How To Install Hardwood Floors

3/4” Solid Oak Hardwood Flooring

Often when people make the decision to install 3/4” solid oak hardwood flooring themselves, they come to the problem of not being able to find a guide that can teach them how to do so.  This common predicament is what inspired us to write a detailed guide on how to install 3/4” solid oak hardwood flooring.


This guide is organized in the most effective and helpful way possible. We hope that your do-it-yourself experience is very rewarding, satisfying, memorable and worth-while like it has been for us.  Let’s dive right in!

Tools Required for Installation

Why 3/4” Solid Oak Hardwood Flooring?

Replacing our carpet with 3/4” solid hardwood flooring was one of the best decisions we ever made in regards to the remodeling of our house.  The solid oak has added a feeling of warmth, comfort, luminosity, wellbeing, cheerfulness, hospitality and luxury to our home.  It is absolutely amazing to see the many interesting options of finish, surface, species and stain of wood there are to choose from that are designed to improve the interior appearance of your home. 

In many cases it’s the aesthetic improvement itself that persuades a person to purchase hardwood flooring, but there are many advantages that hardwood flooring offers besides the elegance of interesting natural patterns and aesthetic improvements that we have just named.  Not only does it beautify your home, it increases its resale value significantly and consequently should be seen as a long-term investment.  It is not uncommon for real estate investors to purchase a home, install hardwood flooring and complete other remodeling procedures, then turn around and sell it to earn a substantial profit.


Unlike carpet or vinyl which needs repeated replacement, solid hardwood flooring lasts a lifetime and longer while maintaining its unique strength, shape, color and durability.  This is why investing in hardwood flooring is so much more practical and cost effective.  But even more important than being cost effective, hardwood flooring has added health benefits as well.  Carpet has a tendency to trap dirt, and accumulate mold and mildew, which triggers allergens and dust mites that pose a health problem for many people, especially when they are exposed to it over time.  Many allergy doctors recommend replacing carpet in the home with a wood floor to help minimize the side effects for people struggling with asthma or allergies.  Natural wood also puts off a much lower level of chemical emissions than carpet does (which can be especially harmful for little children).  As you can see, a wood floor is very beneficial to your health.


An additional advantage of hardwood flooring is that maintaining it is very easy and convenient.  Keeping a hardwood floor clean is remarkably easier than keeping carpet clean, especially if the carpet is light in color.  Spills are easily cleaned up and you don’t have to worry about fading and discoloration or having to remove an ugly stain.  It is immensely difficult to remove a deep stain from carpet!


So why install 3/4” solid hardwood flooring instead of a floating wood floor, glue down engineered floor, or any other type of hardwood floor?  First, 3/4” hardwood flooring increases the structural strength and durability of your floor and second, it can be sanded down and refinished up to seven times while maintaining its brand new appearance.  What a great investment!

Benefits and Advantages of Self-Installation

There are numerous advantages to installing a hardwood floor yourself versus hiring a contractor to do it for you.  One of the obvious advantages is saving money that would otherwise be spent on labor costs that ultimately add up to be extremely expensive.  For example, most home improvement stores offer to install 3/4” solid hardwood flooring for about $7 to $12 per square foot, which adds up to about $2,300 to $4,000 for just the living room (based off of an average living room size of 330 square feet).  Self-installation is obviously very beneficial by helping you to save that money. 

After hiring a contractor, workers show up and are frequently rushed to complete the job because to them it is just that, another job.  Sometimes they may accidentally (or purposely to save time and energy) install faulty boards that don’t look as nice.  My sister and her family had professionals install their hardwood floor, and to their dismay many of the joints between rows are lined up creating a less visually appealing look.


Another wonderful advantage of self-installation is the quality of the work that is done.  We have really enjoyed the luxury of choice; having the opportunity to select specific boards whose colors and shades blend best with the floor moldings in the rooms.  It is very nice to have everything conform to your own personal style and taste.   Installing our own hardwood floor has presented us with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and has also been a very enjoyable learning opportunity.

