How to Install a Solid Timber Floor

Written by modigliani brooks
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How to Install a Solid Timber Floor
Blind nail tongue-and-groove flooring to create a perfect finish. (hardwood floor texture image by GoodMood Photo from

Solid wood flooring is durable, warm, easy to clean and looks beautiful. It's also relatively easy to install, especially if you are laying it over a solid subfloor, such as hardboard panels laid over joists. You can even lay floorboards over concrete, but make sure you lay a vapour-proof barrier over the concrete to prevent moisture from damaging the wood. It's easier to lay floorboards with another person so one can hold the boards in place while the other nails, but it can also be done by one person.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Vapour-proof membrane (15-pound builders felt or red rosin paper) (optional)
  • Staple gun and staples (optional)
  • Hammer
  • Flooring nails (annular, lost-head/jolt-head)
  • Nail punch
  • Wood filler
  • Chalk

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  1. 1

    Lay the flooring flat in the room it is going to be installed in for five to seven days to adjust to the moisture in the air.

  2. 2

    Remove the baseboards, if laying flooring in an old house, by gently prying them away from the wall with a broad chisel or pinch bar. If laying flooring in a new house, these boards will not have been installed yet.

  3. 3

    Check the room to see if it is square. If it is, measure a starting line with chalk along the length of one wall, ½-inch from the wall (this gap is called an expansion gap and leaves room for the wood to expand; it will be covered by the skirting board/baseboard.) If the room is not square, you will need to work out how to cope with this. One way is to taper the pieces of wood at either end of the room so the tapers are less obvious. If only one wall is out of square, make your starting line along the square wall and adjust the last board to fit the crooked wall.

  4. 4

    If laying your flooring over a solid subfloor, lay a vapour barrier (15-pound builders felt or red rosin paper) over the subfloor at right angles to the direction of the floorboards. Overlap each piece about 4 inches and staple to the subfloor with the staple gun.

  5. 5

    Lay the first piece of floorboard next to the starting line. Make sure the end is placed ½-inch from the end wall (the expansion gap). If laying boards straight over joists, ensure the boards end in the middle of a joist (you may have to cut the board) so the next board can start over the joist. Nail the first strip into each floor joist, starting at the centre of the length of board and working toward the ends. If nailing over a solid subfloor, also nail the board once to the subfloor in between the joist lines. When nailing, surface nail at the far side of the length of the first board as this will be covered by the skirting board/baseboard. If using tongue-and-groove floorboards, blind nail (or secret nail) the near side by nailing at a 45-degree angle where the tongue joins the board. If using plank flooring, you will need to surface nail.

  6. 6

    Lay the next piece of flooring against the starting line and nail in place as for the first board. Continue until you reach the end wall (allowing an expansion gap of ½-inch at the end).

  7. 7

    Lay out several rows of flooring without nailing (called “racking” the floor). Check for warped wood or any defects. Also arrange into a suitable pattern, so the ends of the boards are not in a line and are staggered. End joints need to be at least 4 to 6 inches apart.

  8. 8

    Nail the boards in place one at a time, working along each row before starting the next. Blind nail tongue-and-groove boards and surface nail other types. Punch the blind nails home with a nail punch so they do not interfere with the interlocking of the tongue and groove. Punch surface nails just below surface of wood. As each piece is laid, make sure they fit snugly together by tapping them together with a hammer and a small block of wood (so you don’t damage the wood with the hammer), or by using a flooring jack, which holds the boards together while they are nailed.

  9. 9

    Lay the last floorboard by cutting it to fit the gap if necessary and leaving a ½-inch expansion gap by the wall.

  10. 10

    Fill the holes where the nails have been punched down if surface nailing. Use wood filler the same colour as the boards. Sand off any excess when dry. Replace or add skirting boards/baseboards once the floor has been finished with a protective finish such as varnish, polyurethane or oil.

Tips and warnings

  • Before laying floorboards, check that the subfloor is sound – remove any rotten wood, level out any dips in the concrete and repair cracks. Subfloors can be solid concrete, wooden joists or solid sheets of wood such as hardboard laid over joists.
  • Note that if laying floorboards straight over joists, floorboards need to be at least 3/4-inch thick to support the weight. If laying boards over a solid subfloor, boards need only be 3/8-inch thick.
  • If laying pre-finished flooring, make sure you wear soft-soled shoes to protect the surface and keep it clear of scrapes and nails that could damage the finish if stepped on.
  • If nailing straight onto joists, ensure the ends of the boards meet at joists so they can be nailed firmly in place. Boards that are not nailed firmly at the ends will bend, squeak and break.
  • If you have an out-of-square wall, lay flooring perpendicular to it if possible so the difference won't be so noticeable.
  • Always wear protective clothing, safety glasses and sturdy gloves and footwear when working with power tools and wood.

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