Nails for hardwood floor installation

09.10.2019
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Hardwood Floor Installation

A straight piece of hardwood flooring can be used as a straightedge to find low spots in the subflooring. ©2017 Tim Carter

Hardwood Floor Installation TIPS

DEAR TIM: I am thinking about installing hardwood flooring. The hardwood flooring I want to use is the traditional tongue and groove 3/4-inch thick hardwood lumber

I own many different power saws and other carpentry tools. Do you think I can achieve nearly professional results as I try to install the hardwood flooring?

What tips can you share to help me get professional results at do-it-yourself prices? Bob K., St. John's, Newfoundland CA

DEAR BOB: Since I don't know the level of your carpentry skills, I am going to say maybe.

It's Easy But It's Not

The traditional hardwood floor installation process is not that difficult, but the many different tricks and tips are what separate professional installers from those who aspire to have their years of accumulated knowledge.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local hardwood flooring contractors.

Specialized Tools

Your collection of saws and other carpentry tools will come in handy, but realize that professional hardwood flooring installers come to the job with an arsenal of assorted hand and power tools.

They have special nailing machines, some pneumatically powered, that drive special barbed nails at the precise angle and depth through the tongue of each strip of hardwood flooring.

You can hand nail hardwood flooring, but I'm sure you'll make a mistake or two, and your results will be less than professional. The special nail guns can be rented.

AsktheBuilder Podcast

CLICK this image and listen to the first call on the podcast. I talked to Jill about how to repair wood kitchen flooring, and possibly installing an inlay border as an option. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Two-Grooves In One Piece

You may also need a router equipped with a special bit. It is not uncommon for a professional to rip a piece of hardwood flooring to make it fit against an existing piece. To make the hardwood flooring pieces interlock, a new groove has to be created on the cut edge of hardwood.

Acclimation Is Everything

The first thing you need to do before you start the job is get the hardwood flooring into your home and let it acclimate to the indoor humidity and temperature. Although this acclimation period can be achieved in three or four days, I recommend you bring the hardwood flooring into your home for a minimum of two weeks for the best results.

Same Room & Stick It

Put the wood into the actual room where it will be installed if at all possible. Be sure that room is at the temperature it will be at once the room is finished.

The longer you let the wood acclimate, the tighter the joints will be as it is installed, and, more importantly, after the hardwood is finished. Hardwood flooring is a hygroscopic material, and it changes shape and size with changes in temperature and humidity.

Clean, Smooth & Same Plane

The subfloor to which the hardwood flooring is attached should be clean, dust-free and securely attached to the floor joists. Now is the time to attack any pesky floor squeaks.

Most floor squeaks can be traced to loose sub-flooring that moves up and down as it's walked upon. The movement of the wood along the nail shafts creates the squeak.

Screw down the existing subfloor to the floor joists, especially in areas of the floor where you will walk once the hardwood is installed. Those areas covered with furniture may not be as important, but I would suggest you screw down the entire subfloor to the joists.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local hardwood flooring contractors.

Eliminate Floor Squeak Video

Watch this video to see how to eliminate most floor squeaks.

Straightedge Secret

Use a long metal straightedge to locate humps and low spots in the floor. The low spots should be filled in with floor leveling compound or better yet, asphalt shingles.

Here's a precision straightedge. Don't get a cheap one. You'll regret it. CLICK HERE TO HAVE IT DELIVERED TO YOUR HOME FAST.

A flashlight really helps here. If you shine the light at a low angle or put the flashlight on the floor aimed at the straightedge you can see where light leaks under the tool.

Felt Paper & Water Vapor

If the low spots are very subtle, multiple layers of asphalt-saturated felt paper will work well. The entire subfloor should have a minimum of one layer of asphalt-saturated felt paper over it to protect the underside of the new hardwood flooring from water vapor that may try to work its way through the subfloor.

The felt paper also helps keep the new hardwood floor quiet.