The Purpose of This Guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with quality instructions that are organized in the best way possible, making them convenient and simple to follow for anyone attempting to install a 3/4” solid oak pre-finished hardwood floor for the first time.  This guide is also meant to save you hours of headache and time wasted from making the mistakes that are inevitable for people who have never installed hardwood flooring before.  The many problems you will encounter while installing a hardwood floor can make things difficult trying to figure out a way to solve each problem exacerbates things.  Throughout this guide we have provided suggestions and pointers on how to avoid these common drawbacks and pitfalls. 

These tips are highly valuable because they are useful, easy to follow, time-saving, and will make the installation process significantly easier and more enjoyable.  By reading and applying these concepts, you will successfully avoid the numerous mistakes that we had to learn from through installation experience.


Although we cannot anticipate or address every possible problem you might encounter, we will provide a list of the most common ones that people face when installing a hardwood floor.  If followed, these guidelines will save you a substantial amount of time and effort.

We hope that your do-it-yourself experience is very rewarding, satisfying, memorable and worthwhile like it has been for us.  Now let’s get started!

Tools Required for Installation

Here is a list of the tools that we believe are necessary to achieve professional results and work as effectively and efficiently as possible.  The use of each will be explained in greater detail throughout this guide.

Basic Tools:

  • Tape Measure
  • Hammer
  • Ear Plugs
  • Safety Goggles
  • Dust Mask
  • Knee Pads
  • Staple Gun
  • Wood Glue
  • Wood Putty
  • Pry Bar
  • 2” Hardwood Flooring Cleat Nails
  • 16 Gauge 2” Galvanized Finish Nails
  • Bar Clamp/Spreader
  • Shims
  • Nail Set
  • Puller
  • Spline
  • Laser Level
  • 5/8” Particle Board (a small piece will be used with the RotoZip saw)
  • 20 lb. Roofing Tar/Felt Paper
  • Spacers
  • Moisture Meter

Nailers:

  • Hardwood Flooring Nailer (must have protective foot attachment to prevent damage to boards) and Rubber Mallet

Note:  If you will be installing a lot of hardwood, consider purchasing the flooring nailer rather than renting it (since renting one may cost around $40 a day).  Purchasing a reconditioned flooring nailer is a good option especially if it comes with a warranty.

  • Pneumatic Finish Nailer with air compressor and hose

Saws:

  • Miter Saw
  • Jigsaw
  • RotoZip RZ20 (with ZM3 Zip Mate) or Handheld Undercut Jamb Saw
  • Table Saw

Preparing For Hardwood Floor Installation

Hardwood Preparation and Storage

Before installing your new 3/4” solid hardwood floor, it is extremely important to allow the wood to acclimate to the new environment before you begin installation.  This is especially important in regions with high humidity or regions with a very dry climate. 

Hardwood floor is a natural material and tends to absorb water which causes it to swell, or even lose water which causes it to shrink.  If acclimation is incomplete, the wood is known to drastically expand or contract during or after installation.  This causes the floor to have gaps and spaces, and it can even rise in affected areas.  Fixing this problem after the floor has already been installed is a painful procedure.

To acclimate the wood, simply open the boxes and allow the wood to be exposed to the temperature of your house.  Although the wood may be ready within a few days, we recommend an acclimation period of at least two weeks to be safe.  Remember that all of the windows and doors need to be in place and the interior climate controls need to be running properly to provide a consistent temperature. 

This will also ensure that everything in your house is thoroughly dry and ventilated sufficiently so you can begin installation.   During the acclimation period, the wood will either absorb moisture from the air or moisture will evaporate out of the wood causing it to undergo expansion and contraction.  Dry wall, masonry work, painting and plastering must be completed and dry because the floor can even absorb moisture from walls that are still damp.

After acclimation is complete, you need to determine proper moisture content in the hardwood floor and the subfloor.  In order to do this, the use of a wood moisture meter is necessary.  After removing the carpet and carpet padding, test the wood subfloor to ensure a moisture content no greater than 13%, keeping in mind that the moisture content of the hardwood floor must not exceed a 4% difference from this reading (for more information refer to the manufacturer’s instructions).

