Tools of the trade for linoleum installation
June 22, 2012
One of the biggest misconceptions about linoleum installation is that it is the same as vinyl. According to Tony Buckhardt, team leader for resilient installation training at International Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI), nothing could be further from the truth.
“Linoleum is a lot stiffer than vinyl, and it breaks real easy,” Buckhardt said. “The guys on the job need to a lot of patience with it.”
He noted that linoleum often comes with jute backing, which is moisture-sensitive and requires the proper adhesive to bond. “I have seen guys trying to use latex glue, and they have breaks. That’s the biggest key, to make sure the guys understand the importance of using the proper adhesive and get at the floor with a 100 lb. roller as soon as they can, so there won’t be any bubble issues.”
There are many tools that an installer should already have in his toolbox and on the job, not just for linoleum installation, but for most any project. These include items such as chalk lines, extension cords, hammers, kneepads, utility knives, sanding blocks, screwdrivers, cutters/trimmers, dividers, tape measures, trowels, straightedges and first-aid kits.
This article is not about those basic tools. Rather, it examines the specific tools needed to complete a linoleum installation. Buckhardt identified some of these major tools as the 100 lb. roller, scriber, hook knife, groovers, heat gun and heat welding kit.
100 lb. roller. A 100 lb. roller will ensure that the floor is consistently flat and grabbing the adhesive. It will also help remove any trapped air bubbles. Keep in mind that linoleum grows slightly in width and shrinks slightly in length when placed into adhesive. It is always good practice with linoleum to leave a slight gap in the seam to accommodate this growth.
Scriber/hook knife. Fitted with either needles or blades, recess-scribers are designed to mark the seams to be cut. The hook knife is used to deeply score the scribe marks for the seams.
Groovers. Groovers are designed to groove out the seams in preparation for heat welding. These can include thermo-groovers, push groovers and hand groovers, which can be used for hard-to-reach places near walls. No matter what tool is used, the key is to create a consistent groove at the correct depth.
Heat gun. The heat gun is designed to soften and bend the linoleum. A good heat gun will offer variable temperatures, and can be used for a wide range of hard surface installations.
Heat welding kit. A good kit will contain all the tips needed to perform a heat-weld of the seams. Be careful: Heat-welding linoleum requires different techniques than heat-welding sheet vinyl. For more information, see Ray Thompson Jr.’s column in this magazine.
John Amery, business development manager-plastic welding for Leister U.S.A., said his company offers an automatic welder called the Unifloor. The machine uses a guide wheel to guide the tool within the groove, and runs by itself until it gets close to a wall, where installers can finish off with hand tools.
Whether the tool is operated by hand or automatic, Amery stresses the importance of proper training. “When it comes to welding, people have so many different styles of doing it, and that is where training is really important, to stay consistent.”
According to Don Winkelman, Jr., president of Winkelman Sales, installers should at a minimum look for a heat welder that features temperature adjustment settings. “You can go and spend $100 on a welder, but you get what you pay for. It might work well for you the first time, but odds are it will not work as well on the second job.”
He also said installers should make sure they have the correct tips for the job. “With linoleum, you need a narrow pre-heat tip so the heat isn’t spreading all over the floor.”
Other things to keep in mind. Winkelman added that proper cleaning and maintenance should be an essential step to using the tools. “Usually when I get tools sent in for repair, they are full of dirt. When a job site is not clean, it is grabbing up the dirt from the floor. That can clog up heating elements, give improper sensor readings and wear on any motor parts.”
Buckhardt cautions installers to always use the correct trowel for the linoleum adhesive. Additionally, before any installation, always take the time to perform the proper moisture testing with an RH probe.
“Whenever you take a non-porous material and put it over a concrete slab, it creates a vacuum and brings the moisture to the surface. Any type of linoleum or sheet goods will just draw that moisture straight up. Make sure to test how much moisture is in the slab with RH probes, and if the moisture is above the recommended level, be prepared to use a moisture control system,” he said.
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