If you are considering installing hardwood flooring in your home, there are some decisions you have to make before you go out and purchase boxes of plank flooring.
There are several types of flooring that require different installation methods.
If you chose solid hardwood floors, the installation process requires nailing the boards through the tongue and groove at an angle.
Over the years, this process has changed with technology. A century ago, this was a labor intensive process requiring careful and tedious attention to detail so as not to split the wood. All of it was done by hand.
Eventually, tools were invented to make the process go a little easier, and nailing gave way to stapling.
If you are considering hardwood floors as a DIY project yourself, consider purchasing or renting one of more of the following tools used for installation.
Cleat or Staple Nailers
In the 1960s, a device was created called a cleat nailer allowing the installer to drive the cleat or staple at an angle multiple times if it was not driven flush after the first blow. Cleat nailers saved the installers some of the backbreaking work or working on their hand and knees, however the early versions still required skill and a dead on aim of the mallet to drive the nail properly through the tongue in the floor plank.
Cleat nails are made to grip the wood with a barbed tip at the end.
Staples offer a firm grip using a different method. Not only do you have two points of contact into the wood with each staple, but they have a resin on each one that is activated by the heat and friction of going through the wood flooring. Once activated, the resin turns into an adhesive.
The mallet used to strike the nail or staple into place had two parts. The hard rubber portion engages the plunger and nearby floor board tightly before actually hitting the plunger. This causes any wood floor planks that are slightly bowed to be pressed into place. This is important because if you have ever dealt with wood either indoors or outdoors, you know that wood is not cut perfectly straight sometimes.
On the opposite side of the rubber strike point is a counter balance that forces planks into place.
While still requiring a lite tap on the plunger to drive the nail or cleat, it was nothing in comparison to the amount of effort required from manual nailers. The compressed air did most of the work.
You load the devices with fasteners much the same way you load an office stapler.
These devices are configurable so they can work on a variety of solid wood flooring types and thickness but it takes time to learn how to properly use them.
Pneumatic fasteners must be flat against the tongue of the last floor board before the staple is engaged, else it will split the tongue, drive into the top portion of the floor board where it is exposed, or miss the wood plank entirely. If that happens, you will be either pulling staples or cleats out of the subfloor which can be a tedious task on its own, or removing the entire board because the surface has been compromised.
Also, when you get to cramped areas or at the last row against the wall, you will need to manually set that row of cleats because you will not have enough area to swing the mallet to strike the plunger.
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Should I use Staples or Nails When Installing Solid Wood Floors?
Some professionals suggest that you use staples because they offer a tighter fit and are less prone to becoming loose. If you have ever tried to pull up hard wood floors that have been stapled into the subfloor, you know how well they hold to the floor.
However, if installed improperly, they can actually make the wood too tight causing the potential for squeaks and creaks in the future.
Cleat nails offer more opportunity for expansion in the wood so if you live in an area with high humidity or have a crawl space that is damp, you may want to opt for nails over staples.
Finally, your choice of fastener will also depend on the type of wood you are using. Using staples on some types of wood can actually break or split the tongue in the boards, so follow the manufacturer’s advice when purchasing solid wood floors.
Additional Tools and Equipment Needed
Once you decide on the type of fastener you are going to use with your cleat or pneumatic nailer, you will still need many of the items below for installing hard wood flooring.
- Carpenter's square, 48 inch level and tape measure
- Chalk line
- Rubber mallet
- Regular hammer and nail set for final rows
- Utility knife
- Safety glasses
- N-95 NIOSH dust mask made for wood dust particulate
- Circular saw or 10 inch miter saw for straight cuts
- Tapping block to avoid damaging wood
- Pull bar and jamb saw
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Now that you know what tools you will need to install your wood flooring, be sure to do your prep work before deciding on a particular type of board. Pay close attention to the amount of moisture and humidity in and under your home in a crawl space before choosing hard wood over engineered wood.
Pneumatic nailers can make the task go a lot faster if you have prepared the site for several days. Do not forget to lay boards in the rooms where they will reside for a couple of days so they can acclimate to the environment. When you are ready to pull them out of the boxes, mix up several boxes of boards when beginning the install to guarantee you get a truly random look in the wood grain.
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