May 9, 2013

a (very) basic lesson on installing hardwood floors

you know how right after something traumatic happens, you don't want to talk about it for a while?
like talking about it almost brings back all of the pain and aguish?
that's a little bit how i feel about installing hardwood floors!
(i am kinda joking about that, and kinda NOT joking at the same time!)
i also happen to feel that way about moving!

anyway, i just wanted to give y'all a very breief intrciduction to how my husband and i spent about 300 hours of our lives:
i wouldn't use this as a guide on exactly how to install hardwood floors, but it will defeintely give you an idea of what you are getting yourself into if you decide to tackle this yourself!
for best results, a 15 pound felt underlayment should be laid down on top of the subfloor, which acts as a vapor barrier. (that's the black stuff you see! it comes in a big roll and is available at any home improvement store.)

be sure that the floor is swept and free of debris before the felt is laid down. any lumps or bumps could create uneven spots in the floor.

we stapled down about half of the felt, but ultimately found that NOT stapling it down worked the best to reduce wrinkling and bubbles.

hardwood comes in bundles, like you see here. the woods needs to be acclimated to the space where it will be installed because it is sensitive to moisture levels and temperature and will expand and contract. bringing it inside a few days before it will be laid will allow it to "get used" to the air in your house.

bring over at least 2 bundles of wood close to where you will be laying out the floor.
mixing two bundles will ensure an even distribution of lengths, color and grain.
we laid red oak #2, which means that the wood has some "flaws" like wormholes and knots. we actually love the "flaws", and feel like it gives a floor more character. there are also on occasion, boards that cant be used due to missing tongues or grooves, or really large knots and imperfections. we found that, on average, about 10% of the boards were "undesirable" or unusable.
(red oak #1 is a more "even" product--less variation, fewer worm holes and knots. it also costs more that #2.)

carefully cut the plastic straps that hold the bundles together. it is best to cut on the underside of the wood, so you don't score the face of the planks with your utility knife. (the underside of the wood has grooves on it that allow for air movement and help the wood to lay flat on an uneven surface. the top surface is flat.)

next, you "rack" the wood, which means you lay it out on the floor exactly the way in which it will be nailed down.

a few things to consider:
make sure the joints are not too close together. a good rule is at least 2.5 widths of wood between each seam. this will ensure a stronger floor.

make sure that each plank fits together nicely. sometimes they are milled wrong or are missing a tongue or groove.
we found that the work went faster when the "racker" was 4-8 rows ahead of the "nailer".

leave enough space in between where you are racking and where the wood is being nailed in place so that there is room for the nailer to hammer in the staples.
at the end of each row, there will almost always need to be a cut made.

for this project, we used a table saw (for long narrow rips along walls), a chop saw (for end cuts), and a jig saw (for cuts around heat registers and door casings).

each plank gets tapped into place with a rubber mallet. sometimes they go in smoothly, but other times they need some serious whacking.

once the plank is in place, the rubber mallet is used to drive the nail or staple in place. we used staples,
and drove them in about every 6". even though the nail gun is pneumatic, it still takes a pretty hefty swing of the mallet to drive the staple in! translation: it is hard work and will make you sweat a lot.

the staple should fit nicely, right at the top of the tongue. see how you can barely see the staple? that's what you want!

sometimes, the staple splits the wood or doesn't go in properly.
if that is the case, it must be removed with with a hammer and chisel, and the entire area cleaned of wood chips and debris.
loads of fun. 
(can you hear the sarcasm dripping off that comment? i hope so. that part was the WORST.)

as you move along, the area where you will be laying the wood needs to be cleaned to ensure that everything lays perfectly flat.

once you get close to a wall, the staple gun cant be used becuase there is not enough room to swing the hammer. a nail gun must be used instead.

of course, laying the wood is just the  beginning of the process...

 but the hard work...

 is definitely worth it in the end!

have a great thursday everyone!


  1. What a labor of love!!! you are amazing. and patient. and talented. and hard working etc etc etc! And we all get to benefit by oogling your house! Really Autumn, it is just amazing what you have done here!!

  2. Very very pretty. We are going to pull up our maple prestained floors and our carpet and do unfinished wood throughout our main living area. I hope we can pull it off as well as you guys did! We will definitely have someone come in and stain and finish the floors for us.

  3. Sounds like childbirth...what a great result!

  4. I hear you on floor trauma. I could not talk about our drama for a few months. Now I am recovering. Your floors look great!

  5. Wow! That's a lot of hard work.. Beautifully done. I love hardwood floors.