Once the wood is acclimated and you have acceptable moisture content readings, the next step is to prep the sub-floor!

Note:  Installing hardwood flooring in a basement is not recommended.  Basements are typically too humid for hardwood installations because they are under the ground.

Subfloor Conditions

Preparing the subfloor so it is structurally sound is a crucial task that needs to be completed before installing the hardwood floor.  Insufficient examination of the subfloor can cause irritating problems later on.  A thorough examination will reveal any areas that are loose or squeaky.  Fasten these areas down with nails or screws. 

 If there are any damaged areas, it is critical that you replace them immediately.  It is also imperative that the subfloor is level because the hardwood needs to lay as flat as possible against the subfloor to prevent a “wavy” or “peaking” appearance.  This will prevent the boards from rubbing against each other or sagging and flexing when you walk on them.  Preparing the subfloor in this manner will ensure that everything is structurally sound for the years to come.

As soon as the subfloor is securely fastened, use a vacuum to clean it and dispose of all debris.  You may even need to wash and dry the subfloor.  Many people are replacing carpet that pets have walked on and it is not uncommon for animal waste to seep through the carpet and into the subfloor. Washing and drying the subfloor can help get rid of those unpleasant smells.  Also keep the subfloor free of wax, grease, adhesives, oil, sealers, paint, nails, staples, dust, etc.  With the subfloor and hardwood prepared for installation, the last step is to prepare the doorways and walls.

Note:  Watch out for water damage as this can greatly weaken the subfloor.  Be aware that if there was any problem in the past with flooding or areas that were leaking water onto the floor, there is a possibility that mold has grown into certain areas of the subfloor.  Mold is a bacteria that can cause health problems and needs to be taken care of immediately.

Doorway and Wall Preparation

With the subfloor and hardwood ready to go it is time to prepare the walls and the doorways.  If you prefer, you may save the doorway preparation for when you actually reach a doorway.  To prepare the walls, simply remove the base boards with the pry bar while being very careful not to damage the wall. 

Preparing the doorways is a little more difficult because you need to undercut the door jamb so the hardwood can fit comfortably underneath it without a noticeable gap.  This is where the Roto-Zip saw really comes in handy as we will explain in the following section.
Note: For door jamb undercuts, you may use a handheld undercut jamb saw instead of the RotoZip.  The handheld undercut jamb saw is safer and not as expensive in comparison to the RotoZip, but it also requires a lot more time and patience.

Undercutting the Door Jamb With the RotoZip

Before attempting to use the RotoZip, refer to the RotoZip instruction manual so you can safely operate this power tool.  To prepare the RotoZip for undercutting the door jamb you will need to use the following RotoZip parts:

  • DRIVE BIT
  • ZM3 ZIPMATE RIGHT ANGLE ATTACHMENT
  • X-SHIELD FLUSH GUARD ATTACHMENT
  • WOOD XWHEEL

Following the instructions found in the RotoZip instruction manual, first attach the DRIVE BIT to the keyless chuck.  Next, attach the ZM3 ZIPMATE RIGHT ANGLE ATTACHMENT and WOOD XWHEEL to the RotoZip.

The next step is to remove the door so you can have easy access to the door jamb.  Then cut a piece of 5/8” thick particle board (approximately 15” long and 7” wide).  The particle board will aid you in making a flush cut.  Place it directly against the door jamb with the RotoZip on top.  Now you can undercut the door jamb and casings!

Installing the Starting Rows

Choosing a Starting Point

With the walls and doorways ready to go, the next step is to establish a starting point to begin laying wood.  The best place to start is parallel to the longest, straightest outside wall, as this outside wall tends to be the straightest one in your house. Starting from this wall is only possible if you can install the wood planks perpendicular to the floor joists which will minimize the possibility of the floor sinking or caving in.  Installing wood from this longer wall can also help the room appear larger and more spacious than it actually is.  If you don’t know the direction that the floor joists run, use a stud finder to find out.

