How To Lay Hardwood flooring

Hardwood flooring is firm underfoot, good looking and hard wearing. What’s more, it costs less than a quality fitted carpet, and actually improves with age.

Ordinary sanded and sealed floorboards are effective in a simple scheme of decoration — in a playroom or a bedroom with pine fur- nishings for instance. But if you want some-thing more sophisticated and elegant, con-sider laying a floor made of one of the many attractive hardwoods. They are available in colours from near white (maple) to rich reddish brown (mahogany) and every con-ceivable shade in between.

how to lay a hardwood floorIt’s often said that laying timber flooring is a job for specialist contractors. This may be true for the wooden block type of flooring but two common types — mosaic panel and strip — are no more tricky to lay than vinyl floor tiles. The key to good results is in careful planning and good preparation. Wood flooring can be laid on any type of subfloor, but even the best will need some attention.

Choosing the hardwood flooring

As well as strips cut from solid timber, you can also get laminated strips (such as Par-K-Ply) and laminated panels. These are much cheaper as they are made from plywood which is faced with a hardwood veneer. The veneer is thin — only about 4mm — but is sufficient for the sort of wear it gets in most homes. Once in place it is impossible to tell laminates from solid timber.

Wood strips are usually 75mm wide but are sold in a variety of lengths and thicknesses. You shouldn’t need strips more than 10mm thick unless you are going to use them as floorboards over joists in which case buy them at least 19mm thick. Mosaic panels are made up from small sections of hardwood laid in a basket-weave pattern and bonded to a felt or fabric backing. The advantage of mosaic panels is that you can stick them to concrete or wood floors and they involve no nailing.

Panels are usually 460mm X 290mm but you can get some panels — which imitate strip flooring — 2500mm X 200mm.

Allow hardwood flooring to acclimatize in the room in which it will be used. Order it early and store it in the room for a week or so.

Sizing up the job

As wood flooring is expensive, make sure you buy only as much as you need plus a five per cent allowance for cutting and spoilage.

Work out how much you need by sizing up the room to be floored: measure the peri-meter, the width at several points and the diagonals. Use these dimensions to draw an accurate plan and calculate the area — then add the extra percentage.

Use your plan to work out how to lay the flooring so that you can minimize cutting and get the best effect. Decide whether to have the flooring — panels or strips — square to the walls or laid at an angle. Laying the floor at an angle means more fiddly cutting at the edges and to give a neater finish round the perimeter it is best to install a straight border all round. Strip flooring must be laid across the floorboards at 90° or 45°. Pay special attention to planning doorways, alcoves and bays. If these are places where the flooring will be on show, try to fit whole boards.

Materials Needed To Lay Hardwood Flooring

How you fix the flooring will depend on its type — bituminous- based adhesive for panels and 18mm wire nails for strip flooring.

Reckon to use a litre of adhesive or about 90 nails for each 1.5 square metres of flooring.

To prepare the subfloor, you need 3.2mm plywood and 20mm hardboard nails for wood or self-levelling compound for concrete floors. If you suspect that your concrete floor is damp, you will need to get this confirmed before proceeding any further. If the damp proof membrane is faulty or the floor was laid without one, probably the best long-term solution would be to relay it completely incorporating proper damp-proofing. Alternatively, as a relatively short-term measure for dealing with a damp con-crete floor, you could seal it with moisture-cured polyurethane.

To cover the expansion gaps, you have the choice of using cork strips — the traditional method — or wooden beading. Beading has the advantage of being easier to disguise.

A diminishing strip is handy to protect the flooring in thresholds. If you can’t buy a purpose-made one to match your flooring, try using architrave stained a suitable colour.

If you have to seal your wood flooring, buy either a polyurethane varnish, an oleo-resinous sealer or a catalyzed lacquer. If you are in doubt about which one to use, check with the flooring manufacturer — they usually recommend a specific type.


A basic tool kit and a selection of brushes (for the varnish) should see you safely through the job. You may need to hire a sander for a strip floor or to make your own adhesive spreader.


