion of the wood.) Use a hammer or a pneumatic face nailer to secure the first board.

Step 8

Follow your guideline as you lay subsequent boards, abutting planks or strips end to end, drilling pilot holes, and securing the flooring with face-driven nails. The end of the last board should be cut to leave a 3/4-inch gap between it and the wall.

Step 9

Because strips or planks tend to look the same within a bundle, unwrap several bundles of flooring and lay the pieces out (a process called racking). Mix them up for a balanced appearance and stagger joints across the entire floor.

Step 10

To install the next row, cut the board so these end joints are offset from the previous row by at least 6 inches. Snug the boards tight end to end and row to row. These rows are still close enough to the wall that you need to use the face nailer or a hammer. Drill pilot holes and nail through the tongues for best results.

Step 11

After the third row or so you should be able to use the side nailer. (The nailer requires about 6 inches of space to operate.) Position the nailer so the lip fits over the edge of the plank. Strike the knob with a rubber mallet to release the nail and air pressure, which drives the nail through the tongue at the correct angle and into the subfloor. Drive nails 4 inches from each end and space subsequent nails about 8 inches apart.

Step 12

Continue laying the flooring row by row, working your way across the room. The nailer should be driving nails to about 1/16 inch below the surface of the flooring tongue. If the nail isn't sunk to the desired depth, adjust the air pressure accordingly.

Step 13

Avoid using bowed planks if you can. However if you're running low on material and must use one, screw a piece of lumber to the subfloor about 1 inch from the plank. Use the lumber as a brace while you drive a wedge of lumber into the space between the lumber and the bowed board. Once the plank is straight and in position, nail it in place.

Step 14

When you need to apply flooring around an obstacle, such as a built-in cabinet or fireplace hearth, frame around the base. You may need to miter the ends of the boards to get a snug fit. If the tongue will abut the cabinet or other obstacle, slice it off. Since you are working close to an obstacle, face nail these planks.

Step 15

Where a plank will meet a corner, position the end of the board against the wall and mark where the corner meets the board. Cut the necessary notch using a jigsaw, allowing a 1/2-inch gap for expansion.

Step 16

Lay all of the planks for the last row before nailing them into place. Because these are too close for using the side nailer, you'll have to drill pilot holes and face-nail.

Step 17

You may need to rip-cut the last course. Protecting the wall with a wood scrap, push the last courses tight with a pry bar. Drill pilot holes and drive flooring nails through the face of the boards. Set the nails and fill with wood filler.

Step 18

Conceal the gap between the last row and the wall with baseboard and shoe molding. Align the bottom edge of the baseboard so it is flush with the top of the wood floor; secure the baseboard to the wall. Secure the shoe (or quarter-round) molding to the baseboard slightly above the wood planks.

Snap a Chalkline: Step 1

Use a measuring tape or ruled straightedge to locate the first mark. At the opposite end of the surface, make a second mark.

Snap a Chalkline: Step 2

Position one end of the chalkline on the first mark.

Snap a Chalkline: Step 3

Draw the string and stretch it across the second mark. Hold the string taut over the marks.

Snap a Chalkline: Step 4

Pull upward on the string and release. The string will snap onto the surface and leave behind a chalk guideline.


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