NWFA Tip Sheet: Customizing Wood Floors
April 14, 2009
When customizing a wood floor, the “devil is in the details.” Customized floors can generally be separated into three different categories. The first category is to create or have specified a particular pattern or layout for the area involved using unfinished flooring or other wood members. This can also include mixed media, for example wood and ceramics. A second category is to use different factory finished materials to create a customized floor. And the third is to finish flooring with a customized finishing technique, for example hand scraping or stenciling.
The details include some cautions for the contractor. A warning that always bears repeating: do not contract a large customized floor if you haven’t done that or a similar operation before. Start with a smaller job and gain experience. The dollar signs can overwhelm our better judgment. Do not promise something you cannot deliver. This not only includes the expertise to do the job, but the quality expected and a timely completion. The contractor should discuss in detail what realistic customer expectations are. This communication is vital for a successful completion and final payment.
The following is a review of two customized floors and the issues that were raised concerning these floors. The objections raised by the customers included quality of the actual work regarding field cuts, face nailing, finishing quality and noise issues.
An example of a site finished customized floor is a site assembled customized parquet pattern. (Photos 1, 2 and 3) This parquet is assembled from ¾”x 3 ¼” hickory/pecan flooring. The pattern is alternating direction, angled blocks, separated by pickets placed in an untypical basket weave. The initial set up is to determine how many parquet units are required. The units are then manufactured in an assembly line fashion. Jigs are required to create the precise cuts necessary to make the block units uniform. The block units can then be assembled and grooved around the perimeter for the necessary interlocking tongue and groove fit with the use of slip-tongue or mating factory tongues.
With this pattern and the bordered perimeter, the field most often is installed first allowing the edges to overrun the border space. The edge can then be cut and grooved for border installation. The perimeter cut will allow the border to fit precisely and be 100% locked by tongue and groove. This helps avoid the hand cutting of many small pieces that often occurs when the border is installed first and helps eliminate movement associated with pieces that are not locked together.
Photos 1, 2 and 3 show numerous places with face nailing, areas with filler on the face of strips, and misalignment of some crossing pickets. Although face nailing may occasionally be needed the frequency shown here points to the lack of a consistent tongue and groove engagement. The filler also shows that the T & G engagement was missing allowing for misalignment edge to edge. Picket alignment will normally be taken care of during installation, if the pattern falls short add small spacing within in the blocks to gain for alignment, or trim a block edge if the picket falls too far. This floor was nailed almost exclusively which requires nailing along every tongue or where ever a slip tongue is placed. Again, in this case, the frequent face nailing shows that blind nailing all pieces was not done.
Photos 4, 5 and 6 are of the intersection of the parquet field with the border. As mentioned before, the ragged “cut to fit” shows how difficult it is to make precise cuts of small pieces along the edge. This shows the border was first installed then the field. The border cuts show there was little attention made for precise angle cuts. In addition, the filler at corners shows there was no T & G engagement at these cuts. The lack of T & G engagement and proper fastening leads to movement associated noises a frequent occurrence with the floor.
Photos 7, 8 and 9 are of a ¾” x 7” mitered herringbone floor with a single 7” perimeter band. Herringbone is one of the most difficult floors to lay. Also, customer expectations are critical for a herring bone installation. Seasonal change WILL create gaps at the intersection of the chevron runs. A log cabin type (Photo 10) will also show the gapping. So the customer must be informed this type pattern will show seasonal gaps. The mitered layout will show seasonal gapping particularly at the heel of the miter. As the board shrinks, this intersection will open-up.
These photos show the frequent face nailing at the intersection with the perimeter band which illustrates a lack of T & G engagement. The layout shows the perimeter was installed first and the field next. The intersection of the chevron runs also shows the end cuts were not very precise. For this particular layout laying the initial center chevron run and cutting both ends with a track saw would have made a better intersection. The ends could then be grooved for the required slip tongue. Next, cutting the mating chevron would be a repetitive angle cut followed by grooving to fit the exposed spline. The other end is allowed to overrun for track cutting and grooving. At each chevron intersection the inserted slip tongue should be blind nailed for extra fastening along the joint. Use cleats, as staples at ends may influence splitting.
I am sure you have observed issues with the finishing of the illustrated floors, but that is for another day. In addition, specifics of lay out were not discussed at any length. The basics are to measure, measure, then measure again. Place your working lines so that features and patterns highlight the focal points of the flooring area. With pattern floors, a “run away” pattern takes extensive work to bring back in line and may even require reinstallation. Precisely following the working lines when installing the flooring, will avoid the runaway. Pattern runs and borders should be uniform and straight. Any irregularities associated with site conditions should be noted and discussed with all concerned parties for remediation options. With “high dollar” customized floors, leave as little to chance as possible and be the professional, stating what you can and will provide.