When looking back at installation tools and techniques, it’s interesting to see how much things have and have not changed. When it came to carpet seams, hand sewing was the method used before hot-melt seam tape.

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When looking back at installation tools and techniques, it’s interesting to see how much things have and have not changed.  When it came to carpet seams, hand sewing was the method used before hot-melt seam tape. (Photo 1)

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Hand-sewn seams are still the preferred method by several manufacturers of woven carpets today. Before hot melt seam tape there was pin tape. If an installer was installing a hallway and then a bedroom, pin tape was used in doorways to alleviate the need to roll the bedroom piece up and then placing it in the hallway to sew the doorway seam, since sewn seams were typically done from the backing side.

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The process was to prepare the seam, place the pin tape under the seam and then apply a generous amount of latex to the seam tape. Once the carpet was placed and set, it was held in place with small metal bars with barbs that were set into the tape every few inches to help keep the seam together. To get the latex to bond to the woven backing, a steel roller with pins was rolled over the tape and as the pins rolled, they pulled latex into the backing for a better bond(Photos 2 and 3).

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When hot-melt seam tape was first introduced, the seam tape would have a tendency to stick to the cushion, creating problems when trying to stretch in carpet. Installers, having to continually think outside the box, used toilet paper between the hot-melt tape and the cushion, enabling the carpet to move when a stretch was applied. Today’s seam tapes have silicone applied to the backing of the seam tape to keep it from sticking to the cushion.

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If you would have told installers in the 1930s that seams would be constructed using radio wave technology, they probably would have told you that you were reading to many Buck Roger or Flash Gordon comics.

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Even when seam irons first came out in the ‘60s, installers were not impressed with the seam tape method and many put the hot melt irons back in the truck because they felt that hand-sewn seams were better and easier to construct.Photo 4is a photo of one of the first irons designed for hot melt. This is a Burgess seam iron from 1969, and it may be the first hot melt iron to have a Teflon coating.

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Moving into the future you havePhoto 5,a radio-wave tool used to activate hot-melt seam tape. The tool itself does not produce heat; rather, radio waves react with a foil tape, which creates heat to melt the thermoplastic.

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Seam weights have even changed over the past few years. Traditionally installers have used seam weights made of wood, or steel with a non-heat conducting surface(Photo 6).Now there is a tool that uses air.

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The tool isn’t really a seam weight, but uses air to draw the hot thermoplastic into the backing of the carpet while at the same time cooling the seam tape. The seam can have a stretch applied much quicker than that of a traditional seam weight(Photo 7).

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Let's look at the carpet stretcher, what is now commonly referred to as a power stretcher. In the mid 1800s, stretchers were used to stretch in-grain carpet runners and tacked with blued or tinned, carpet tacks(Photos 8 and 9).Stretchers of old were made with just a straight handle with protruding pins.

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Photo 10is a Johnson carpet stretcher patented February 19, 1867. The tool has a magnetic piston that held a tack. The installer would push the teeth into the carpet, stretch and then hit the top of the piston with a wooden block hammer to drive the tack into the carpet. There were also leverage type handles with pins attached to metal or wood, usually with anchor pins/small spikes; these were then pushed into the wood subfloor.

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H. A. Mead patented this stretcher July 25, 1865.(Photo 11)The head was placed on the carpet and the spiked handle with the chain was extended. Once the chain was extended, the spike handle was driven through the carpet and into the wood subfloor, leverage was placed on the spiked handle and the carpet was stretched then tacked. As you can see from the photo, the shape of the head of current power stretchers hasn’t changed much in 147 years.

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Present day power stretchers use a leverage system to apply a stretch to carpet; the biggest difference is that tubes are used to extend to the opposite wall with a tail plate, pressure is then applied from the stretcher head so there is no damage to carpet or subfloor from spikes.(Photo 12)Have there bee any changes to the power stretcher? There is a pneumatic stretcher that has been invented by an installer, Lee Peters of Pro Stretch, which he has named the Air Stretcher. This stretcher does not utilize tubes; instead, it hooks on the tack strip and then pneumatic air is used to stretch the carpet(Photo 13).

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The oldest known Knee kicker invention patent was September 1, 1925 by Rufus Toon. The design of knee kickers really hasn’t changed that much from its inception. Today’s knee kickers are more installer friendly with adjustable pins, rubber pads instead of leather, and the ability to be extended, for the type of carpet and individual preferences.Photos 14 and 15show a Rufus Toon stretcher.Photo 16is a current knee kicker that is commonly used.

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Tack strip, as it is commonly called today, was first known as gripper edge and smooth edge. It was invented by Roy Roberts in 1938. Tack strip has had little change over the years, and to this day is the best method to attach carpets for wall-to-wall stretch-in installations. There are different heights of pins and different widths.

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When installing bound stair runners, the traditional method is to cut the runners to fit and then take them to a local area rug binder to have an edge put on. This would require waiting for the edges to be bound, which could take a couple of days.

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It also means another trip back to the jobsite, pulling the tools back out, finishing the installation, and then getting paid. What if you could cut the runners, attach the edge binding, install and get paid the same day without a binding or serging machine? There is an edge binding system called Instabind that utilizes pressure-sensitive adhesive and a hot glue gun with an extension tip. The product comes in regular binding, serging, and rope tapes(Photos 17 and 18).

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What will the next 50 years of technology bring to the flooring industry? You might want to ask children under the age of five, as it will be their generation for innovation. Who knows, maybe flying carpets? Thanks to Daris Mulkin for antique tool photos and information on patent dates.