Everything You Need to Know About Laying Your Own Hardwood Flooring: Best Tips & Tools

A hardwood floor can be an attractive addition to any home. Its rich appearance will attract you and your guests and it will definitely add value to your home. You can install hardwood flooring in your bedrooms, living rooms or even kitchens which makes it quite a versatile home improvement technique.

If you’re planning to install a hardwood floor by yourself, but aren’t sure of where to start from, you’ve just landed at the perfect place. In this article, we will discuss in great detail, some of the best techniques which can help even a novice builder to come up with a perfect construction project.

However, when it comes to laying a hardwood floor by yourself, one has to consider a number of different things. Start from selecting the type of hard wood flooring. Here you can choose between solid hard wood or engineered hard wood. More on this in the next section.

Before starting this project, it is imperative that you should make sure that the sub-floor is prepared for hardwood installation. This is important to avoid creaky and uneven flooring. Again, more on this in the sections below.

Types of Hardwood Flooring

There are two types of hardwood floors in today’s market: Engineered and Solid Wood. Both incorporates a distinct composition and each one of them is suitable for a specific location. There is a third, reclaimed flooring, not covered here but is popular among those who would like to make a statement. This involves recycling old floor boards salvaged from schools, gyms, barns, boats or indoor sports complexes.

Engineered Wood Flooring

The engineered wood flooring is crafted with two or more layers of wood. The upper layer is made of hardwood. For the lower layers, these are usually made of plywood, wood strands, fibres, oriented strand board or fibreboard. The different layers are bound together with glue. Thanks to such a construction, the engineered wood flooring has a thinner composition compared to that of the solid wood flooring.


This type of flooring is recommended for novice builders or any other customers who are lay down their own floor for the very first time. The reason behind it is that unlike solid wood flooring, the engineered wood flooring comes in a pre-finished form. It means that once it arrives at your doorstep, you don’t have to spend additional time for any kind of floor preparation.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Unlike some solid wood flooring, you don’t need additional layers of plywood underneath. This particular feature eventually makes it a viable option for apartments and basements where you just cannot afford to raise the surface height to leave a sufficient clearance near the doors.

Furthermore, as this type of flooring incorporates different layers of wood, it makes it much more durable and less likely to warp or change shape. You can use it under extreme temperatures and in some cases, high humidity and it won’t give way for an extended duration. Ideal for a basement or near radiant heating systems.

It will expand and contract less therefore making it more stable with no risk of warping or shrinking. It can also be installed as a floating floor, no need for gluing or hammering. This also means it is suitable for concrete sub-floor. We use a foam sheet underlay to help even out the subfloor, as an acoustic cushion and as insulation.

The downside is, the thin top layer only allows for minor superficial repairs and light sanding. Heavy sanding can take off the layer of veneer completely, exposing the other materials underneath. This makes changing the colour of flooring in the future impossible.


Solid Wood Flooring

Solid wood flooring is generally made from a single piece of wood which makes it two to three times thicker than the engineered wood flooring. It can be refinished or sanded a number of times which is great for customers whom are always vying for a detailed finish.

Cut from a single piece of natural wood, it is available in flat narrow or wide pieces with tongue and groove joints. Compared to engineered hard wood, these may vary slightly in width from one end to the other, something to watch out for during installation. As these are cut from one piece of lumbar, solid hard wood flooring are costlier and therefore more expensive to buy.

Solid Wood Flooring

The thing that is impressive about solid wood flooring is the classic look and style. No two pieces are alike. If you prefer a traditional look for your home, there is no better option than the solid wood flooring in darker shades.

However, it is recommended that you check the moisture level of the room before considering it as a viable option. This is due to the reason that hardwoood floor tends to expand with the changes in temperature. In fact, the solid wood flooring should never be installed on a bottom-grade surface, such as a basement, where moisture is present in abundance.

Coming towards laying any such type of floor in kitchens or bathrooms, you can do so provided protective finish is applied to either side of the solid wood flooring.

Other Factors to Consider

Floor Board Width

Narrow boards are not as popular as they used to be. Wider boards up to 8-inches width have become more common. You can even get custom cuts from a log that goes up to 20-inches. These are quicker to install as they cover a wider floor surface and easier to handle.

As you would expect, the wider the board, the more expensive they are to buy. There is also a risk associated with using ultra wide board. These floorboards are less stable and are likely to change and move. If you prefer ultra wide floorboards, choose engineered floor to avoid risk of cupping and warping.

Laying Design

Instead of just laying the wooden flooring in straight lines from front to back, consider herringbone, chevron or alternative laying designs. It will cost more to install and require more time to get done but the result is one of a kind flooring, custom-built to fit your room.