Note:  Another option for a starting point is at the center of the room.  This method is very useful because it allows you to install hardwood in both directions, making it easier if there are many workers.  To start at the center, measure from both walls that run parallel to the center board so you can center it as accurately as possible.  Many hardwood floor installers call this center board the sacrificial board because after using it they rip it out and replace it with another board.  However, if you cut and install a spline you do not need to sacrifice this board Instead, you can blind nail both the tongue and the spline, then start installing hardwood in both directions without having to “sacrifice” your board.  With the center board securely fastened in place, switch off installing rows from both sides to reduce the chance of knocking the center board out of alignment.

Laying Tar/Felt Paper

The last task that needs to be accomplished before you begin installing hardwood is to lay out tar/felt paper which acts as the underlayment that aids in keeping out dust and preventing squeaks.  Most important, it acts as a water-proofer and keeps moisture out that may seep upwards from below especially if there is a basement directly underneath the area you will be installing hardwood.  Do not overlook this step!  If water vapor starts to permeate through the bottom of the hardwood floor (which may happen even weeks after it is installed), the floor will raise up in various areas and create an unpleasant wavy appearance.  Sadly, the only way to fix this predicament is to sand the floor down and refinish it.  The tar/ felt paper is handy because it is marked with chalk lines which are helpful when attempting to lay it out straight.  Be sure to overlap each layer by at least 4 inches, then use your staple gun to fasten it to the floor.  After stapling down the tar/felt paper, hammer the staples all the way down so the hardwood can lay as flat as possible against the subfloor.

Installing the Very First Row

Now we are finally ready to start laying rows! Select the longest, straightest boards available and use them for the first 2 rows.  You may need to search around and open a few boxes to find the right boards because many of these long boards will be slightly curved or bent.  Lay the first board with the groove facing the starting wall you have chosen, and leave at least a 3/4” expansion gap between the board and the wall.  This gap needs be present whenever the hardwood meets the wall (although if it is a smaller room you may be able to decrease the length of the expansion gap without any problems).  This gap will be covered by the base moldings later.  Be very meticulous with the alignment of these first boards.  Starting out with a straight alignment is vitally important because you want the hardwood to be straight when you reach the opposite wall.  It is also very smart (and necessary in our opinion) to place 3/4” spacers (for the expansion gap) between the wall and the first row because the flooring nailer that will be used for succeeding rows can very easily knock the first rows out of alignment.  We learned this lesson the hard way when we installed our very first hardwood floor, and we still cannot understand why the instructions from hardwood floor companies fail to mention this extremely helpful step!  These spacers are very useful with keeping the boards straight that you tried so hard to align.  With the spacers in and the first board ready for fastening, the time has come for you to use your awesome pneumatic finish nailer gun.

The Pneumatic Finish Nailer (Top and Blind Nailing)

Before using the Pneumatic Finish Nailer, refer to the Pneumatic Finish Nailer instruction manual so you can safely operate this power tool.  For the first row you will be top nailing first, then blind nailing soon after.  We recommend using the Pneumatic Porter Cable® Finish Nailer with the 16 gauge 2” galvanized finish nails.  Set the pressure on the air compressor to about 75 psi and hold the nailer at a 90 degree angle to the wood so you are shooting the nail directly through the top of the board.

Each nail should be placed 1/2” from the groove side edge and spaced 6-8” apart to prevent squeaking.  Also, place the nails 1-3” from the ends of the board.  Later on you will fill these holes in with wood putty.
Now that the first row is fastened through top nailing, you can secure it even better by blind nailing.  It is imperative that this board stays in place.  Set the pressure on the air compressor to about 110 psi for blind nailing and hold the nailer at a 45 degree angle to the tongue of the board.

Try to center the head of the nailer so the nail will be injected right into the spot above the tongue of the board.  If the nailer is held too low, the nail will be embedded directly into the tongue of the board which may cause the tongue to crack.  It is even worse to hold the nailer too high as this can cause the nail to nick the top of the hardwood and slightly damage it.  With experience you will get a better feel for how to shoot these nails into the right spot.

