Expert Tips for Installing Solid Wood Flooring

If you’re looking to breathe new life into your home or commercial location, hardwood flooring provides a timeless appeal that adds beauty and sophistication to virtually any space. Installing solid wood flooring is an investment that adds value to your property and provides a look and feel that you, your family and your guests will love and enjoy. Wood floors come in a variety of types and styles to suit all different interior designs and will last for many generations, as long as they are properly installed and cared for over time.

Although installing wood floors is a relatively straightforward task that can be accomplished by an experienced do-it-yourselfer, a single misstep or miscalculation can lead to less-than-desirable results. Avoid issues ranging from uneven patterns, gaps between planks and squeaky boards to bowing, cupping and structural damage by carefully following manufacturers’ recommendations and established best practices.

Before you start your next home improvement project, consider the following information and tips for installing solid wood flooring like a pro.

Find the Tools to Get the Job Done Right!

Making sure you have professional quality tools at your disposal is one of the first and often most overlooked tips for installing solid wood flooring. While most handy people will already own many of the tools used to install flooring, you should be able to find whatever you don’t have for sale at your local hardware store. If you’re only planning on using them once, renting more expensive tools is a smart option for keeping costs in check.

Essential tools for installing solid wood flooring include:

  • Personal safety products and apparel to protect you from injury and inhaling dangerous fumes during the process. Items to have on hand include steel-toed work boots, knee pads, ear plugs, safety glasses and dust masks.
  • Basic construction tools such as a tape measure, level, pry bar and utility knife will aid you throughout the process of installing flooring. A carpenter’s square is critical for measuring edges and angles with precision. A trowel will help you evenly spread adhesives onto glue-down flooring.
  • A hammer or mallet is necessary for placing and securing many types of flooring. To avoid damage, use a wood block or pull bar between the hammer and the edge of floor boards when tapping them into place. A pneumatic flooring nail gun or drill with drill bits may be required when installing some types of wood flooring.
  • Make sure the manufacturer has provided you with a moisture content level. If you want to get technical, you could purchase a wood moisture meter for measuring the moisture content of the planks before installation. Choose a meter from a reliable brand to get an accurate reading, and always test multiple boards as moisture level can vary.
  • Hand saw, or power saw for bigger jobs, to cut wood planks to the desired length. A standard saw, or circular saw will make straight cuts while coping saws or band saws for curved and guided cuts are preferred.
  • Spacers for maintaining the appropriate space between boards and around the floor perimeter.
  • Belt sander for perfecting the finish of the wood surface, and a floor edger or specialty sander to round out rough edges and get into hard-to-reach corners.
  • Vacuum and mop to clean up installed floors and the surrounding work space. Do not clean your floors with machines that use a combination of heat and water to avoid damaging the surface. Always sweep and dust with soft-bristle brooms or a microfiber cloth.

Purchase the Hardwood Flooring Materials of Your Choice

There are many varieties of solid wood flooring available, including different species of wood, finishes and manufacturing processes. A smart tip for successfully installing solid wood flooring is to know the particular product you will be working with and read the manufacturer’s recommendations in advance. These factors will dictate the types of tools and materials you require. Additional materials you’ll need include:

  • Floor marking tape or blue masking for marking out perimeters and board placements. Depending on the type of sub-surface, a pencil or marker will also come in handy.
  • Adhesive to glue down the solid wood flooring to the wood or concrete slab subfloor. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations when choosing and applying adhesives to ensure a secure and lasting bond.
  • Adhesive cleaner to remove any adhesive leftover from your old flooring and to clean up spills and excess.
  • If not using glue, underlayment padded materials to lay down over the subflooring to absorb sounds, reduce moisture and cushion the wood flooring for a softer feel.
  • Professional-grade wood nails, finishing nails or fasteners. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation to identify products suited to the particular types of flooring, thickness and substrate.
  • Wood filler to cover small gaps between the wood planks and to correct mistakes. Wood stain is also commonly used in finishing to cover up minor imperfections.
  • Sealant to protect your floors from water damage and wear and tear. Choose a high-quality product made for your particular type of wood flooring.

Get Your Site Ready for Installation

A smart tip for installing hardwood flooring is performing site preparations before your materials arrive. A clean and organized space reduces the chance of accident and injury and ensures you have everything you need to work without set backs and delays. Additional site prep tips for installing hardwood flooring include:

  • Remove all furnishings including wall art and fixtures so you have a clear space to work and nothing gets broken. Clean all surfaces and subflooring including removing any adhesives that remain from a prior job.
  • Take off moldings, door jams or any other design accents that are in the way of the area where you are laying down flooring.
  • Carefully inspect the substrate to make sure it is in good shape. Refasten any loose areas you find and repair damages and weaknesses. Subfloors must be structurally sound, clean, dry and flat. If you are working on a concrete slab, you will also need to measure the moisture content using a concrete RH testing system.
  • Check the grade level of the room or space you are working in to confirm that it is at or above grade level. If it is not, you will need to slope the ground outside the structure, so water drains away from it rather than collecting under your floor.
  • Open windows and place fans throughout the space to promote airflow to protect against dust and toxins.

Acclimate Your Wood Flooring Panels

Not letting the wood acclimate to its environment is one of the most common and costly causes of damages to newly installed flooring. Manufacturers recommend allowing the wood sit in the enclosed space for a period of seven to ten days to allow its moisture to adjust to the local temperature and humidity. If the wood has a higher or lower moisture content at the time of installation than the room, it will inevitably shrink or swell, causing bending, gaps, buckling, cupping, distortion and damages.

Best practice tips for acclimating solid wood planks include:

  • Take your wood flooring out of its packaging and arrange it staggered in layers with space in between the planks for optimal air flow.
  • Measure the wood moisture content at the time of delivery to establish a benchmark. If the product arrives too far beyond the optimal moisture range, send it back.
  • Find the acceptable range of moisture in the installation space using a chart that calculates equilibrium climate by average humidity levels and temperature range.
  • Always acclimate wood in an enclosed environment. Never outdoors or in an area where the climate shifts dramatically throughout the day.

Have an Installation Plan and Execute It to Perfection

Like most things in life, installing hardwood floors goes a lot smoother when you map out exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to do it in advance. Different types of flooring call for varied installation techniques depending on factors ranging from whether it adheres or fastens to the subfloor to the optimal perimeter, spacing and pattern. Use the following tips for installing solid wood flooring as a guideline, and always adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions:

  • Measure the dimension of your space from multiple points to calculate how many planks you’ll need to complete the installation. Be sure to note areas where it’s wider or narrower and cut wood planks to accommodate variations.
  • Create a floor plan taking into account a design that best suits your aesthetics and accents the unique architectural elements of the room. Use painter’s tape to mark starting points and perimeters.
  • Choose the longest unbroken wall as the place to lay down your starter boards. The tongue of the board should face away from the wall and toward the center of the room.
  • Carefully follow product instructions for fastening or adhering the flooring to the substrate. Only use adhesives listed as acceptable by the original manufacturer.
  • Stagger end joints avoiding “H” joints for a more fluid and visually appealing pattern. For random width boards, arrange from widest to smallest and repeat the pattern.

If you’re looking for more tips for installing solid wood flooring, contact the experts at Superior Hardwoods of Montana. We’ve been in business since 1977, providing the quality products you’re looking for, along with the best customer service in the industry. Visit us online to shop our wide selection of reclaimed, unique flooring as well as pre-finished flooring, unfinished flooring and engineered flooring options.

Let us guide you through the woods. Call us at (406) 251-2272 to discuss your project with a knowledgeable representative.