Wooden Flooring Installation Techniques

Real wood floor coverings come in a variety of types. Wood mosaic panels — fingers of wood made up into squares — are one of the most attractive, and are easy to lay in a variety of patterns. Woodstrip floor coverings are either small, solid planks, usually with tongue-and-groove edges, or panels consisting of hardwood veneer bonded to a plywood backing cut to provide lugs that make fixing the strips to the sub-floor easier. These are usually laid at right angles to existing floorboards on timber sub-floors.

Laying mosaic panels

These panels, which are either loose-laid if they are tongue-and-groove, or stuck down with adhesive, are best laid over hardboard on timber floors. In either case, a narrow expansion gap must be left all around the edge of the floor to prevent the panels buckling and lifting in damp weather. The first row of panels is laid to a string line positioned 12mm (1/2in) from the skirting board, and should be dry-laid to begin with so that you can adjust the position of the row to get cut pieces of equal length at each end. When you are ready to start laying panels, spread the adhesive and bed the panels down firmly, butting each panel firmly against its neighbours. If you are laying tongue-and-groove panels, tap them firmly together with a hammer and a wood block to close the join.

With all the whole panels laid, pieces can be cut to fit the gaps at the ends of the rows. Remember to allow for the expansion gap at the skirting board.

The next job is to cover the expansion gap by pinning lengths of quadrant beading to the skirting board. At doorways, fit a tapered threshold strip. Finish off by dusting the floor carefully and applying the floor sealer as directed by the panel manufacturer — usually two or three coats of varnish. This will not be necessary with factory-finished panels.

Laying woodstrip flooring

Once again, you must allow an expansion gap at the skirting board. Start laying strips to a string line next to the skirting board; on timber sub-floors pin tongue-and-groove

types down through the tongue of each plank; on solid floors use the recommended adhesive. You will probably need several strips, butted end to end, to fill each row. Stagger the joints between strips in successive rows, and at the far side of the room saw or plane the last strip to fit the gap. Finish off as for mosaic panels by fitting quadrant beading around the skirting boards and a threshold strip in doorways, and seal the surface if you are laying unfinished strips.

Laying woodstrip panels

Provided that the sub-floor has been well prepared (level, firm, stable and dry) it is a simple job to lay a woodstrip panel floor.

The panels are laid on a special, ready-mixed adhesive and each panel is tongued and grooved at the edges so that the familiar basket weave pattern is formed automatically as the panels are locked tightly together.

Since the walls in a room are not usually square to each other it is best to start laying the panels in the middle of the room, working outwards to the skirtings where they can be trimmed to fit.

First, lay string lines from the midpoints of opposite walls. The starting point is where the strings cross. To establish how the panels will fall at the perimeter, lay a row of panels dry outwards to the skirtings. To avoid leaving thin pieces at the skirtings, alter the starting point by half a panel width one way.

Before work starts have a bowl of water and a sponge ready so that adhesive can be wiped off the panels and hands immediately, otherwise things can become messy. Some white spirit and a cloth are needed to remove adhesive which has nearly dried on the panels.

Spread sufficient adhesive over an area to be occupied by four panels. Align a groove of the first panel with the string line and press it on to the adhesive. Further panels are added by sliding them into place so that the tongues and grooves engage tightly. Lay the panels immediately while the adhesive is tacky.

Continue to lay panels out to the skirtings. At the perimeter of the room it is important to leave a 10mm gap to allow for any future movement of the wood. This gap is best filled with a special cork strip, though a quadrant or scotia moulding pinned to the skirting board makes a suitable alternative.

To cut a panel to fit, lay the panel to be cut immediately over the last full panel in the row. On top lay another panel with one edge positioned 10mm from the skirting (don’t include the tongue). On the panel to be cut, mark the rear edge of the topmost panel. This is then the line of cut.

Cut the panel with a fine-tooth saw or a power saw. Trim off the tongue nearest the skirting and lay the panel. Awkward shapes are best cut using a coping saw, pad saw or power jig saw, having first made a template of the required shape.

If an exact half-panel is needed, split it down the middle by easing it backwards and forwards until the two halves separate. Don’t saw it or the teeth will quickly become clogged with glue. Each quarter of a panel can be further separated by easing off individual fingers. This is useful when fitting a tricky piece around a radiator pipe or door frame.

Some panels are supplied with a finishing coat which eliminates the need for waxing and polishing. Unfinished panels must be well sanded before applying a floor seal.

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