Space these nails 1-3” from the ends of the board and space each nail 6-8” apart just as you did while top nailing (if you wish, you can stagger the nails while top nailing and blind nailing to fasten the boards down even more effectively).  Congratulations!  You have now installed your very first row.  Now that the initial row is in place, wecan discuss some useful tips for installing the rest of your hardwood floor.

Procedures for Installing the Floor

Selecting the Best Boards

Before installing the rest of the floor it is helpful to know how to select the best boards to use.  Each carton of wood contains unique planks of wood with a variety of natural patterns of varying colors and shades, so it is favorable to install the floor from several boxes at the same time to mix these choices and create the best final appearance that blends nicely with the interior design of your home.

The floor looks nicest when the colors and shades match the floor moldings, so you may even want to preselect the boards that best suit your taste and style. Remember to always use boards that are at least 12” in length.  The shorter ones can be used in closets and less conspicuous areas of the house.  Be sure to carefully inspect each board before installing it because many of them may be more problematic than anticipated.  For instance, many boards might be crooked or bowed, other boards will be missing the tongue, some boards may be too narrow or too wide to use, etc.

“Dry Laying” or “Racking” the Floor (optional)

After selecting the boards to use, many professionals like to “dry lay” or “rack” the floor by laying the boards on the floor in the exact location where they want them to be installed and then nailing the boards in as they go.  This method can be very fast and convenient.

Professionals usually rack approximately two thirds of the room.  Start dry laying 6” out from the hardwood that is already nailed down.  This will give you room to cinch the boards together with the tapping block.  The racking installation process is quickest and most efficient if you have three people available at the same time to install the floor:  One to lay out the boards, one to cinch them together with the tapping block and cut boards for the ends of a row, and one to work the flooring nailer.  If you choose to rack the floor like this, don’t cut the boards that will be installed on the end of a row until you reach the end of the row.  This way you will avoid wasting a board by accidentally cutting it too short.

Installing the Rows

Now that you are ready to install the second and succeeding rows, you will need to cut a tapping block that will be used to cinch the rows together when you strike it with the hammer.  To cut a tapping block, take a board and cut off a piece with the miter saw (you can later use the board for an end of a row since it no longer has the tongue/groove on one side).  The tapping block will be used so you can hit it directly with the hammer instead of hitting and damaging the board you are installing.  Place the tapping block against the new row and strike it with the hammer to tighten the new row of wood to the previous one.

Make sure to cinch the board up as tight as you can and leave as little a gap as possible.  Most professionals prefer to install the hardwood from the left side of the room to the right side but you may choose whatever way is most comfortable for you to work.
When installing these initial rows, it is most favorable to use the straightest boards possible because it is difficult to fix gaps caused by crooked and bowed boards.  Continue using the pneumatic nailer to install these initial rows until there is enough space to start using the flooring nailer.
Note:  If you don’t have spacers between the wall and the first row, install at least five rows with the pneumatic nailer before using the flooring nailer even if there is enough room to use it before then. This will ensure that you don’t knock the initial rows out of alignment because the plunger nailer is powerful enough to do just that (as we will explain in the following section).
When you come to the end of each row, use the Miter saw to cut the board so it leaves the necessary 3/4” expansion gap (when cutting the boards, cut into the pre-finished side of the wood first instead of the unfinished part as this will lessen the possibility of chipping the finish).

You may need to use the puller to cinch the ends of the boards together since there won’t be any room to use the tapping block to do so.

Note:  It looks best if you can stagger the joints of the boards at least 4-6” between rows while avoiding the stair-stepping look.  Never align the joints in adjacent rows because this is not visually appealing to your floor and the boards won’t be interlocked properly.

The Flooring Nailer

If there is enough room it is now time to use my favorite tool, the flooring nailer!

Before using this tool, refer to its instruction manual and take the necessary safety pre-cautions.   Firmly place the nailer against the plank you are installing and, with the heavy rubber mallet, strike the plunger to drive the nails into the tongue of the planks of wood.

