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Hardwood Floor Installation

 

From One Amateur To Another...

I've never installed real hardwood flooring before; never even assisted anyone. I've read several articles and web pages on it though, and you've got to start somewhere! So, I present a photo essay here of my experiences.

At the bottom I'll present a list of things that I want to remember for next time, several of which I wish had been emphasized, (or even mentioned!) in the various how-to articles I'd read previous to this.

BEFORE:

Our house was approaching 25 years of age, and I suspect that the carpet was as well. I don't know for certain, as we've only been here just under 10 years. Regardless, the carpet was old, worn, and in need of replacement.


FIRST, BUY SOME FLOORING:

We picked out some nice red oak flooring with a natural finish for this project. Note, this is real hardwood -- 3/4" thick, and 2-1/4" wide, prefinished -- not laminate or engineered lumber.

I was tempted by the lovely dark red of Jatoba or other similar woods. However, we already had a number of fairly dark furniture pieces, and the lighter golden oak tone seemed to blend with that better.

Since this was going into the main living area, we picked a select-and-better grade. This grade allows only pin knots, minor colour variations, and mostly clear wood.

At the same time we bought the needed transition strips to cover the transition from the hardwood to the linoleum in the adjoining spaces. For some reason this is only sold unfinished, which I don't understand at all. I sanded the transition strips and applied 4-5 coats of clear Varathane.

LET IT ACCLIMATIZE:

Wood moves. So it is important to let it acclimatize to your home before installation. I looked around and found all kinds of advice on how long to let it acclimatize, ranging from 48 hrs (if you can completely open the boxes) to two weeks. We had some scheduling issues in our family, and the wood ended up sitting for over 3 weeks, so I was well on the safe side, though I had also opened up the ends of all the boxes. (Don't look to me for advice on this, you're on your own for making that decision. I will say, that having the wood sitting there in boxes actually caused surprisingly little inconvenience to us.)

PAINT:

Yes, I said paint! If you're going to replace the carpet, you also need to remove the baseboard, so you might as well update your paint job. I can tell you that not having to protect the floor and not having to tape along the baseboard makes painting a room SO much easier.

RIP OUT CARPET:

Ripping out the carpet is messy, dusty, and all those strange stains you find under the carpet are usually best not thought about. Fortunately, removing carpet is really not that tough. Use a fresh blade in your utility knife and cut the carpet into 3' wide strips and rip it out, roll it up, and toss it in the trash.

REMOVE STAPLES:

The carpet underlay had to go also, which was easy as it mostly just fell apart. But, all the staples had to come up as well, which was tedious.

STIFFEN SUBFLOOR:

Our floor is pretty solid, but I took the opportunity to screw it down anyways. In all, I spread about 200 two-inch flooring screws out over the 360 sqft. Best to do it when you can!

(If you have a thin or flexible subfloor, now would be the time to slap down another layer of plywood -- thickness depends on what you already have down there.)

SAND THE SEAMS!

I forgot about this possibility when planning out this project. However, after the carpet came up, we saw that a few of the subfloor seams were bulging. I guess the floor deck must have gotten wet when the house was under construction. In any case, those bumps had to go. This would have been a good job for a belt sander, but I haven't got one. Oh well, it was just another hour of work with the random-orbit sanders...

READY AT LAST!

That is about it for the preparation work. After a lot of sweeping and vacuuming, the subfloor is ready to go.

So, if you look at it all in one lump; we measured the room and bought flooring, let it acclimatize, removed baseboard, washed walls and painted, removed carpet and tack strips, removed underlay, removed staples, sanded the floor seams, vacuumed several times... and had yet to lay a single strip of flooring.

RACKING:

We then rolled out some red rosin paper over the floor, and opened up several boxes of hardwood and spread out wood from several boxes at once. Once the paper was down we did lots of measuring and head scratching to decided just how to get started.

Normally you might just start at one wall and go. (Well, first measure to be sure the walls were parallel. If not, you need to make some adjustments.) However, we were flooring two rooms, which were divided by two stub walls. So there would be the challenge of having flooring from two rooms meet together seamlessly.

START NAILING:

We elected to measure and mark out a starting row just inside a stub wall that ran the length of the two rooms. Then nail down some long plywood strips as backer board. (NOTE: make sure your backer board is not thicker than your flooring, or you'll have trouble when using the flooring nailer.)

We wanted to ensure that our main entry (which opens into the Living Room) looked good, so we measured and adjusted the position of this starting row such that the entry would end nicely on a full width board.

CONTINUE NAILING...

AND CONTINUE...

...TWO LONG DAYS LATER:

It took a while to get going, but we did manage to finish installing the floor (360 sqft) in "just" two days. Two very long days. At the beginning it was hard to get going, and around noon on the first day my wife and I looked at each other and wondered just what we had gotten into. But with familiarity and practise came more speed. Our kids were actually a big help also, helping lay out boards, fetching things for us, and even working on lunch to give us a break from that.

One minor speed up I found was that instead of laying out each board and then nailing it alone, was to lay out and tap into place a whole row of boards, including cutting the final board to fit. Then I would come along with the flooring nailer and nail the whole row in one go.

AFTER:

When I say two days, that wasn't entirely true, as on the third day I cleaned the old baseboard and reinstalled it. I also patched a few places we dinged the walls and applied touch up paint. It also took a few hours to put fill in all the holes from the three rows of boards that were face-nailed along each wall. Not to mention the time taken to bring back in the furniture.

CUSTOM AIR RETURN

When buying hardwood floor, you are always advised to buy a certain percentage extra. For us, I bought one extra box, or 20 sqft extra. This pretty much guarantees that you're going to have some leftover wood. As we approached the end of the job, we sorted all the remaining wood, to ensure that we used all the nice long (4-7' long) boards, and the nice looking boards. But we still had plenty of medium and a few short pieces left.

I took a few boards, picking out ones with similar colour and grain, and used them to make a custom cover for the (ugly gunmetal colour) cold air return. It now very nicely matches the floor, and lends a custom touch to the job.

The List...

As I promised, here is a list of some wisdom that I collected over the course of this job. Some of these are things that I knew from reading various howto guides, but many of them were things that I don't remember reading anywhere.

 

Thanks for reading!