Installing a decorative border

A decorative border frames the room and defines its shape. It can be a lavish assembly of inlaid wood (available from specialty suppliers) or a simple contrasting band of wood. One option for a decorative border is to buy a small amount of flooring in a different wood species from the same manufacturer as the rest of the floor. This works whether you use finished or unfinished strip flooring. For example, if you use natural oak for the floor, use walnut for the border.

A border creates two distinct spaces: the perimeter area outside the border, and the main floor field inside the border. The floor strips outside the border as well as the border itself are either mitered at the corners or lapped one over the next for a “log cabin” effect. Either approach creates the framed look that visually distinguishes the border and perimeter from the floor field. The space inside the border is treated the same as a regular strip-floor installation except that the end joints that meet the border have to be cut to fit precisely. Install the wood border first, then the perimeter area, and finally the main body of the floor.

A decorative border is usually just a strip of regular flooring in a contrasting color. Install the border first, making sure that the corners are square and the sides parallel. Once the border is in place, fit the flooring on both sides of it.

1 DETERMINE THE LOCATION. A border can be located a few inches to a foot from the wall, depending on the size of the room. Lay out short lengths of the flooring across the whole width of the floor. Measure carefully, and then lay out a field composed entirely of full-width strips. Snap chalk lines to mark the inside edge of the inlay.

2 CUT THE INLAY AND NAIL IT TO THE FLOOR. If you use a piece of standard flooring for the inlay material, first cut off the tongue edge on a table saw. Rip the inlay piece to a narrower width at the same time. Miter the inlay at the corners, using a miter box and handsaw or a power miter saw. Predrill holes through the inlay and nail it to the subfloor with #6 finishing nails. With a framing square, check that the inlay is square in the corners. Countersink the nails and fill the holes with a matching latex wood putty.

3 INSTALL THE PERIMETER FLOORING. Cut and fit mitered pieces of the regular flooring at the corners. Because they are close to the wall, you won't be able to use a flooring nailer; face-nail them instead. You may be able to use the tongue-and-groove joint for the perimeter pieces, but you will have to cut off the tongue to fit the last piece against the wall. Install the field as if the borders were walls surrounding a standard strip floor.

Installing a decorative inlay

MATERIALS: Medallion, template, construction adhesive, #4 finishing nails, glue, drywall screws

TOOLS: Router, flush-trim bit, corner chisel (comes with kit) or standard chisel, notched trowel, rubber mallet, power drill

Decorative inlays are available in several thicknesses, finished or unfinished. Inlays match most off-the-shelf flooring from home centers, though you may have to special-order them. The installation procedure for an inlay depends on the manufacturer. Some provide a template with each inlay that requires a router to cut the recess into the surrounding floor. The special router bit is included in the installation kit. This approach, shown opposite, is nearly foolproof. It’s also ideal if you want to install an inlay in an existing floor. The inlay will have to match the thickness of the existing floor. To measure the floor’s thickness, remove a threshold or baseboard to expose an edge of the floor.

1 LOCATE THE INLAY ON THE FLOOR. Take time to position the inlay, placing it on the floor with straight edges parallel to floor strips to prevent awkward seams. When you have it where you want it, use a pencil to trace around its perimeter onto the floor.

2 NAIL THE TEMPLATE TO THE FLOOR. Lay the template on the floor so the inside edges line up with the pencil lines traced from the inlay. Nail each corner of the template to the floor with #4 finishing nails.


• DO — Double-check to make sure the medallion and the floor are the same thickness. Sanding down one or the other more than a little is virtually impossible without damaging both.

• DON’T — Get stuck. Use construction adhesive to hold down the medallion and use glue to put the covers over the screws. Whatever you use is bound to squeeze out—and glue is easier to clean up than adhesive.

3 ROUT AGAINST THE TEMPLATE EDGE. Adjust the router to make a 1/8-inch-deep cut into the excess flooring. (The first cut should be deep enough to skim across the top of the tongues on the boards.) Start the bit about an inch away from the template, and cut clockwise around it. Set any exposed nails all the way down through the boards. Lower the bit 1/8 inch and repeat until you've cut all the way through the floor strips—three passes for 3/8 inch flooring. Remove the floor strips within the inlay area. Chisel out the corners, then check the fit of the inlay.

4 APPLY ADHESIVE TO THE FLOOR. Use high-quality construction adhesive available in tube form. Evenly spread the adhesive with a small notched trowel (the kind sold for applying base cove molding adhesive) over the entire surface of the inlay area.

Learn to use a router by installing a medallion. Kits make this easy to do.

5 ATTACH THE INLAY TO THE FLOOR. Drop the inlay into the recess and press it into the adhesive. Use a rubber mallet to tap it into place if it gets hung-up on a corner. Then walk all around on the inlay to set it firmly into the adhesive.

6 DRIVE 1 5/8-INCH DRYWALL SCREWS into the predrilled holes to secure the inlay to the subfloor.

7 GLUE IN SCREW COVERS. Apply yellow or white glue to the back of the loose pieces of the inlay that cover the screws. Set the pieces into the recesses; tap them down with a block of wood and hammer. Wipe excess glue. Let the glue dry before sanding the inlay.

Installing wide-plank flooring

MATERIALS: Wide-plank flooring, cut nails.

TOOLS: Circular saw, quick square, hammer

Wide-plank flooring provides an appealing country look. Installing wide-plank flooring has notable differences from installing regular wood flooring. You’ll use from one-third to one-half as many pieces of wide-plank floor, which means the installation will go more quickly. Though the long edges in wide-plank floors are sometimes tongue and groove, the end joints are not. Wide-plank floorboards are face-nailed across the wide widths into the joists. Square-head cut nails (if they’re really rectangular) hold well and mimic the look of older floors. This flooring expands and contracts more than narrow boards, creating wider gaps or cracks along the seams, especially during heating season. Gaps and cracks are considered part of the look.

Wide-plank flooring adds a touch of warmth and a hint of country to any room. Predrilling for square nails will help make sure the board stays intact as you nail it home.

1 MARK THE FLOOR JOISTS WITH A CHALK LINE. Wide boards expand and contract, so they must be nailed into the floor joists. On plywood subfloors, the nailing pattern should reveal the joist locations. Typical spacing from center to center of joists is 16 inches. After you find one, move over and drive more nails to find the next joist.

2 NAIL DOWN THE BOARDS. A power nailer can be used to start tongue-and-groove boards, but face-nailing is necessary as well. Cut nails, with square heads, hold well and provide an old-time look. Keep the nails at least 3/4 inch from the edge of the board to prevent splitting. Orient the nailheads so that the long side is parallel to the length of the board. Predrill pilot holes for best results.

3 SCREW DOWN THE PLANKS. Pegging is an alternative look. Some planks come predrilled; if they don't, use a counter bore bit to drill a hole that will match wooden dowel plugs. Screw down the planks, then apply glue to the holes and tap in the plugs.

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