What an amazingly productive weekend I had! Things are moving right along on the kitchen. I spent most of Saturday installing my new hardwood floors in the kitchen, and then Sunday morning, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Bill came over and Bill taught me how to install all of the plugs and switches, and how to connect all of the wires in the breaker box. I went from being so scared of all of that stuff, to really feeling confident that I know what I’m doing. And after they left on Sunday afternoon, I finished up the installation of my hardwood floors.
On a side note, did you know that when you’re wiring up outlets and light switches, you don’t have to wrap the wires around the little screws on the sides of the outlets and switches?! I had no idea! That always seemed so tedious to me, and I was afraid I would mess up and not make a good connection with the wire. Turns out that I was making it much harder that it needed to be. Those switches and outlets have little holes in the back where you insert the wires. Just strip them about 1/2-inch, and stick them into the appropriate holes. So stinkin’ easy!! I can’t believe I never knew that!
Anyway, I didn’t get my cabinets installed like I had hoped, but that’s okay. I realize that I set unreasonable goals for myself, so I’m cutting myself some slack on this one. 🙂 So let’s take a look at what I did accomplish!
(Hopefully these will be the last photos I take in here with awful lighting. My recessed lights have power now, but I could only find one light bulb!!)
Here’s a time lapse of my progress. My goal was to take a photo after every 20 minutes of work, but I obviously forgot a few.
It took me about 10 hours of work over two days to install the whole floor, including repairs I did to the subfloor along the way. The process was really quite easy and very straightforward, so this is definitely a project that a novice can do.
But I did learn a few things along the way, so I want to pass those along to you.
1. You don’t need expensive tools.
When I found out that no tool rental places in my city rents out flooring nailers (and yes, I did check Home Depot — ours doesn’t rent out tools), I was frustrated at the thought of actually having to purchase one. I went to Amazon and found the cheapest one I could find. I ended up with this Hard Core Tools flooring nailer* for $129.99.
This thing was perfect! I used it with my Porter Cable 6-gallon 150-PSI air compressor that I got at the end of last year, and set my compressor to 120 PSI. I can’t imagine any need for a more expensive nail gun for a DIYer. Save those expensive things for the contractors who use them every day.
2. Don’t be afraid to whack the nail gun pretty hard.
Here’s what a flooring nail gun looks like, and it comes with a rubber mallet that you use for striking the plunger thing on top of the nail gun.
Before I started, I read the entire instruction manual for the nail gun (something I rarely do), and it said very specifically that you should not strike the plunger too hard or you could damage the nail gun. So the first few times I tried, I was getting misfired cleats that were sticking out about an inch.
I was incredibly frustrated, and had just about determined that I had a defective nail gun. But then I decided to turn my compressor up to 120 PSI (the max allowed for this nail gun), and then whack the heck out of the plunger, and it worked perfectly.
So the lesson here is that you don’t need to hit it with all of your strength, but you also don’t need to be gentle with it. You can (and will probably need to) hit it fairly hard.
3. Don’t be afraid to hit the wood with the metal side of the mallet.
The rubber side of the mallet is for striking the plunger on the nail gun, but the metal side is for striking the edge of the floor boards to get them into place and close up any gaps.
When I first read those instructions I thought, “Have they lost their minds?! I’m not going to hit the wood with a hammer! It’ll ruin it!”
Turns out, they know what they’re talking about. You’d be surprised how much force I used on some of those pieces to when hammering them into place, and yet I didn’t ruin a single “tongue” on any of the pieces. I was very surprised.
Of course, I was also installing oak, which is a hard wood. If you’re installing pine or another soft wood, you’ll want to test out how hard you can hit it.
4. Use the right fasteners.
Okay, obviously you need to use the right fasteners, but when I read the instructions and saw that I needed to use “L” shaped cleats, I had absolutely no idea what those were. The Amazon listing for the nail gun said that I could find them at Home Depot, so I went there and wandered around until I found them. (I’m one of those people who hates asking for help.) 🙂
Here’s what these “L” shaped cleats look like.
The nail gun that I used will take 16 gauge cleats like these, or it’ll take 15.5 gauge flooring staples. I couldn’t find any staples labeled “15.5 gauge” at Home Depot, so I had no choice but to use these cleats.
