A knee kicker, a carpet placement tool not a stretcher, is used to properly position a power stretcher. Photo courtesy of Michael Hetts.

Having the right tools is essential for any installer, and can mean the difference between a great installation and a potential call-back. Below are the tools most commonly used in carpet installation.

Knee Kicker- This is a tool that is used for the placement of carpet and stair installation. “It is not a recommended tool for the stretch in of carpet,” said FCI columnist Jon Namba. “When we say placement, we are referring to the use of the knee kicker to kick up carpet to engage onto the tack strip for the set walls. Are you a carpet installer who uses only a knee kicker to install carpet, why? You may feel that it is quicker now but wait a few years and see if your body is still holding up.”

Manufacturers and the industry require that a power stretcher be utilized. What to look for in a knee kicker; you want one that is comfortable for you. There are several brands on the market but ultimately you will want one that feels good in your hands, feels stable when kicking against, and holds up to daily use. Maintain the teeth of the kicker; keep the points sharp by using a file to file down any hooks on the tips.

Power stretcher- A must have for a qualified carpet installer. It provides steady tension to properly stretch in carpet by using poles that extend wall to wall with a tail attachment on one end and a stretcher head on the other end.  It is also a great tool to align patterns.

“It does not beat up an installer’s body like that of a knee kicker and can prolong your productivity years down the road,” Namba said. “This is an investment for your business; look at it that way and it will make you money in the long run.”

Deadman- An interesting name for a board with tackstrip on the back that basically acts as a portable wall to stretch off of with a power stretcher. It consists of a piece of wood 10”-12” by 2” thick by three feet up to eight feet or more, depending on the size of the job. Tackstrip is fastened to the back of the wood side by side, all pins pointing the same direction. Tackstrip is held back approximately 1” around the entire perimeter to allow picking up of the board without injuring the person moving the board.

A person or tool boxes are generally used for weight; the power stretcher can then be set up against the Deadman and pressure can be applied from the power stretcher poles to the power stretcher head.

“This is very useful in large rooms where the power stretcher poles cannot extend wall-to-wall, glass walls, or lightweight metal studded walls,” Namba noted.

Row finder- a comb, knitting needle, flat blade screwdriver or awl. These are just a few tools that installers use to follow the space between the rows of carpet. The tools open up the space between the rows to allow a row cutter to cut cleanly between the rows and not cut the carpet fibers.

“There is not one row finder that works on all carpets,” Namba said.  “That’s why you will see installers with a selection of row finders.”

Row cutter- Row cutters do what the name implies, cut down the row.

“It’s interesting that a majority of installers prefer to use a cushion back cutter,” Namba said. “These types of row cutters were originally designed for cushion-backed carpets but found there way into the majority of backings sold on the market today. The open-blade design does not allow any backing filler to build up between the blade and the guide. A loop pile cutter has a bottom plate and an adjustable throat for different thickness of carpet and backing. Even with what manufacturers refer to as a self-cleaning blade slot, there is more potential for build up of filler than with the cushion back cutter, causing the cutter to be difficult to push.”

Several models come with two blade slots, one on each side of the guide; this allows the installer to mimic the “gauge” that the manufacturer set between rows. Some have adjustable blade depth, to allow for thinner/thicker backings.

Seam iron- A seam iron with a heat shield is what you want to have.

“Whether you want: a seam iron with grooves, without grooves, partially smooth with grooves, is up to you,” Namba noted. “Is there a difference? Yes there is, but if your seams are well constructed and you’re not having issues than there’s nothing wrong with that. There are single element irons and even a dual element iron. The dual element iron produces a more even heat on the heat plate, you can actually feel a difference when you run the two types of irons side by side; the dual element seems to have a smoother feel when moving the iron.”

Thre is also a radio wave seam tool that has been in use for several years now. This tool does not actually produce heat but sends radio waves to a specially designed seam tape with a foil backing, causing a reaction that melts the thermoplastic on top of the foil tape. A new system that is being introduced to the market utilizes a hot glue gun with a tip that places hot melt adhesive on the two edges to be seamed with a special scrim tape.

Seam board- This is a flat piece of wood, Teflon or aluminum, that is typically up to a 1/4” thick and ten inches wide by anywhere from 18”-48” on average. This board is placed beneath the seam area and gives a flat, smooth surface to construct seams. A hole is cut at one end to accommodate the seam tape and many installers will put a thin rope at the end to pull the seam board along as the seam is being constructed. When the seam cools down, the board is removed and ready for the next seam.

Seam roller- A tool that embeds the hot thermoplastic into the backing of the carpet for a stronger bond. There are what we refer too as “star rollers” and smooth rollers. A star roller has short points like that of a star on a wheel; this type of seam roller is used for glue-down applications where no heat is involved and loop pile carpets on a glue down or hot melt seam. A star roller has the potential to damage a hot melt seam with a cut pile face yarn. Heat and the points of the roller can distort the face yarns, as the yarns are heat set. The smooth roller is used on cut pile carpet seams to minimize any damage to the face pile. Smooth rollers can be used on all types of face yarns.

