As an installer or salesperson, are you often wondering how you can get an edge on your competition? Custom insets (inlays) and designs are a way to do just that. The designs that can be created are limited only to the imagination, and with the technology that is available today, you are seeing spectacular designs that are installer friendly.

Photo 1 is a wood medallion and a border that was installed in a hardwood class that was conducted with the WFCA and NWFA. A manufacturer prefabricated the medallion and students who attended the hardwood course installed the medallion into the floor after the wood flooring was installed. The medallion was inset and the floor was sanded and finished. The key to this type of installation and others that we will be discussing is a template. The medallion is encased in a template supplied by this particular manufacturer, and the template is used for the cut out of flooring material. To begin this type of installation, you must first determine the lay out of the flooring product and insets that will be installed. As you can see in Photo 1, there is a border; you will want to balance the planks to the room, so that you do not have a full plank on one side and a partial plank on the other. Make sure to check that the height of the wood flooring and the inlay are going to be the same. Determine where the medallion will be installed by dry fitting, as you will want to avoid placing staples or cleats, during the installation of the wood flooring, within two to three inches on the perimeter of the medallion; a few through the middle of the medallion may be required to stabilize the flooring. The reason for not nailing around the perimeter where the medallion will be inset is because a router will be used to cut out the flooring material and a staple or cleat may cause damage to the router bit and affect the fit of the medallion; if you choose not to keep the nailing pattern away from the edge, you may want extra router bits. Make sure to make a set mark on both the template and blue tape on the medallion as soon as you get ready to remove the template from the medallion (Photo 2).

This will help to insure that the medallion will fit properly into the cut out area. Use double-face tape to temporarily hold the template in place and the proper router bit to follow the template. You may want to make several passes when cutting thicker floors; a cleaner cut can be obtained as the router will not have to work so hard.

Clean the inlay area and glue the medallion in place with the recommended adhesive. When sanding, it may be necessary to use an edge sander on the medallion, depending on the hardness and direction of the species of wood in the medallion; this will reduce the dish out that can occur with mixed species. As always, follow the manufacturer's recommended installation procedures.

Photo 3 is a mixed media floor installed with wood and tile. This Fontainebleau pattern (more commonly known as a basket weave) floor was installed for the 2004 Installation Showcase at Surfaces. Glen Paris, Suzy Namba, Jason Namba, and Steve Marley installed the floor. In this type of installation, it is critical to lay out the subfloor with caulk lines, and material cuts must be accurate to avoid pattern runoff. This type of floor can be installed with pre-finished wood products as well as unfinished wood.

This installation used 13-inch-by-13-inch-by-1/4-inch thick tiles and 4 1/4-inch-by-3/4-inch solid pre-finished planks over a wood sub-floor. Once lines are chalked onto the subfloor, a template of the tile is made using a 3/8-inch piece of plywood.

The tile template is aligned to a chalk line on the subfloor and the wood planks are dry fit into the pattern. Small blocks nailed to the subfloor are used to keep the pattern in proper alignment during the fitting stage. Each wood strip or plank will need to be fastened on both the tongue and groove sides (blind nailed) to keep the flooring in place. The template can be used in each area that the tile will be installed to assure a precise fit. Once the wood has been fastened to the substrate, it may be necessary to level the tile with the wood. A backer board type underlayment can be used to obtain the required height for the tile to match the wood; remember to allow for the thickness of thin-set mortar. A gap around the perimeter may be necessary for expansion and contraction of the installed flooring, make sure to allow for this during the dry fitting stage. A flexible colored silicone sealant, available at a tile products supply distributor, can be used or contact the distributor for a recommended product. If you are using a mixed sanded grout, you may want to install blue tape on the wood next to the tile; this will minimize moisture and the possibility of scratching the wood finish.

For a sand and finish installation, you can use blanks where the tile or stone will be set. Construct wood blanks that are the same thickness as the flooring being installed and fasten to the subfloor with countersunk screws, you don't want the sander to hit any screws.

You will be able to sand the floor and remove the blanks when the product is ready to be inset.

Think laminate floors have design limitations? Not!! Photo 4 is a floating laminate floor that was also installed for the 2004 Installation Showcase at Surfaces. Ken Maynus and Joseph Longoria installed the floor. This floor had the circle insets as well as fiber optic inlays in another area of the floor. As I stated earlier, templates are the key to the cutouts. Photo 5 shows Ken and Joe preparing the circle templates for cutting out the laminate circles with the router. The installers manufactured the templates for this installation. Where this is a floating floor, the router is adjusted to cut half the thickness of the flooring.

The tools needed for this type of inlay requires a router, spiral cut straight bit, top bearing rabbet bit, guide bushing adaptor with a combination of bushings, 1/4-inch medium density fiberboard (MDF) for template material, and sand paper and block. Once the router and template (double face tape to hold the template) have been used to cut out the top half of the depth on the installed floor, the inset can be cut out using the same template, the top bearing rabbet bit is used to route out the bottom half of the inset creating a joint for the flooring and inset.

Make sure to make set marks on the template, floor, and inset so it all comes together.

Photo 6 is an installation from the 2002 National Installation Contest held at Surfaces. Mike Suffia was the resilient winner that year. The radius curve on the floor required a template to follow the contour of the deck area. Trying to maintain an exact distance to follow the contour of the radius is not possible as it creates sharp curves, so a template was cut for the installers to use. The star on the upper deck also used a template for an exact fit. Photo 7 is the installation from the 2003 National Installation Contest at Surfaces where David Rowden was the resilient winner. Photo 8 shows adjustable trammels, they can be used to accurately transfer scribe arcs and lay out circles to large for ordinary compasses or dividers. The trammels are attached to a 5/8-inch- to 1-1/2-inch-thick wood beam, and can be adjusted to the desired diameter.

Make sure when using trammels that the pins are set at the same height.

Photo 9 is a carpet installation by Jim Rank from the 2002 National Installation Contest at Surfaces; Ken Frango was the carpet winner that year. The template for this installation was a seaming diagram. Dimensions from the module were taken and the exact layout was transferred to a work order and seaming diagram. This type of installation requires exacting measurements as the pattern is aligned to certain points, so knowing the dimensions and the squareness of the room in relation to the layout is essential.

As we have discussed many different types of floor coverings and their ability for inlay design work, one thing they all have in common is templates; having templates can take much of the headache work away from the installer and allows the installer to create beautiful artwork on the floor. Keep in mind that this is all custom work and the installer and salesperson needs to realize that the time, labor, and money to create such designs can be extensive. When selling and installing these types of floors, you are offering the end user a personalized floor, as each one requires skilled craftsmen to perform the work.

We have only touched the surface for these types of installations in this article; there are several associations that offer more in depth training for these types of installations.

Contact the World Floor Covering Association for more information 800-624-6880 x19 or e-mail jnamba@wfca.org.