Tool Time: Wood Flooring
Whether simply locking a prefinished floating floor together for a homeowner’s living room or creating a dazzling, mixed-media entry destined for the next National Wood Flooring Association Wood Floor of the Year contest, an installer or contractor is going to need one thing in abundance to perform an installation of hardwood flooring: Tools.
Some of the basics include a mallet, flooring staplers/nailers, knee pads, respiratory mask, goggles – these are tools you should have in your tool box or in the back of your truck no matter what. We spoke with several manufacturers to find out what else they recommend for hardwood flooring installations.
Robert Bosch Tool Corp.’s SKIL brand offers a flooring saw that can cut solid and engineered hardwood as well as laminate planks. Designed for the D.I.Y. crowd, the tool is also being used by contractors, according to Ray Peppiatt, director of product marketing for Bosch Power Tools.
“It’s an interesting tool because even though we made it for the D.I.Y. side, professionals love it,” he said. “It’s compact, lightweight, and you can take it straight into the room where you are doing your project, drop it on the floor and get to work.”
The tool is designed to perform cross cuts, miter cuts and rip cuts. “Often when you lay out your flooring in the room and get to the final cut at the end of the wall, the board doesn’t fit unless you are the luckiest person in the world. So you have to do a rip cut. This tool can do the cross cuts, the miter cuts, and the final rip cut to complete the project,” Peppiatt noted.
The SKIL Flooring Saw can be fitted with a professional-grade blade for additional cutting power. “That’s the best option for cutting a lot of laminate flooring,” Peppiatt said. “Laminate is probably the hardest material on a blade, and the higher-grade option will extend the life of your blade.”
Expert installer and NWFA instructor Charles Peterson, author of Wood Flooring: A Complete Guide to Layout, Installation & Finishing, swears by many of Festool’s products. He acknowledged that the price tag might initially scare off some contractors and installers, but once they have the tools in their hands, they understand the value.
“For Festool, you’re paying for the quality of the innards of the machine. Students come to the [hardwood training] schools, they get their hands on these tools for the first time, and they fall in love with them. These tools can make anyone look like a Norm Abram.”
His favorite Festool products include the company’s track saws, routers and orbital sanders. “The Festool routers have some of the better bearings I’ve seen, and there is less run-out when you’re trying to cut something. Their track saws and orbitals are beautiful tools and have good dust extraction.”
He also loves Festool’s Kapex miter saw. “I get frustrated when I don’t have a Kapex to work with when I’m doing a class, because otherwise I use it all the time. It has dual lasers that outline where you want to cut, which makes it so accurate. You can sit there and cut a medallion using a Kapex.”
Peterson offers one tip for installers working with orbital sanders. “The biggest mistakes guys make is not to clean the floor prior to orbiting. If you rub your hand in front of you, even after vacuuming there can still be something there. All it takes is one tiny piece of grit.”
Finishing touches. For an unfinished hardwood floor, the installation is only half the job. A good sealer and stain/finish is designed to help protect all the work you just completed. According to Bill Gradisher, AzkoNobel’s technical woodcare expert, the finish type, sheen and coloring will vary depending on the wood species’ hardness, the grade of the wood, and several other considerations.
“When deciding the suitability of a finish, installers and contractors need to consider the [flooring] material type, the dwelling type (lifestyle and maintenance preferences), the finish type (tone, clarity and luster), the performance grade (for durability, impact resistance, moisture resistance and longevity) and environmental factors (the dry time, recoat time, return-to-service time, and any vapor or odor emissions).”
Products available for finishing include penetrating stains, penetrating sealers and a range of surface finishes. Gradisher explained: “Oil-modified urethane surface finishes are available in various sheen levels, and they amber over time. Acrylic/modified urethane surface finishes are also available in various sheen levels, and are non-yellowing.”
He added, “Moisture-cured urethane surface finishes are durable and moisture-resistant. Conversion varnish surface finishes are utilized when a more impact- and chemical-resistant finish is desired; this high-performance material is recommended to be applied by trained professional applicators.”
Common mistakes that installers and contractors make when applying a finish are “improper surface preparation (insufficient surface cleanliness, non-level surface plane), improper application (translucent wood finishes must be applied in a controlled manner and always with the grain), and not allowing unfinished wood flooring to acclimate to the environment,” Gradisher said. “Bare wood planks should be laid out in the environment where they are to be installed so the natural wood can adjust to the environment and stabilize dimensionally.”
Todd Schutte, Bona’s director of professional product development & customer relations, recommends choosing a system of sealer and finish from a single source. “Too many contractors mix and match from various manufacturers, which may work most of the time, until someone changes their formula.” If a contractor or installer has questions about what type of finish to use, he advises calling their local hardwood flooring distributor. “They are a very good source of information as to what professional finishes are used in the area.”
Schutte added that it is important to go in with an “application game plan” before starting to pour the finish. “Make sure to properly sand the floor (or streaks and swirls may show through the finish), get the floor and room clean enough (or you may end up with debris in the finish coats) and do not put the product on too thin.”
He also suggests knowing how much sandable depth remains on an existing floor, in case it needs to be resanded, and the species of the wood, “which tends to play more into the need for specialized products and processes including sanding sequences, sealer and finish compatibility, stainability and drying times.”
Transitions and moldings are also important for a finished look to an installation. Thilo Hessler, president of Versatrim, said it is essential to match stains correctly if working with an unfinished product. If selecting a prefinished molding, make sure the company sourcing the material is reputable.
He also said to keep the floor’s natural movement and expansion in mind. “The most common mistake I see is not leaving enough expansion space for the floor to expand and contract. I have seen my fair share of buckled flooring over the years.”