Seam weight- A seam weight keeps the seam flat while the thermoplastic starts to cool down. As the installer constructs the seam he/she will move the seam weight behind the seam after the seam has been rolled with the seam roller. There are a lot of variations of seam weights used by installers but there is one important factor. Use a seam weight that the bottom of the weight has a “non heat-conducting surface.” This means that a metal surface should not be used. A clean wood surface, or Teflon is considered non-heat conducting. There is also a vacuum type seam tool that draws the heat away from the face yarns. This is not a seam weight but cools the seam down immediately and locks the backing and seam tape together.

Seamer Down Now: Traditionally, a seam “weight” is used to assist in keeping seams flat. Seamer Down Now changes the tradition. This tool, designed by an installer for installers, does a few things. First it has a vacuum attachment that draws the heat source from the seam. Second, as it draws the heat upwards, the suction power from the vacuum head pulls the hot thermoplastic into the backing of the carpet. Third, since the heat is drawn away from the seam, it cools much quicker allowing the installer to stretch sooner than the traditional seam weight method where heat dissipates on its own time.

“If you’re an installer who tends to use a knee kicker while constructing a seam and have noticed that you get overlapped seams or gapped seams, this tool may help,” Namba advised. “As an installer kicks carpet towards the seam or away from the seam, remember that the seam is still hot and pliable behind the iron/radio wave seam system, where it was just put together; this can cause overlaps and gaps. The Seamer Down Now tool can lock in the backing to the seam tape, which will minimize movement behind the seam iron.”

Hot glue gun- A hot glue gun comes in very handy for corrective work, upholstery work, and even installing tackstrip. The lower watt glue guns are used for corrective and upholstery work while the high wattage glue guns with the right glue stick can be used to fasten down tackstrip, moldings, etc. For corrective work and upholstery work an extended tip with a small diameter opening is easier to maneuver for the installer, while a wide nozzle is better suited for installing tackstrip. Manufacturers have also developed seam-sealing tips that can be used to seal the edges of carpet for seaming.

Wall trimmer- This tool “trims” the carpet that is extended up the walls and cuts to the proper height allowing the installer to tuck the carpet into the gully (distance from tackstrip to wall). Wall trimmers increase production, as the installer does not have to hand trim the entire installation which is time consuming. The trimmer is placed between the carpet and wall and cuts the excess carpet as the tool is pushed down the wall. Wall trimmers are unique in that each installer must adapt the tool to fit them. There are several adjustment plates that the installer can use to get the proper cut and feel as well as handle adjustments to get under toe kick areas.

“One concern is that a trimmer can mark baseboards with a black mark from the metal edge on the trimmer,” Namba said. “Manufacturers provide a nylon strip that can be applied to the metal edge to minimize marking baseboards. Installers also use tape to minimize marking the walls. If the walls do get marked, they can usually be wiped down.”

Magnetic drive bar- A magnetic drive bar is a tool used to nail down tackstrip under toe kicks and areas where a hammer cannot directly hit the nail in the tackstrip, which is held no more than 3/8” away from the wall. The magnetic tip holds the nail and the hammer is hit on the bar portion enabling the nail to be fastened into the substrate.

Stair tool- The stair tool is used on stairs to create a clean crease at the crotch of the step; this is where the tread and riser meet. A rubber mallet is used to hit the end of the metal stair tool. This tool is also used as a tucking tool.

Tucking tool- A stair tool made out of steel or nylon is one type of tool used to tuck carpet along the walls. The nylon stair tool tucker is lightweight and does not mar baseboards.  A linoleum hook knife is also used by many installers to tuck, as they prefer the smaller tool for getting into corners and tight areas.

Staple hammer- Used to fasten cushion to a wood substrate. Stapling the cushion keeps the seams of the cushion together and in place. If not fastened, the cushion has the potential to separate at seams and “creep” over the tackstrip.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Jon Namba for his contributions to this column. If there is an installation tool that you would like to see featured in an upcoming issue of FCI, please email: moorej@bnpmedia.com.  Next issue’s subject theme is Wood Flooring Installation Tools.

A drive bar is necessary for proper tackstrip placement under the toe kick. Be sure to measure that it is no more than 3/8 inch from the wall.

Sundry items:

• Tool box

• Hammer

• Straight edge

• Carpenters square

• Chalk line

• Carpet knife

• Tackstrip cutter

• Pad knife

• Pry bar

• Tin snips

• Broom

• Door pin remover

• Carpet dolly

• Furniture slides

• Seam sealer

   applicator bottle

• Scraper