Tool Time: Wood Flooring Installation Tools
May 8, 2012
Wood tools have seen some exciting changes in recent years, as manufacturers introduce new products to make installation easier and safer. Particularly noteworthy are dust containment systems, which allow installers to contain potentially harmfully wood dust that is generated from wood flooring installations, particularly sand-and-finish installations.
Hardwood installation requires a fairly large investment in certain tools for a successful installation. Whether an installer installs only prefinished or site-finished products, these tools are a must have. Following are descriptions of the most commonly used wood flooring tools and accessories.
Table Saw - Table saws are used for rip cuts where boards need to be trimmed for starting or finishing along walls. Installers typically prefer a portable saw as it can be moved from job to job without taking up so much space in their trucks or trailers.
“There are good table saws and there are great table saws,” said FCI columnist Jon Namba. “Depending on what an installer wants to invest is the determining factor. Higher end table saws use a rack-and-pinion system or lock at each end, of the guide bar. By being able to control both ends of the guide bar, it allows for better alignment than the type of saws that have only a lock down on one side.”
Miter/Chop Saw - Used for square or angle cuts. To make it easier to make cuts, manufacturers have miter saw stands available to support the saw and wood.
Tool manufacturers have also developed saws that can be used both as a miter saw and a table saw. These types of tools take up much less space and are convenient for installers who are not installing large jobs so set up and take down of tools is quick and easy.
Circular Saw - Circular saws are used for board replacement where damage has occurred to one board that needs to be replaced. They can also be used in place of a chop saw, but the cut is not as accurate.
Jamb Saw - Used for cutting door jams to enable the flooring to slide under the door frame. These tools are also used for precise end cutting in board repairs.
Multi-tools – These have become very popular among wood installers, as they have “multiple” uses. Multi-tools can be used for undercutting, plunge cuts for board replacement, cutting right up to a vertical abutment, and many other uses.
Solid/Engineered Flooring Nailers - Used to secure the wood flooring by driving and setting a cleat or staple at the correct depth and angle. They may be either manual or pneumatic. Nailers are designed specifically for either solid or engineered flooring. When installing a factory finished floor, either a softer plate or rollers are used to reduce surface denting/scratching. They usually come with a white pad to reduce scratching or marring. Some use adjustable plates to enable the installer to use on different thicknesses/tongue profiles.
“Be sure to squarely position the nailer before actuating it,” cautioned FCI columnist Mickey Moore. “The recoil of a moving nailer may not allow the fastener to pull the flooring tight to the subfloor.”
Finish Nailers - Finish nailers are used when installing starter/finishing rows of wood flooring, and also used when installing base trim. Before finish nailers, installers used a hammer, nail, and nail set. Hammers and nails are still used, but pneumatic finish nailers have sped up production dramatically.
Jig Saw - Used for smaller or specialty cuts such as radius cuts.
Trammel Points - Used in figuring out how to square rooms up before installation begins. This is a very accurate way to measure. It is similar to the old “3, 4, 5” method used for squaring up rooms.
Brad Nailers - Used primarily when installing engineered wood flooring or base trim.
Wall Pull/Pry Bar - Used to secure the finishing rows of wood flooring, it applies pressure with the wall to push the boards together.
“Use a backing board against the wall to distribute the pressure,” Moore advised.
Screwdrivers - Used to adjust tools. Comes in either a flat/straight or phillips head. A large flat/straight screwdriver can also be used to pry boards together.
Drills - Used primarily when installation requires beginning in the middle of the floor and installing in two different directions. Screw a backer board to the floor to begin the initial part of the installation to hold the boards from moving. They are also used for making pilot holes when driving screws or nails for more positive holding.
Nail/Cleat Set - Used to push the nail/cleat beneath the surface of the wood floor.
Claw Hammer - Used for subfloor prep, setting nails/cleats, etc.
Chalk Line - Used to produce a straight line on the subfloor to keep the flooring straight when starting installation and to aid in squaring up rooms.
Squares - Used to aid in squaring up room and squaring up wood flooring for a straight cut. Can be either a large square or a smaller speed square.
Putty Knives/Trowel - Use to apply wood filler after installation if needed. The smaller putty knives are usually for spot filling while the larger ones are for trowel filling the entire floor.
Scrapers - Used during subfloor prep and for removing small amounts of wood in areas where the edger cannot reach, such as corners and under cabinets.
Hand Planer - Primarily used to remove small amounts of wood during board replacements or thinning a board down. Larger planners are used to reduce the thickness of wood.
Files - Used to sharpen the cutting edge to a planner or scrapper. A fine cut is most commonly used to accomplish this.
Adhesive Trowels - Used to apply the adhesive to the subfloor. Trowels usually are either a v-notch or square notch. The adhesive manufacturer dictates what type trowel is used for their adhesive and the type of flooring being installed.
Drum/Belt Sanders - Used to flatten the wood flooring after installation. Usually either an eight- or ten-inch width. Larger ones are used for sanding gymnasium floors. Typically a series of sanding belts with different grits accomplishes the sanding of the wood floor. Big floor sanders typically come in eight, ten, or twelve inch widths. Wider width machines are used for sanding large areas such as gymnasium floors.
