Photo 1
Today’s architects, designers and end-users are putting more demands on installers to give them multi-colored, custom-designed floors than ever before. Many residential customers are looking for a one-of-a-kind floor to help define their homes. Some of these designs include character shapes, company logos or concepts as simple as rudimentary geometric shapes. Technology opened the market for customization with the introduction of waterjet- and ultrasonic sound-cutting equipment, but not all inset designs have gone high-tech. There is still a place for the craftsman who can hand-cut a custom inset.

Photo 2
The art of installing custom insets (Photo 1) in resilient floors requires the correct tools, a good plan and, above all else, a skilled professional installer. Employing templates can be very helpful. Overhead projectors work well, projecting an image on to a wall from which a paper template of the inset can be created. Then, by carefully cutting each section of the drawing, the individual pieces of the template can be taped down and trace-cut. Scraps of linoleum or vinyl can be used to make a more rigid template. An inset consisting of simple geometric shapes might be marked out directly on each color of the inset, using the drawing or plans.

Photo 3
Sharp knives are important. Here, we are using hawk bill linoleum knives and utility blades for scoring the material, and hook blades for the actual cutting (Photo 2).

Photo 4
A pin vise is one of my favorite tools for inset work (Photo 3). I achieve a more-accurate fit by pin-scribing from the top of one color to the next. When trace-cutting, a knife blade’s thickness does not offer as tight a fit as pin-scribing, especially with tight curves. Additionally, it eliminates any concerns of accidentally cutting into the second color lying underneath.

Photo 5
Tape is essential (Photo 4). In cutting one color to another, I usually tape the pieces together. I prefer a good-quality, 2-inch, clear shipping tape. Clear tape allows you to see if there is a gap or ledge as the pieces are being put together. The tape should have the strength to hold separate pieces together, and should not shred or leave a sticky residue on the flooring when removed.

Photo 6
I am a believer in using a lot of tape when creating an inset. It may take a little more time, but the end result is worth it. Do not be in such a hurry to see the finished work; wait until the end of the day or the next morning to remove the tape. This will give the flooring adhesive adequate time to set up and hold the inset together nice and tight.

Photo 7
This next step is a question of method: do you prefer to adhere the inset to the subfloor first and then recess-scribe the field material to it, or dry-fit and tape the inset into the field material and adhere everything at one time? I do both; the size, shape and complexity of the inset dictate which method will be used. For example, when insetting 3- to 4-inch diamonds or squares, I will overlay, pin-scribe, cut and tape the insets (Photo 5) into the field material before spreading any adhesive. Insets this small would be difficult to recess-scribe and, if there are many of them, there may not be enough time before the adhesive dries.

Photo 8
When all the insets are cut and taped in place I roll- or lap-back the field material and spread the adhesive (Photo 6). If installing a 2- to 4-foot company logo inset into a separate color from the field color, I will dry-fit, tape, and adhere the logo first, then roll out the field color over the inset and rough-cut out the field color over the inset (Photo 7), leaving approximately 1 inch of the field color lapped over the inset edges to be recess scribed.

Photo 9
Feeling the edges of the inset underneath the field color, I pencil off where to make the rough cut and use a hook blade so as to not cut into the inset underneath (Photo 8).

Photo 10
Next I adhere the field material and recess scribe the remaining 1-inch of overlapped material around the inset (Photo 9). I use these same procedures when installing waterjet- and ultrasonic sound-cut insets. Sometimes they arrive with very little tape holding the pieces together. After inspecting them, take the time to add more tape or re-tape them to keep the pieces tight together.

Photo 11
Make sure the inset gets rolled well into the adhesive (Photo 10). Not only do I use a 100-pound roller, but a hand-held seam roller as well. I roll the insets immediately after adhering them, then again 30 to 60 minutes later, after the adhesive has started to set up. This basic step of rolling material in the correct fashion does not often get the attention it warrants.

Photo 12
This work requires a talented installer who takes pride in his or her work. Custom insets are challenging and can be very rewarding, not only in personal satisfaction but also in the bottom line reflecting a job well done (Photo 11).

Photo 13
Obviously, a straightedge and square are necessary for this customization. For insets involving circles and radii, there are specially designed tools available in the marketplace. One especially helpful instrument not only adjusts for different radii, but has a groover-blade attachment for cases in which an arc or circle is to be heat-welded (Photo 12). In a pinch, simply use a piece of wood with two nails driven partially through it at a predetermined radius to swing arcs.

Again, if heat-welding, save your out-cut for use as a rigid guide for your groover to produce a smooth, consistent, grooved arc. For organic or snake shapes, an architectural supply house stocks flexible straightedges in various lengths (Photo 13). These tools can be bent into irregular curves and “S” shapes. By plotting points from a drawing, you basically connect the dots.