This air-powered nailer drives special nails through the tongue of the hardwood flooring. ©2017 Tim Carter

Flooring Perpendicular to Joists

Whenever possible, the new hardwood flooring strips should be installed perpendicular to the run of the floor joists.

For a creative look, you can run the new hardwood flooring diagonally across the floor joists. Running the flooring diagonally is more work, and will require slightly more material.

Random Joints

Be sure to install the strips of hardwood flooring in a random manner. Regular hardwood strip flooring has tongue and grooves on all four edges.

This means you don't have to worry about having a seam where two pieces of flooring meet break in the center of a floor joist below.

Don't try to get fancy with respect to how the different pieces look. The bundles of hardwood flooring come mixed with all sorts of long, short and medium lengths. The more random the pieces are installed, the better the finished hardwood floor will look.

Little Waste

Whatever you cut off one piece up against a wall, the leftover piece is used to start the next row. There's usually very little waste wood flooring because of this clever trick.

Rubber Mallet A Must

A rubber mallet is used by professionals to pound the new strips of flooring into place against the flooring already nailed to the floor. Each strip of new flooring needs to be tight along the long edge and the short edge where it butts against the piece next to it.

This is a standard rubber mallet. Nothing fancy here. CLICK THE IMAGE NOW TO HAVE IT DELIVERED TO YOUR HOUSE.

You'll notice that the tongue and groove feature of each piece of hardwood flooring not only is along the long edges, but also on the short stubby ends of each strip.

Reversing Direction

One of the most secret tips is reversing the direction of the tongues and grooves. Professional installers don't always start laying a floor on one wall and work to the far wall. They may start in the middle of the room for any number of reasons.

When this happens, a special strip of wood that is the thickness of the tongue but twice as wide, is installed into the groove of the flooring.

This strip of wood allows the installer to start laying hardwood flooring going the opposite direction so the tongues of the strips are always exposed. The tongues of each strip of hardwood flooring must be exposed so you can nail the hardwood flooring to the subfloor.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local hardwood flooring contractors.

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nails for hardwood floor installation
How Many Nails/Staples For Hardwood Floor Installation?

The number of fasteners used to install hardwood flooring by the nailing method will vary on the width of the product being used. The chart below represents the estimated quantity needed for different widths. The wider the board, fewer fasteners are recommended as the quantity is reduced because of fewer rows.

Quantity calculations are based on a 1,000 square How many nails?feet installation. Keep in mind shorter length hardwood will require more nails or which is common with some imported solid hardwoods and lower grade products; specifically cabin grade or what is often termed shorts.

Where To Use The Fasteners? Is There A Pattern?

My example provides a better idea where to nail your hardwood floor. Shown is the nail spacing for a standard 2 1/4" wide strip floor. White dots indicate areas where fasteners are used.

USA Made hardwood floors

The illustration has dimensions from top to bottom at five feet (60 inches). Keep in mind it’s not perfect to any scale. Let's look at the first row (furthest right in the illustration). Seven fasteners were used which calculates out to almost one every nine inches, or in the range of 8-10 inches recommended in the chart below.

Width Spacing Fasteners 2" 8-10" 8,000 2 1/4" 8-10" 7,200 2 1/2" 8-10" 6,480 2 3/4" 8-10" 5,890 3" 6-8" 6,860 3 1/4" 6-8" 6,460 3 1/2" 6-8" 6,000 3 3/4" 6-8" 5,600 4" 6" 6,000 5" 6" 4,800 6" 6" 4,000 7" 6" 3,430

The second row has shorter boards being used where the number of fasteners has increased to nine. While 8-10" is the normal nailing pattern, shorter pieces will be a different story. That's why we mention the need for more fasteners if the material is shorter than standard strip flooring.

Keep Away From Ends Joints At Least 2 Inches

There's a reason why manufacturers recommend nailing a minimum of two inches from each end joint. Anything closer to the ends can cause splitting which over time can also create noisy, squeaky floors.

How Many Fasteners Come In A Box?