“This is a large investment for the installer, so if a distributor or manufacturer has a demo day where you can run the machines, it is to your advantage to see what machine fits you and your needs the best,” Namba said. “Depending on the type of area you are going to be sanding will help you decide which width of machine to use. If in small spaces, the eight-inch sanders work well as they are all somewhat bulky. If working in larger areas where you can move the machine around, the bigger machine will boost productivity with a wider sanding width.”
These machines are heavy, so when transporting from the truck to the site make sure the machine has the ability to be transported easily and without any damage to the wheels that will be run on the flooring. Also, make sure to have a storage system when transporting to minimize any damage to the drum head. There are also random orbital sanders out in the marketplace that are being used as initial sander and finish sander so that only one machine is required from start to finish instead of a big sanding machine and buffer.
Edgers - Used to flatten areas where the larger sanders cannot reach such as corners and along walls. Edging requires good hand skills in order to minimize inconsistent sanding marks from where the big sanders stop near the walls.
“Different pad systems, such as hook-and-loop systems, can help with the efficiency of changing sanding papers,” Moore said.
Multi-disc Sander - Another tool used in the sanding of wood flooring. Typically a large sander is used first to flatten the floor since it is more aggressive.
“Use of a multi-disc sander helps to eliminate swirl marks and dishing issues with multi-direction flooring or multi-species flooring,” Moore said.
Buffer - Used to further sand the floor and to aid in removal of scratches. This is accomplished by using different types of pads or screens. Also used for abrasion between coats of finish.
“If you’ve never used an orbital buffer, start in the middle of a large room because these machines can be like riding a bucking bronco,” Namba cautioned. “The best way to learn how to use an orbital buffer is from someone who knows how to properly use one so that you don’t end up getting injured or damaging something There are random orbitals that are very installer friendly with several discs on the bottom plate that are simple to operate without the kick.”
Hand/Palm Sanders - Used for assisting with the final sanding.
Mallets - Used to provide the force for the flooring nailers to set the fasteners properly. Different weight mallets are used depending upon whether the nailer is manual or pneumatic. The mallet heads come in different harnesses and colors. The white tipped mallets are usually for the factory finished floors to prevent scuffing.
Razor Knife - Used for cutting the underlayment.
Routers - Used to cut grooves, medallions, or for cutting in feature strips. Routers require that the installer be knowledgeable with the tool, as this type of tool has the cutting blade exposed and works best when going in a certain direction, depending on the type of cut.
Chisel - Used for removing small amounts of wood.
Backpack Vacuums - Used to collect dust/debris during the cleaning of the floor.
Power Boosters - Used to increase, decrease, and regulate the voltage power supplied to the machines.
“Power boosters are a must-have if you are running long lengths of power cord,” Namba said. “When the machine has to work harder for electricity, it has the potential of wearing out the motor at a much higher rate, and can overheat.”
Dustless Vacuum Systems - Used to collect the dust from the larger machines. Collects and prevents most dust from accumulating within a room while sanding. May be portable, as shown in the picture, or trailer mounted.
“Vacuums have come a long way from the shop vacuums that used to blow out as much dust as they sucked in,” Namba said. “Nowadays there are HEPA systems available in a portable as well as a truck mount depending on how much the installer wants to invest. Are they completely dust free? No, but they leave minimal amounts of dust compared to a dust bag on a machine or tool.”
For those installers working in regions of the country where it is difficult to make cuts outdoors due to inclement weather or occupied high-rise, there is a guillotine type of cutter that can cut straight and miter cuts, without any sawdust being created. This is important, as wood dust is a carcinogen (cancer causing agent).
Finish Applicators - Used to spread the flooring finish properly. There are several different types, such as t-bar, lamb’s wool, brush, cut-in pads, etc. Follow the finish manufacturer’s directions for the type of applicator to be used with their finish.
“Rollers have been used in Europe for years, and now you are seeing more manufacturers and installers using this type of system in the United States with great success,” Namba said. “The advantage? There are no lap marks and with a roller, you do not have to follow the grain of the wood like a “T” bar. You can roll the floor across or with the grain without leaving streak marks. Rollers work well in areas where the flooring changes directions in grain pattern.”
Moisture meters - Moisture meters are as important as a hammer. If an installer does not test and document moisture readings of a subfloor and wood flooring prior to installation and there are either cupping or gapping issues, the installer could be liable if a replacement of the floor is necessary. There are pin meters and non-intrusive moisture meters on the market that installers can utilize.
Hygrometer - A definite must have for the installer. A hygrometer measures temperature and relative humidity. If using a pin meter, readings are affected by temperature, and wood moisture readings must be adjusted accordingly. Hygrometers are a tool that an installer can use to determine the ambient conditions of the jobsite. Wood is hygroscopic, which means that it will gain and release moisture. Too dry, the wood will shrink. Too wet and the wood will expand. When wood expands and contracts, it creates stress on the wood flooring, which can lead to potential issues, a call back, or even worse, replacement
Thanks to Glen Miller of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), as well as FCI columnists Jon Namba and Mickey Moore for their 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: email@example.com.