Installing Tongue-and-Groove Flooring

Tools: Square, compass, string line, hammer, pry bar, drill and drill bits, power flooring nailer and mallet, power miter saw, saber saw, and nail set.

If you need to firm up a floor, install sheets of plywood. If the new flooring will be too high compared to nearby floors—most people find a height difference of 3/4 inch to be a tripping hazard— you may need to remove old flooring before installing the new. Sweep the floor well, set any popped nails, and remove the baseboard shoes or moldings. If the molding is in good shape, write numbers on the backs so you can remember where the pieces go. Otherwise plan on installing new moldings.

Level any bad dips by pulling up the old flooring, nailing shims to the joists, and renailing the old boards. Staple one or two layers of roofing felt (tar paper) onto the subfloor. This will help prevent squeaks. Use spacers to create a 3/8 inch gap between the flooring and walls or baseboards. This is important; boards that are installed tight against the wall may buckle. Shoe molding will cover the gap when you’re done.

1. Nail the first board into place. Place the grooved edge of the first board 3/8 inch from the wall. The power nailer will not be able to reach this close to the wall. Drill pilot holes and drive flooring nails at a 45-degree angle through the tongue every 12 inches.

2. Tap the boards together. To keep the courses parallel, tap the boards together before nailing. Use a wood scrap as a driving block to protect the flooring. Or use the neoprene head of the power nailer mallet. For a professional appearance, offset all neighboring joints by at least 2 inches.

3. Use the power nailer. Load the power flooring nailer with staples recommended for your type of floor. Experiment with depth settings; the staple heads should just barely sink below the wood surface. Fit the nailer to a tongue, make sure it rests flat, and hit it with the mallet.

4. Measure for cut pieces. Measure before cutting the last piece in each course, and cut with a power miter saw or a circular saw. Don’t cut off the edge with the tongue or the groove that you’ll need. About every six courses , stretch a string line to check for straightness.

5. Scribe around irregularities. Cut casings at the bottom, using a scrap of flooring as a guide. To fit around other irregularities, scribe with a compass and cut with a saber saw.

6. Secure the last rows. You may need to ripsaw the last course. Protecting the wall with a wood scrap, push the last courses tight with a pry bar. Drill pilot holes and drive finishing nails through the face of the boards. Set the nails and fill with wood putty.

Straightening Boards

■ If tapping (Step 2) does not tighten a warped board, pounding the driving block hard with the mallet will probably move it over the last 74 inch or so, but no more.

■ If a board is warped on the side toward the board you are butting against, start nailing at one end and straighten the board by nailing as you go.

■ If the warped edge is away from the board you are butting to, fit the board as tight as possible and drive nails hard into the middle of the board until it is tight.

Laying Wood Flooring over Concrete

Strip or plank flooring can’t be attached directly to concrete. Seal the concrete against moisture with a layer or two of plastic sheeting, and then provide a wood surface to attach the flooring to. Laying strip or plank flooring over concrete requires a vapor barrier, sleepers, and a subfloor.

Build a subfloor over the concrete. Lay a polyethylene vapor barrier over the concrete; consult with a carpenter or a building inspector to make sure the barrier will be effective in your conditions. Install 2x4 sleepers, allowing 147> inches of space between them. To attach the sleepers, drive masonry nails or screws every 16 inches. Lay rigid foam insulation over or between the sleepers. Then screw a 3/4 inch plywood subfloor to the sleepers. Install the flooring.

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