Timber flooring is available in over twenty different species of wood. There’s a wide variety of both colour and texture to suit the look you want to achieve but price and availability also vary widely. These five are a selection of the more readily available types:

Maple. Pale cream in colour with faint darker veining. Fine texture. Medium to high price range

Mahogany. A reddish brown but can become golden in sunlight. Fine to medium texture. Medium price

Oak. A light brown. Medium to coarse texture. Medium to high price. Often has attractive diagonal markings

Iroko (African teak). Initially lightish yellow but darkens to deep brown. Medium texture, medium price

Teak (Burma). A light brown. Medium texture. High price. Contains natural oils which can resist some finishes.


Getting the subfloor ready for the wood floor-ing is the most important part of the job. Skimp on the preparation and the flooring will warp or break loose.

Preparing the subfloor means coping with any unevenness, curing any damp problems, doing any essential repairs and, if you are using an adhesive, cleaning the subfloor surface of dirt, grease and wax. How you go about it will depend on the type of subfloor.

Concrete floors: Wood flooring laid directly over a concrete floor needs a continuous waterproof membrane beneath it. There should be a damp-proof membrane (DPM) in the existing floor, but if you have any reason to believe that there isn’t one — the floor is obviously damp for instance — the best thing to do is lay a new one or, as a shorter term measure, you can brush on a polyurethane sealing compound Moisture-cured polyurethane) such as Aquaseal Heavy Duty Urethane to seal the surface.

TIP: If a piece of glass taped to a concrete floor for several days develops moisture on its underside, you know your concrete floor is damp.

Unevenness is the other main potential problem. With a concrete floor solve this by spreading a self-levelling compound. Before you start, fill large holes with a dryish mortar mix — three parts sand to one cement with a little PVA adhesive mixed in. Allow this to harden first. Then mix the self levelling compound according to the instructions. Spread the mix out to roughly 4mm thick and allow it to settle and harden.

Floorboards: Unless it’s in exceptional condi-tion, a boarded floor must be covered with a layer of 3mm plywood to create a smooth level surface for the new flooring. Buy the board in 1220mm X 610mm sheets several days before you want to lay it and then you will have plenty of time to condition it.

However, in the meantime make any necessary repairs to the floorboards. Use a nail punch and hammer to knock projecting nail heads below the surface and use a planer file to smooth down any high spots such as knots. Make sure you know what’s beneath the boards — junction boxes and plumbing for example — and make provision for access to these if it is necessary.

Starting from one end of the room lay the plywood — a better bet than hardboard unless the flooring manufacturer recommends other- wise — about 3mm from the wall. Nail it to the floorboards using 20mm ring shank nails at 150mm intervals. Continue laying the sheets across the room. At the end of the row cut a sheet to fit and then use the cut piece to start the next row from the far end again — in this way you stagger the joints between sheets in adjacent rows. Always check that the sheet edges do not coincide with the edge of a floorboard. If they do, cut down the sheet a short way from the edge. TIP: If you are laying strip flooring on ground floor joists, take the opportunity to fit some insulation between them while they are exposed.

The easiest way is to staple garden netting to the sides of the joists and lay glass fibre blanket in the trough.

Laying a new wood strip floor will usually mean that you have to take a few millimetres off the bottom of your doors. So, before you start laying the floor, remove the doors and if necessary plane the bottom edge.

Your new flooring is likely to expand or shrink with changes in the weather — even if it is securely fixed to the subfloor. The move-ment will be imperceptible to the eye but if you don’t leave an expansion gap around the edge of the room, the flooring will warp. The neatest way of concealing the 10mm gap required is to remove all the skirting at the preparation stage and then refit it once the floor is in place. Or you can fill the gap with cork strips or possibly quadrant beading.


Providing that a concrete floor isn’t showing other signs of damage, such as serious crack-ing, an easy but relatively short term way of damp proofing it is to use a moisture-cured polyure- thane — a solution which can be brushed on top of the existing floor surface. This bonds well with the concrete and prevents surface dusting as well as rising damp from coming through.