5. Cut off misfired cleats rather than pulling them out.
The first few times that I had a misfired cleat (always due to user error and not tool malfunction), I tried to pull them out. Well, those little things are so incredibly hard to pull out. It’s hard to see on the photo above, but the cleats have rough edges that really hold them into the wood. I tried prying them out with a hammer and the nail removal slot on a pry bar. I tried pulling them out with pliers. None of them would easily remove the misfired cleats.
Rather than trying to pull, twist, and pry the cleat out, I simply used my Dremel and cut off the part that was sticking out.
It took about three seconds, and zero frustration to remove a misfired cleat.
During this whole kitchen remodel, this tool has come in handy time and time again. But even if I had purchased it for the flooring installation alone, it would have been totally worth it for the time and frustration it saved me.
6. Straight, random match pattern is by far the most economical.
Okay, this is kind of common sense. If you do a straight, random match pattern with your flooring boards, you’ll use a lot less wood that you would if you were doing a chevron pattern, right? So that means that if you’re on a very strict budget, and looking for ways to cut costs at every turn, this is one of the ways that you can do just that.
I knew that. I think everyone knows that. But what I didn’t realize is that a straight, random match pattern isn’t just a low waste method of installing flooring. It’s a zero waste method of installing flooring. Literally, the only waste I had when I finished was the one piece of wood that I cut wrong because I wasn’t paying attention. Other than that one board, I had zero waste.
Here’s what these flooring boards look like. Many (most) of you probably know this, but I didn’t — the boards don’t only have tongues and grooves on the long edges of the boards, but they also have tongues and grooves on the short ends.
I installed my flooring starting on the left side and working towards the right side (with me standing on the new flooring as I went along, and facing the side of the room that still needed new flooring).
So once I got to the end of a row on the right side, I cut the last board to the length I needed, and then I used the leftover to begin the new row. That way the cut edges (the edges that had neither a tongue nor a groove) were against the walls.
Zero waste. None. Nada.
That means that the 20% extra that you’re always told you need when you order flooring will literally be left over when you’re finished. I bought my 20% extra, and I still have almost two full bundles of flooring sitting in my breakfast room.
7. Use a pry bar to close gaps on the last piece of each row.
On all of the pieces of each row, you can use the metal end of the mallet to force the board into place and close up the gaps.
Except on the last piece of each row.
The first time I put my last piece into place and had a gap, I sat there staring at it, mallet in hand, thinking, “What the heck and I supposed to do?!”
All that’s needed is a pry bar. Just put it into the expansion gap that you left at the end of the board, and pry the piece over to close the gap.
8. Beware of subfloor repairs.
If you live in an older house like I do, with subfloors made of lumber (mine are done with 1″ x 10″ lumber), be very cautious about doing subfloor repairs. Only do them if absolutely necessary.
That old lumber isn’t pretty to look at, but it’s incredibly strong and…well…amazing. (At least in my case.) But I did have three areas that needed repair, so I cut those sections out right on top of the floor joists (again, using my Dremel Multi Max) and replaced those sections with new lumber.
I HATE that I had to do that. New lumber just isn’t anything like that old lumber. The new stuff is softer, and no matter how long I stood there in Home Depot looking through the pieces, finding one that wasn’t warped was virtually impossible. Plus, the new 1″ x 10″ lumber is narrower than the old stuff, but it’s also a bit thicker than the old stuff (probably because the old stuff has had six decades to dry out).
Ugh. I seriously hate that I had to use new lumber.
It worked out fine in two places, but in one place I literally have a ridge underneath my flooring where the new lumber meets the old lumber. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it does. I could have taken care of it with a planer, but that’s another tool that I don’t have. So now I’ll live with a ridge in my floor because I had to use new lumber to make repairs. And unfortunately, it’s right in the walkway between the kitchen and breakfast room. Just…ugh.
And I think that’s it! Those are all of the things I learned along the way with this flooring installation project. It took a long time, but in no way was it a difficult project. But I will say that my butt and hamstring muscles haven’t been this sore in a very long time. It’s a great workout! 🙂
And finally, because I know at least a few will mention it, no I didn’t use a moisture barrier. I went and looked at the options at Home Depot, and decided against it in the end. The rest of my house just has hardwood flooring right on top of the subfloor and it’s survived that way just fine for 65 years. And I wanted this new flooring to blend seamlessly with the old flooring.
I will probably do some sort of moisture barrier/insulation under the house (read: I’ll hire it out, because I don’t get under the house) at some point in the future, but it’ll go under the subfloor rather than between the subfloor and flooring. But that’s a project for down the line. Because right now, I’m anxious to paint my new floor. 🙂
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