Finished on Site or Pre-finished

When ordering your flooring, you can choose between finished or unfinished flooring with the former being more common. For a uniformed and consistent look, choose factory finished flooring. It also means that your project can be finished faster. However, if you prefer to do it on your own, get unfinished wood that you can finish on site and choose the type of stain or finish you prefer. More on this in the next section.

Extra care is required should you wish to embark on having your flooring finished on site. You will need to vacate the home for sanding, staining and finishing. It can get very dusty and smelly. It also involves drying time during which you need to keep the place aired and fairly dust free as well as free from foot traffic. No stepping on the floor until it is absolutely dry. This can take days to weeks if you look to complete more than one coat.

Different Finishes: Grain, Stain, Colour, Surface Finish

For both types of floor, choose the width, pattern, grain and stain to suit your taste. You can also choose the type of finished sheen for the wood; matt, polished or coated with clear polyurethane. The later adds a layer of protection to stop water from seeping through and blocks moisture from affecting the surface of the wood. Properly finished wood is more hard wearing and longer lasting.

There is a downside to polyurethane finish. While it is more durable, once damaged or worn, it can be difficult to repair. The job will involve refinishing the entire floor for an even stain and finish. If you have to finish the wood on your own, choose water based polyurethanes in matte or oil-based treatment. The oil will penetrate the top surface of the wood and bring out the grains and natural colour of the wood while adding a layer of protection. This oil finish can be topped up and repaired if need be quickly and easily.

Installation

Surface Preparation

When it comes to lay down a new hard floor, the first thing which you’re going to do is to prepare the surface. Since this is the base of your construction project, you just cannot afford to work on a damaged surface.

If you have a wooden subfloor, start with by replacing any broken subfloor with a new one. Secure any loose planks using screws or glue. Then give the surface a good clean, removing all debris and dust.Ensure that the subfloor is in most parts even or as even as can be.

Then check out the moisture levels on the surface with the help of a surface moisture meter. Make sure that the moisture readings doesn’t exceed 15% as it will keep your flooring intact for an extended duration of time.

Similarly, grab a hygrometer and check out the levels of humidity inside the room. According to a wide range of construction experts, the normal level of relative humidity – inside finished homes – vary from 40% to 50%. So make sure that the RH levels, at your desired location, does not go beyond the specified limit.

hygrometer

Finally, check out the surface in search of gaps, cracks or any kind of bumps. It is imperative that the surface should be free from any such defects if you want to protect yourself from squeaky floors.

Installation Areas

Hardwood floors can be installed on almost any type of surface as long as it falls in the above grade or on grade category. It includes, but isn’t limited to, wooden, concrete, tile and even vinyl subfloors.

However, if you’re planning to install a hardwood flooring on a surface with a high degree of moisture, it is recommended to consult the manufacturer of this product. Once the manufacturer approves it, only then should you move ahead with your construction project.

Inspect the Wood

Also, make sure that the new floor, which you’re about to lay down, is free from any kind of damages or otherwise, it will affect the overall project. As wooden flooring are cut from the same log, it is likely to have similar patterns and grains. Open more than one pack and mix them up during installation.

Tools

Once you’ve decided the type of hardwood flooring, it’s time to invest in the tools. Depending on the installation technique which you’re going to adapt, which might vary from a glued down installation to even a glueless installation, there is a wide range of tools which are available in today’s market.

Glued down installation is recommended for solid wood flooring. You can afford to go glueless for engineering wood flooring.

We’ve listed some of the common tools which will work just fine regardless of the installation technique. You can purchase these tools from the nearby hardware store and you can also acquire them from the online marketplace.

  • Broom for the sake of cleaning
  • Crowbar for removing old/damaged wooden floor
  • Chalk line or marker pen for noting down measurements
  • Miter saw, circular saw or jigsaw for cutting hardwood planks (any one of them)
  • Hammer for finishing nails
  • Spacers to accommodate the anticipated expansion gap
  • Tapping tool for superior tongue protection
  • Knife for paper trimming

Miter Saw

Circular Saw

Jig Saw

Useful Tips

  • Always read the manufacturer’s instructions before starting out a construction project.
  • Make sure that the surface, on which you’re about to install a new hardwood floor, is structurally intact.
  • Choose a suitable subfloor, one with sufficient padding and sound proofing.
  • Use sufficient felt paper to cover the subfloor.
  • Level the subfloor before installing the new hardwood floor.
  • Place spacers at the edge where the hardwood floor meets the wall.
  • Start from left to right while laying down the hardwood floor.
  • Purchase the right set of tools as per your requirement.
  • Measure and cut down the planks in a separate room.
  • Use the straightest of boards for laying down the first row of the floor.
  • Measure the width of the boards as you go especially solid wood floor as there may be slight variations.
  • Check the boards for severe warping or other defects.