Sweep the floor thoroughly before using a vacuum cleaner to remove all the dust. Brush the polyurethane onto the floor — metres — working from the far corners towards the exit door. Allow the polyurethane to dry for at least six hours before walking on the floor. ITIP: Use something like an old broom to spread the poly-urethane — it will save you bending or working on your hands and knees,

Repeat with two more coats and leave for a couple of days.


If you have a junction box, for example, beneath the floor-boards, play safe and make an access panel in the flooring above it — you never know when you may want to get at it.

Turn off the electricity at the mains and cut the floorboard over the box along a line as close

to the edges of the two nearest joists as possible. Lever the board out with a cold chisel. If it’s a tongued and grooved board, you’ll have to cut along the edges as well.

Screw a batten on to the joists to support the ends of the cut floorboard and use two counter-sunk screws at either end to hold the hoard down.

Arrange the top floor covering so that it too can be easily lifted. Cut it to the same size as the sub-floor panel and fix it with double-sided adhesive tape or secure it to the cut board with countersunk brass screws.


If you’ve ever laid cork or vinyl flooring tiles, you’ll have the necessary skills for a mosaic parquet floor.

Start laying the panels from the centre of the room and work outwards towards the walls. To find the centre point of the floor, set a string line across the centre and stretch another string at right angles to the first. Dry lay a row of panels along each string in both directions and adjust each row sideways until the amount of panel to be cut is the same at either end.

Reset the strings to the new lines established by this trial laying.

Starting from where the strings cross, spread enough adhesive for the four centre panels and bed them firmly in place. Work outwards so that each quadrant gradually fills up as you proceed. Work carefully trying not to get the glue on the wood surface. If you do, wipe it off at once. If it dries before you notice, clean it off gently with a plastic pan scourer and white spirit.

Eventually only the edge panels will be left — these have to be cut 10mm short of the wall to allow for expansion in the wood. If the cutting line coincides with a joint between the fingers, cut them to size just by slicing through the backing paper with a trimming knife. Otherwise use a tenon saw to cut through the wood.

To mark the edge panels for cutting, lay the panel to be cut over the last panel in the row. Lay a spare panel on top with one edge 10mm from the wall.

To save fiddling about with a tape measure, cut a piece of wood or card 10mm wide and use it as a spacer.

Mark your cutting line where the other edge falls on the panel to be cut. Cut all the edge panels and try them for size before sticking each one down in turn.


To get the most out of your new floor, it is well worth the effort to protect the surface and vulnerable edges from damage.

Not all floors need sealing but it is a good idea to cover the expansion gaps around the edges and to preserve the edges in thresholds. Expansion gaps: If you have not removed the skirting, there are two ways of dealing with expansion gaps. One is to fill them with a cork strip which acts as a buffer for any movement, the other is to bridge the gap with beading. Cork strips can be cut from a roll and then glued to the floor; beading must be pinned to the skirting and not to the floor.

It is easier to paint the beading to match the skirting — or stain it to match the floor — before you fix it. You can touch up the pin heads when it’s in place.

Thresholds: In doorways, fit a tapered fillet —called a diminishing strip — to protect the edge. Fix the diminishing strip in the same way as you did your floor. If you have laid tongued and grooved strips, saw off the tongue to get the two edges perfectly flush. Sanding: Some floors — strip, in particular may need sanding to get them smooth. The most efficient way to sand a floor is to hire a machine. Be careful with any sanding — it is all too easy to oversand some areas and create an undulating floor. On a hardwood floor, only use a fine grade-120 gauge —paper and when you have finished, wipe it over with white spirit.

Sealing: If you have to seal your floor, there. Are several materials you can use — it is best to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer of the flooring. Apply three or more coats and sand down between each one.

Polyurethane flooring varnish is the most hard wearing finish and is easy to apply. However, not all manufacturers recommend its use on bare wood.

Oleo-resinous sealers — such as Bourne Seal — are not as tough as varnishes but they do retain the character of the wood better.

Lacquers are transparent and don’t darken wood which is important if you have a pale flooring. They are usually sold in two part kits which include a hardener.

Shellac and wax undoubtedly give the nicest finish but they are hard work to put on and don’t wear well.

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