It will depend on the length for solid 3/4" floors. ForCompare staples and nails nailed floors a standard 2" size cleat nail manufactured by Bostitch contains 5,000 nails (right top) Can you buy a smaller quantity? Standard flooring nails, often termed cleats (right bottom) in the industry, quantities are different. 1,000 can be purchased in smaller boxes while a larger one handles 5,000. A mega box option holds 15,000.

How Much Do They Cost?

My web surfing shows the Bostitch cleat nails can run anywhere from 45 to sixty dollars for the 5,000 quantity. Cleats manufactured by Powernail run $ 14.00 for the 1,000 box and approximately $ 60.00 for the mid range 5,000 count carton.

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How to Install Hardwood Floors - Nail Down

Installer/Owner Responsibility

Hardwood floor installation

Hardwood floor installation

Hardwood flooring is a beautiful product of nature with inherent variations in appearance. It is the owner’s and installer’s responsibility for all products installed.

Prior to installation, the installer and/or owner of assumes responsibility for carefully inspect the flooring as to grade, manufacture, color and finish. Typically, the owner’s responsibility also applies during his/her absence from the installation site. If a flooring board is not acceptable, do not install it and contact the seller immediately. Once a board has been nailed or glued down, it is deemed accepted by the installer and/or owner. Manufacturers generally deny any responsibility for judgment errors and/or for poor installation quality of their products.

Tools and Accessories Needed for Nail Down Installation:

  • Power Miter saw
  • Tenon-saw, circular saw or handsaw
  • Claw hammer and nail punch
  • Straight Edge
  • Measuring Tape
  • Moisture meter (wood, concrete or both)
  • Chalk line and chalk
  • Level and leveling compound
  • #20 grit sandpaper
  • Rubber Mallet and Tapping Block
  • Pry Bar
  • Filler stick and touch-up marker
  • Utility knife
  • Broom and dust pan
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Ear plugs, safety glasses and dust mask
  • Power nailer or stapler
  • Electric drill and bits
  • Hardwood flooring nails (nails or cleats)
  • Finishing nails
  • Flooring screws
  • 15 lb Asphalt Paper

Temperature, Humidity, Storage and Handling

Hardwood is a living material which reacts to changes of relative humidity. It absorbs or releases humidity according to seasons. To allow for proper acclimation, the heating/air-condition system must be operational for least 14 days prior to installation and thereafter at a temperature of 65°F – 75°F to reach desired humidity level. The relative humidity level at home should be controlled between 35% – 55% at all times prior, during and subsequent to installation.

In summer, when humidity is high, hardwood absorbs the humidity in the air and expands. The expansion causes the strips/planks of wood to push against each other. The floor is cupped or “cupping”. These variations can be minimized with proper ventilation and dehumidifying. On the other hand, in winter, the relative humidity level at home is much lower due to the usage of heating system. The lower humidity level results the wood releases its humidity and the strips/planks contract or shrink. It is then recommended to use a humidifier to minimize extreme shrinkage effects.

Hardwood flooring must be stored in a controlled environment within the above mentioned temperature and humidity. In order to meet minimum installation requirements for moisture content, materials should be delivered 72 hours prior to installation or as long as necessary for the hardwood flooring to acclimate. Acclimation within a closed carton may not be adequate due to lack of air movement. Handle and unload with care. Store the flooring in a dry place and provide air space under cartons. Do not unload or transport flooring during wet conditions (i.e. rain, sleet or snow) because the wood will absorb moisture, which will cause it to swell. The swelling of the wood will cause problems, because eventually the wood will shrink back to its normal moisture content, and the resultant shrinkage may produce gaps in the finished flooring.

Job Site Requirements

The building must be completely closed in with all outside doors and windows in place. All “wet” work (such as concrete, masonry, framing members, drywall, paint, etc.) should be thoroughly dry. The wall coverings and painting should be completed before the installation of the hardwood flooring.

