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The “Looking at Laminate” article in the July/August issue of FCI introduced some tools and features that have evolved in the laminate industry to make installation faster, easier and more accurate. I recently had a revelation that writing about tools and their use can sometimes be misleading when none of the problems of day-to-day job site situations are factored in.

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Therefore, I have decided to write about real-world installations (when applicable) and focus on the tools, skills and creativity employed to solve the complexities professional installers face every day, but that are seldom captured in any manufacturer’s text. The goal is to enhance credibility and provide insight on challenging problems and the options available to solve them.

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The project captured here began as a call for a simple installation of laminate plank. The customer had been referred after shopping several different retailers. I am a proponent of selling something no one else can compete with in order to maximize profit. A custom installation with borders and insets will eliminate the competition and increase the profits. Unfortunately, the customer’s space was small. I had to be cautious not to oversell and deliver something too busy or overbearing. The area already had some color, but an additional splash on the floor would help bring the room into harmony while subduing the wood tones. The solution became clear: a product was needed that could deliver both tiles and planks for installation together without mandating additional work, in order to keep costs down. The customer settled on Wilsonart’s Revival Oak planks, with Copperstone tiles as insets and borders.

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The insets would be used in the dining area as a footprint for the round table and chairs. Cutting the tiles in half would allow a border to be created in the kitchen and still bring the element of space to an already-cramped area.

The first challenge is the layout. How can the insets be made to fall precisely with the dining chandelier without interfering with the continuation of planks into the kitchen, to avoid unnecessary cutting and fitting?

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The focal point of the dining area insets is a tile centered directly under the chandelier.Photo 1shows the use of a chalk line as a plumb bob for identifying the center of the light fixture. Simply drop four more tiles into the floor an equal distance from each side of the centered tile. Using the dimension of a full tile as a guide, measure 15-¾ inches in both directions (length and width of the plank) to establish the location of the five tiles(Photo 2). A customer confirmation is simple to get by quickly dry-laying the area to provide a visual before the cutting begins(Photo 3).

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Once the inset location is established, measure into the kitchen using the dining area layout to search out any unforeseen problems. Although the layout is not perfect, using a tile border will compensate for the offset of tile and plank(Photo 4). Because the kitchen is narrow, the suggestion is made that the length of plank run across the kitchen to enhance the element of space(Photo 5)and eliminate any border accent around the island cabinet.

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Working through the kitchen is easy around the island, but fears of runoff, out-of-square and an inability to maintain equal borders on each side of the kitchen are haunting as the work around the island is finalized. As you can see inphoto 6, those fears were unfounded due the use of specialized tools, some pre-planning and a lot of precise cutting.

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Photo 7 shows how to use a laser to ensure adequate plank in the field (which can be cut back later) for an equal border at all edges of the kitchen. After the field is installed, a circle saw with a splinter guard for a long, continuous, precise cut is used, leaving a perfect edge for the border tile. The saw can be adjusted to compensate for the exact depth of the laminate and splinter guard(Photo 8)without cutting into the foam underlayment.

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A feature that is a must for working in an occupied home is a vacuum system that extracts any dust generated while using the saw. In the case of the saw shown here, Festool’s ATF 55 EB, the saw’s trigger activates the vacuum system’s on/off switch, saving both time and effort. Additionally, employing a work table with an adjustable squaring bar for use in conjunction with the attached splinter guard makes square cuts a snap(Photo 9).

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Photo 10shows the finishing touches of a true installation professional that allow the project to be called a success.