As you continue installing the floor with this nailer, you will see how useful and convenient this nailer is with hardwood floor installation by helping you to move quickly and efficiently with as little gaps and spaces between boards as possible.  Many of the boards you use will be crooked or bowed.  In most cases and if struck hard enough, the flooring nailer is powerful enough to cinch up the gaps and fix this problem although there are some exceptions .

Note:  At first you will likely feel uncomfortable striking the nailer with the heavy rubber mallet.  Don’t worry because this is normal!  It takes practice and experience before you can comfortably use this powerful nailer.  It also takes a lot of strength and accuracy to hit the plunger just right to drive the nail completely into the wood.  Although it is frustrating at first, if you stick with it you will soon come to fully enjoy and appreciate using this wonderful tool.  Practice makes perfect!
If you don’t strike the plunger hard enough with the rubber mallet (which is very common for beginners), the nail will not inject into the wood completely.  Protruding nails either need to be cut off or hammered in with the nail set.

Note:  Some people don’t use the flooring nailer and instead choose to use the Pneumatic Finish Nailer on the entire floor.  This is entirely up to you but we highly recommend using the flooring nailer as it is most effective with cinching boards together.

Problems You May Encounter

Bowed and Crooked Boards

The most common problem we encounter with hardwood installations is boards that are crooked and bowed causing gaps and spaces between planks.  It is unbelievable how many crooked boards you will find!  Some boards are a little too crooked or too bowed which makes them impossible to use, while others can be fixed with the flooring nailer if nailed in just the right spot.  The easiest way to fix crooked boards is with the flooring nailer.  Use it to first nail the board where the gap is smallest, being sure to strike the plunger with a lot of force to cinch in the gap.  This will close the small gap and cinch in the bigger gap a little more each time until the board has gradually straightened out.  Beware of placing too many nails close together or striking the plunger too hard as this will cause the tongue of the board to crack.  When you come to the final rows and there isn’t enough room to use the flooring nailer, using the wedges or spreader is the best solution to solving this problem.  If a board is bowed, it is a little harder to cinch in the gap since it is right in the middle of the board, but by following the same procedure you should be able to fix it.  If the problem still isn’t fixed after nailing the board down with the flooring nailer, you will have to yank out the board with the pry bar and replace it.  With experience you will get a feel for which boards are too crooked to be fixed.  If you find a long board that is just too crooked or bowed to be used, you may be able to cut it in half and use both halves on the ends of rows.

Boards Missing the Tongue

Boards that are missing the tongue also tend to be a common problem.  Do not use these boards.  It is very important that all of your boards have a tongue and groove so they can properly interlock and stay intact during times of expansion and contraction.  If the tongue is damaged on only one end of the board you can cut off the damaged part and use it as an end board of a row.  If the entire tongue of a board is damaged, you may be able to use it later on when you come to the very last row.  The last row may require that you cut off the entire tongue with the table saw in order to fit it in place while keeping the minimum 3/4” gap between the wood and the wall. Consequently, it isn’t a bad idea to save boards that are missing the tongue.

Boards That Vary in Width

Another example of problematic boards are those of varying widths that are usually just a fraction of an inch too narrow or too wide.  When a board is too narrow, it is usually a problem that is very subtle and hard to notice until after you have installed the board unawares and attempted to lay the next row.  It is while installing the next row that you will see the small gap that is present as a result of having installed a board in the previous row that was too narrow or too wide.  It is particularly obnoxious if you have to yank the board out and replace it, so make sure that each board is as wide as the manufacturer claims it should be.  It is when you start using boards that are more than 1/16” too narrow or too wide that you tend to run into problems.  If you install these problematic boards, you may discover later on that your alignment is slightly off and you will almost certainly have more gaps and spaces between boards than usual.  We have learned through experience that this problem is most common with short boards that are less than 14” long.

Protruding Nails

If you fail to strike the flooring nailer hard enough with the mallet, the nails won’t be driven in all the way which happens quite often when learning how to use this nailer for the first time.