In order to avoid damage caused by moisture, make sure basements and under-floor crawl space are dry and well ventilated. Plastering and concrete work must be completely dry with minimum of 90 days curing time. Freshly poured concrete slabs emit many gallons of moisture as water vapor, therefore no concrete should be poured after the flooring is installed.

Exterior grading should be complete with surface drainage offering a minimum drop of 3? in 10? to direct flow of water away from the structure. All gutters and downspouts should be in place.

Solid hardwood flooring only can be installed on or above ground level with a plywood subfloor. Engineered flooring can be installed above grade, at grade and below grade level. Do not install hardwood flooring in bathrooms. Check with the manufacturer’s instructions to determine if your hardwood floor can be installed over an in-floor radiant heat system.

Crawl spaces must be a minimum of 24? from the ground to underside of joists. A ground cover of 6-8 mil polyethylene sheeting is essential as a vapor barrier with joints lapped six inches and taped. The crawl space should have perimeter venting equal to a minimum of 1.5% of the crawl space square footage. These vents should be properly located to foster cross ventilation. Where necessary, local regulations must be met. Crawl spaces must be dry and well ventilated. Use a moisture meter to check the plywood (subfloor) moisture content. Delay the installation if the moisture content of the plywood (sub-floor) exceeds 12%.

Engineered flooring can be installed over a dry concrete subfloor. In order to test the moisture level of the concrete subfloor, tape 18? x 18? clear plastic sheeting to the floor in two spots, sealing all sides with moisture resistant tape. Leave in place for 48 hours and then remove. If after removing there is no condensation on the underside of the plastic sheeting, the concrete slab can be considered dry enough to install the engineered flooring. If there is moisture on the plastic sheeting, there is a problem and the flooring cannot be installed. A professionally installed moisture barrier would be required. Using the moisture meter, check the moisture content of the hardwood flooring to ensure that it is within the acceptable moisture range of 6% to 9%. The installer and/or owner has full responsibility for moisture testing the wood or concrete subfloor and the hardwood flooring prior to installation.

Job Site Requirements

  • Preferred ?” CDX grade plywood with minimum of 5/8? CDX grade plywood over joists subfloor
  • Existing wood boards over joists subfloor and
  • Dry Concrete subfloor (only for Engineered Floors and some thin profile solid wood floors)

Note: particle board or other similar type products are not suitable sub-floors.

Sub-flooring must be clean, smooth and free of wax, paint, oil, sealers, adhesives, curing agents and other debris. Sub-flooring must be straight, flat and leveled. Sand high areas or joints. Flatten low spots with layers of builders felt, plywood or shims (not leveling compounds). Sub-flooring must be structurally sound. Nail or screw any loose areas that squeak. Replace any damaged, swollen or delaminated sub-flooring. Sub-flooring must be completely dry and meet with moisture content requirements. Sub-floor preparation is a very critical step prior to the installation of your new floor. The hardwood floor is only as good as what is underneath it. Laminated rosin paper or construction paper acts as a moisture retarder and may be used to reduce movement caused by changes in subfloor moisture. Therefore it may reduce cupping and warping. It may also reduce sound transfer, and to prevent noise caused by minor irregularities and debris.

General Instructions Prior to Installation

  • It is recommended that the flooring be installed at a 90 degree angle to the joists for wood subfloors. An additional 5% flooring must be added to the actual square footage needed for cutting and grading allowance.
  • Plan out the installation determining an appropriate color match of boards. Floor should be installed from several cartons at the same time to ensure good color and shade mixture.
  • Remove any existing base molding, other moldings, door sills and old floor covering where applicable. Using a hand saw, undercut the bottom of door frames 3/4? to slide hardwood board beneath.
  • Do not use flooring pieces with obvious defects. It is the installer’s/owner’s responsibility to ensure that the conditions of the flooring are acceptable prior to installation. Manufacturers typically decline any responsibility for flooring which is installed with obvious defects and/or flooring which is installed under improper jobsite conditions.

