How to install a tongue and groove floor

Updated February 21, 2017

Installing a hardwood floor is a job that requires a lot of time and preparation. But with some patience and a friend or two to help, anyone with basic carpentry knowledge can tackle this task. The finished product is really something to be proud of and can be enjoyed for years to come.

Prepare the floor

Get all of the necessary tools and decide on what type of flooring you wish to use. You need to determine which way the floor joints run so that you can place the floor perpendicular to them, because this helps prevent separation.

Remove any old flooring materials so you have access to the base plywood that is attached to the floor joists.

Take off the skirting boards in the room, and cut the door jambs so that the wood floor will fit underneath them for a nicer looking finish. Use a piece of scrap flooring to determine how far up to cut the jambs.

Draw two straight lines, using your chalk line, at each end of the room perpendicular to how you will lay the floor. Then use a square to snap a baseline which will be perpendicular to the two lines you just drew. Verify that all these lines are square using a carpenter's square. This step is essential to laying a good square floor.

Lay down a layer of resin paper as a vapour barrier on the side of the room you will start with. Attach it to the floor with staples using a small staple gun.

Choose several of your longest and straightest boards and lay them down with the grooves facing the wall so that the next row will be able to slide its groove on to the tongue of the first row. Ensure they are perfectly parallel with your baseline and 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) away from the wall.

Nail the wood every 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 inches) with a floor-nailer. Re-measure this first line to ensure it is perfectly parallel to the baseline. A perfectly straight line makes the entire floor look better.

Lay the floor

Pre-cut the boards to fit if necessary using a circular saw. Keep the boards 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) from all of the walls in the room to allow for expansion. If there is a corner to work around, mark the board and cut it using a jigsaw. Then test that the board fits before nailing it in place.

Slide the board into place so the grooves interlock and it fits snugly. Place a piece of scrap wood against the board you are attaching. Hit the scrap wood with a rubber mallet to press the other board into place.

Nail boards that are too close to walls for the nailer with a hammer. Once in place, you can sink the nails using a punch and then just putty the holes and drop a dab of urethane on the holes to hide them.

Have a friend help with pieces that do not fit well. Each piece is different and will require different prying and forcing methods to get them into place. Take your time to ensure a good finish.

Add additional rows of resin paper as you progress until the whole floor is eventually covered.

Use a pry bar to make sure the last boards fit snugly since you can't hit them with the mallet.

Reinstall the skirting boards all the way around the room. Cover visible gaps around the room using quarter round moulding that is stained to match your floor. Attach it using finish nails, and then fill the holes in the same fashion as with the floor.


Keep the ends of any two boards that are touching at least 15 cm (6 inches) apart.

If you have two boards that are end to end and slightly separated but you do not have room to use a mallet and scrap wood, use a pry bar to press it in place but be careful not to damage the wood.

If your floor is not finished, hire a floor sander to sand the entire floor. Then stain the floor and finally cover it with a few coats of urethane before reinstalling the skirting boards.


Take your time to be certain you leave no gaps. They become trip hazards and visually detract from your finished product.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Staple gun
  • Floor nails
  • Vapour barrier
  • Floor nailer
  • Carpenter's square
  • Chalk line
  • Circular saw
  • Pry bar
  • Nail punch
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Scrap wood
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