This may also occur if the pneumatic nailer fails to shoot the nail completely into the board.  At this point the nail set comes in handy by helping you to successfully push the nail the rest of the way into the board.

Sometimes the nail will be protruding a little too much which makes it very difficult to hammer in the rest of the way because these nails are weak and bend very easily.  If you can’t hammer it in with the nail set you will have to cut it off since trying to pull it back out of the board is nearly impossible.  A quick way to remove a protruding nail is to bend it over and over again in different directions until it weakens and breaks off.  If it is too difficult to grip the nail and bend it, we have found that with your RotoZip you can cut it off quite effectively.
Note:  To cut off a protruding nail with the RotoZip, use the ZipMate Right Angle Attachment with the Metal Cut-Off Wheel installed.  Be sure to wear both hand and eye protection because sparks will be flying!

Adjusting the Alignment of the Floor

As you continue installing rows it is a smart idea to check the alignment of the floor periodically (although adjusting the alignment usually isn’t a concern if you are working in a small room).  To check the alignment, use the tape measure to take measurements from various points along the hardwood floor to the opposite wall.  If these measure-ments differ, the alignment may need to be adjusted.  This can be accomplished by placing coins in between the boards you are installing.  The small spaces created by these coins will help the floor to gradually straighten out.  Keep the coins in place while installing additional rows so the flooring nailer doesn’t close in the spaces.  When the alignment is fixed, take the coins out and fill in the spaces with wood putty as needed.
The laser level is a very useful tool for checking the alignment of the floor, especially when you arrive to a new room and need to align the very first row of wood.  The laser has a setting that projects a vertical line and you can use this line as a guide for making sure the rows are installed straight.

Boards That Need to be Custom Cut

Now you know some of the problem solving skills with hardwood floor self-installation!  As you will see, the saws really come in handy as you continue installing boards, especially ones that need to be custom cut.  For example, when you come to a furnace vent (if they are on the floor), the jigsaw is very useful with helping you to custom cut boards that will fit around it.  Make sure your measurements are very accurate and mark on the board where you need to cut so it fits nicely around the furnace vent.  A very convenient way to make the cut is to use both the miter saw and jigsaw as shown in these photos.  The miter saw will help you to cut a space wide enough for the jigsaw blade to fit inside.  Then you can use the jigsaw to cut perpendicular to the cut you made with the miter saw, and you will be able to finish the cut nice and clean.  Now the boards fit perfectly and there is enough space to put in the furnace vent.  And boy does it look nice!

The saws are also very useful with other obstructions.  We have a fireplace in the corner of our house with tile in front of it that runs at a 45 degree angle to the hardwood.  The miter saw allowed us to cut an exact 45 degree angle in the boards so they could fit against the tile (we left a tiny gap in between for us to place the caulk).  There is also an area where the wall runs at a 45 degree angle to the outside wall.  We again were able to use the miter saw to make the necessary cut.

As you are installing rows, try to constantly be aware of obstructions that are coming up so you can anticipate how to install the wood around it.  For example, you might arrive to a vertical obstruction (like a square column or wall) that is in the way.  It is very hard to install the final row (the one that butts right up against the obstruction) if you’ve already nailed down the row before it.  What makes it hard is there isn’t sufficient space to place the final row down because the tongue of the previous row is in the way.  Instead, it is much easier to first cut (with the table saw) the row that butts up against the obstruction down to the desired width, and then place it tight against the obstruction before installing the row before it.  There may be times when you just have to be creative with the cuts you make.