Nail or Staple Down Installation Guidelines

  • Ensure that all the above sub-floor conditions and general instructions have been met. Mark the locations of joists on perimeter walls so that the starting runs and finishing runs, which require face nailing, can be nailed into joists. Staple down 15 lb. asphalt paper over the sub-floor, lapped 2?-4? at seams. This helps prevent moisture from below, and helps prevent squeaks in dry seasons.

    Note : some squeaking and crackling of the floor is normal when using the nail or staple down method, and is not considered a defect.

  • Direction of the flooring should be installed at a 90 degree (right) angle to the floor joists. Expansion gaps of 3/4? are required between flooring and all walls in room.
  • Determine a starting wall. When possible, always begin the layout from the straightest wall, which usually tends to be an outside wall. Measure out from this wall at each end the width of one board (including the tongue) and then add an additional 3/4? for expansion. At these measured locations, mark a chalk line parallel to the starting wall. The chalk line is the starting line for the placement of the first row of the floor.
  • Face Nail 1st Row: Install the first board along the chalk line, making sure that the tongue side of the board is facing away from the starting wall (i.e. tongue side is facing you). Drill holes through the face of the board at 6? intervals, with the drill holes located approximately 1? from the back edge. Secure the starter board to the subfloor with 1? long finishing nails, by driving the nails until the heads are just above the board, then sink the nails with a nail set. Fill nailed areas with appropriate colored wood filler to match the flooring.
  • Blind Nail: Drill pilot holes along the tongue side of the board, using an appropriately sized drill bit for the nails. Set the bit in the corner formed by the tongue and edge of the board, angled at 45 degrees. Drill pilot holes approximately every 6? through the board, and up to 2? from each end. Do not drill within 2? from each end. Drive a 1? finishing nail into each pilot hole and sink the nail below the surface with a nail set.
  • Install the remaining boards of the first row following all the instructions outlined in Steps 4 (Face Nail) and 5 (Blind Nail). Ensure that the end tongues and grooves fit together snugly.
  • Subsequent Rows: Ensure that the first board of the each subsequent row is at least 6? longer or shorter than that of the prior row to maintain a staggered appearance. Securely fit the groove of the new board into the tongue of the previous row. If necessary, use a rubber mallet and tapping block to achieve a snug fit. Blind nail the boards as described in Step 5. It is highly recommended that the first few rows be nailed by hand rather than with a power nailer or stapler because of the vertical wall obstruction. Once there is adequate space, subsequent rows may be installed using a power nailer or stapler, which eliminates the need for pilot holes. Follow all the manufacturer’s instructions when using the power nailer or stapler and continue to nail/staple the tongue side of each board at a 45 degree angle and at 8? intervals, but do not nail/staple within 2? from the end of each board. As you approach the end of each row, ensure that a long board is selected as the last board of the row, so that the cut portion of the last board can be used as the starting board of the next row to minimize waste.
  • Last rows: Due to the end wall proximity, installation of the last 4 to 5 rows will need to be done manually following the instructions for blind nailing outlined in Step 5. The end row may have to be rip-sawed to leave the required 3/4? expansion gap along the end wall. The end row must be faced nailed in place, by drilling holes through the face of the board at 6? intervals, with the drill holes located approximately 1? from the back edge (i.e. 1? from tongue side). Secure the end board with 1? long finishing nails, by driving the nails until the heads are just above the board, then sink the nails with a nail set. Fill nailed areas with appropriate colored wood filler to match the flooring.

Complete the Installation

  • At completion of the installation, vacuum thoroughly and clean the floor with proper wood flooring cleaner on a soft, cloth mop. Then wipe the surface clean to remove loose dirt or soil.
  • Reinstall all base and/or quarter round moldings. Nail the moldings into the wall, not the floor.
  • Install any transition pieces that may be required, such as reducers, T-moldings and stair nosing.
  • Keep several spare boards from the installation in the event of future repairs.

NOTE: This is a guideline only. Carefully read the manufacturer’s installation instructions that come with your product before beginning the installation process.

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