How To Install Hardwood Floors: Oak Flooring

There are many how to articles on the internet focusing on how to install hardwood floors. Much of these how to's offer one or two sentences to broadly cover topics that should be explained in depth. This guide is meant to specifically explain the installation techniques involved for installing oak flooring. Many hardwood floor installation techniques are similar across wood species, but oak flooring is amongst the most popular of all hardwoods. The tight grain of oak, especially if the wood is rift or quarter-sawn, lends well to easy nailing and less splinters. Let's begin the process by going over the step by step Categories for installing oak floors. 

  • Material calculation
  • Flooring layout
  • Hardwood floor acclimation
  • Beginning installation
  • Middle of installation
  • Finishing techniques

Calculating Materials

The first installation step is to calculate your flooring materials. I standard tape measure is the only tool needed. If the shape of the room you are installing on is square or rectangle, measure the entire length and width of the room. Multiply the two perimeter numbers to find the square footage of flooring needed. Add at least 10-20 percent onto the measurement by multiplying the square footage by .10 to .20 respectively. 

Hardwood Floor Layout

Next in the installation process is figuring out the installation layout. If you are installing your oak floor as a continuation of, or an extension of flooring in another room, this step is easy. However, if you are starting with a black slate, there are techniques you can implement to make the installation process easier. For example, if your room is rectangular in shape, install in a fashion that runs the planks on the short wall. Installing this way makes any irregularities to square much less noticeable. 

Hardwood/Oak Flooring Acclimation

The acclimation of oak hardwood is a natural process that is necessary prior to installation. Allowing the wood to breathe in it's new atmosphere is crucial for a good, long term install. Oak flooring acclimation periods range by species and geographical location. Use your oak flooring source to get the acclimation period. When the acclimation period is found, wait the appropriate time before you install. Also, acclimation needs to happen in the install area, not your garage or basement. 

Beginning of Installation

Beginning the installation of your oak floor is, by far, the most important step. There are two common methods amongst industry professionals to start the installation. The first method starts laying the oak planks on one end of the room to the other. This method may seem like the easiest, but before you get too comfortable with that idea, stop for a moment. If you install in this fashion, you need to make absolutely sure that the first plank you nail down is perfectly square to the other end of the room. Another option for beginning installation is to locate the precise or absolute middle of the installation space. Installing in this method requires that you to insert an additional tongue in the female groove. Doing so will allow you to install from the middle of the room on both sides. You may find that this method will allow more minor adjustments along the way.

Middle of Installation

By now, you should be getting used to the proper operating techniques of the flooring stapler or nail gun. Once you have one long run installed, it really just comes down to pure labor. Make sure to take as many breaks as needed. Using a flooring nailer can be particularly taxing on your lower back with extended use. Be sure to refill the pneumatic oil for you gun several times during the installation. Because of the brittle nature of the oak flooring, a dry gun has the potential for damage and more importantly, a danger to the installer. 

Finishing the Installation

You should be nearing the end of the wall (or both walls if using installation method two) at this point. If you have been measuring along the way, the distance between your second to last board should be about the same. Don't worry if your variance is an inch or less. Remember that you'll be putting baseboard and base shoe onto the wall anyway. Also, you need to allow for at least a half inch of gap for expansion and contraction. Installing the floor too tight to the wall will cause the flooring to buckle over time. At this point, the flooring stapler will no longer fit between the wall and the last floor board. The last oak board or boards will need to be face nailed. Face nailing is nailing the board from the top down rather than from the groove. Unless you got very lucky, the very last board will need to be ripped down to size with a table saw. On a side note about tools, you can be certain that any tool rental or purchase will be worth the money. If you received even one installation quote from a professional, you know that installation prices run into the 6-9 dollar per square foot range. Installing your oak floor yourself will both save money and add to your tool collection. I hope you found this piece useful. I'd be more than willing to answer any questions in comments. Also, see related videos and my other dwelling improvement articles below.

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