Switching the Direction of the Floor

Switching the Direction of the Floor

Now that you have a better understanding of how to install rows and fix problem boards, we will talk about how to switch the direction that you are laying the floor.  How to change the direction of the floor is one of the most common questions asked by people learning to install hardwood flooring.  As we went along laying our very first hardwood floor as amateurs, we suddenly faced a problem that we hadn’t anticipated.  We had reached the bedrooms which required that we switch the direction that we had been installing the floor.  Up to that point we had been installing the hardwood from west to east, but suddenly needed to do it from east to west to finish the bedrooms.  To learn how to deal with this dilemma, don’t look for the answer in the instructions from hardwood floor companies like we did because they don’t even address this problem (don’t ask me why).  The way to switch so you are laying wood in the opposite direction is to make a spline that acts as the tongue of the board that you are switching directions from.  Although it would be nice if hardwood floor companies included a spline in every box of wood, this isn’t the case and you will have to make one yourself.  The next section will go over how to make a spline.
Note:  If you are only switching the direction of the floor so it runs perpendicular to the initial layout, you may or may not need a spline.  It depends on if you are laying wood from the groove end of the boards or from the tongue end.

Making a Spline

Many people choose to use a sacrificial board when laying wood in another direction.  In our opinion, a sacrificial board is a waste of a board and using one is totally unnecessary.  By installing a spline into the groove end of a board, you can start laying wood in the opposite direction without having to sacrifice a board.  The secret to making a spline is to buy the wood that is used to make a window screen frame.  This wood has to have the exact same thickness as the tongue of a board.  Using the table saw, cut it down to about 2x the width of the groove of a board.

Note: Cutting a spline with the table saw can be dangerous.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, you may want to consider having a professional carpenter cut it for you.
After the spline is cut it simply needs to be installed so it can act as the tongue of the board that you are switching directions from.  Use some wood glue to glue in the spline and use your hammer to make sure it’s in there nice and tight.  Now use your pneumatic nailer to blind nail it in and you are set to continue installing the floor!

Installing the End Rows

Installing the End Rows

As you approach the opposite wall you will eventually lack sufficient space to swing the rubber mallet and hit the flooring nailer without damaging the wall in the attempt.  You will have to revert back to using the Pneumatic Nailer and start blind nailing until there isn’t enough room to place the pneumatic nailer at the required 45 degree angle to the wood.  At that point you will be forced to top nail.

This is where the work tends to slow down because it is a lot harder to deal with gaps and spaces between boards that are usually fixed immediately with the flooring nailer.  You will also eventually run out of room to swing the hammer and hit the tapping block to cinch boards together as you reach the very last rows.  This is where the spreader and shims really come in handy with cinching the boards together.  The straighter the boards, the easier it will be to cinch them together.
Since there isn’t enough room to use the flooring nailer, first try using the pry bar against the subfloor to push the boards together and eliminate gaps while having another person nail it in place with the Pneumatic Nailer.  If this doesn’t work you will have to use the spreader or shims which provide a lot more pressure.
The spreader is probably the easiest method to use, but it isn’t as effective at tightly closing gaps as the shims are.  When using the spreader, place a board between the spreader head and the wall to prevent the exerted pressure from damaging the wall.

It is also a good idea to cut a board that will allow the spreader head that’s not against the wall to exert pressure on the flat surface of the board you cut instead of against the tongue of the board in the previous row.  Cinch up the board as tight as you can and nail it in place with the Pneumatic Nailer.  You might have to space the nails closer together for crooked boards so they can hold the board in place after you release the pressure of the spreader.  Using the shims is also very effective with cinching up gaps and spaces.

Installing the Final Row

When you come to the very last row that needs to be installed, measure to see if it fits while keeping no more than a 3/4” gap between the hardwood floor and the wall.  If it fits just fine, you’re in luck!  If not, you will have to use your table saw to cut the wood down to the desired width.
Note:  By now you probably have a collection of boards that are missing the tongue.  Now is the perfect time to make use of them since you will need to cut the tongue off anyway to achieve the desired width.
Make sure you know how to safely use the table saw (refer to its instruction manual) since it is one of the more dangerous ones to use.  The table saw can easily tug on the board you are cutting which makes your hands and fingers very vulnerable, so use caution.  Cut the boards for the last row and cinch them in (since there is not enough space to cinch in the last row with the tapping block, spreader or wedges, you will have to use the puller to do the job).  Top nail the row in and you’re done!  The last step is to fill in all gaps and holes in the floor with wood putty and install the floor moldings.