Correct floor nailer and gauges

Q: I’m installing Patagonia Rosewood, which is listed as having a 3840 Janka Rating. I can’t find nailers that go up that high in terms of what they will handle, but it appears 20-gauge goes the highest in terms of what it will handle on hardness end. Problem is, flooring is 3/4″. Sub-flooring is also 3/4″. That would be okay, except to level the floor we had to add roofing felt in places, and will still have to level out some spots with roofing shingles. This can add up to 1/4-1/2″ of depth.

I can only seem to find 18-gauge nails in 1.75″ lengths, and 20-gauge in 1.5″ lengths.

Neither seem long enough, but I guess my question is what nail and nailer to use given I can’t pull everything up and start over leveling from the joists at this point (glued and screwed sub-floor). Better to go 18-gauge, even though more likely to cause splits, to gain that extra .25″ of length? Or better to go 20-gauge, so fewer splits, but only getting 19/32″ penetration into sub-floor where no leveling material exists, and as little as 3/32″ penetration into subfloor in some places? Help?

A: You should be using a proper floor nailer-Primatech, Powernail etc which fire cleats, two inches long and 15 gauge. 18 gauge and up? These are pins for trim work, not a 3/4″ very hard wood floor. that shimming is also excessive. You would be better to try to also grind down some of the humps because the 2″ long cleat will only extend beyond the bottom of the board, maybe 1 1/4″. Best to get, even if you have to rent it, such a nailer that runs off a compressor and air pressure.

Incidentally, a floor nailer, not a trim gun, sits on the edge of each board and fires the cleat flush, through the top of the tongue on the board edge.

A final suggestion. Strap on the knee pads, pre drill each hole, going on an angle through the top of the tongue and use 2″ long, spiral finishing nails. Tap them down with a nail set flush with the top of the tongue, spaced every 7″. I’d be surprised this floor stays down the way it sounds you have been proceeding.

Cat urine smell in plywood subfloor

Q: We are putting down a Pergo laminate floor in a den which had carpeting. The carpet and pad was wet with cat urine for a number of months and it soaked into the plywood. The wood has dark spots, but appears to be fairly dry.

We used baking soda and an odor digester to remove most of the smell at this point. You can only smell it if you get very close to the wood. This is a first floor room over a basement, where the washer and dryer are located.

My question is: should we install a vapor barrier, paint the floor, or take some other action before installing the floor?

A: I would coat it with shellac. Zinsser makes a couple of products like this which are excellent ‘blockers’. They dry fast too.

I want to install salvaged 0.25′ x 1.75′ oak flooring strips

Q: I want to install salvaged 0.25′ x 1.75′ oak flooring strips over existing 0.75′ fir flooring. What procedures should I follow?

A: Not highly recommended. These old strip floors don’t offer much of a wear surface. They can usually be safely sanded 2 times. 3 If you are lucky. The floor you are looking at is recycled. After you install it, it won’t be flat and will need to be sanded again. I don’t think there would be enough left of it to make it worth your while.

Related Q: Is it possible to remove old linoleum from original hardwood and still be able to salvage the floor? I’ve peeled a few spots and the adhesive is remaining stuck to the original hardwood. I’m wondering if there is a product that can be used to help peel off the old adhesive?

A: You might be able to hire a floor refinisher who could sand off the adhesive. The floor would have to be in fairly good shape to take a sanding like this. If it is 3/8 strip, it may not be worth it.

Should I install my hardwood right against stairway or leave an expansion gap?

Q: I’m currently installing 3/4′ hardwood in our living room. I understand that we require an expansion joint around the perimeter of the room. My question is: We have a wood stairway railing in this room, on an oak trimmed base. Can I butt my hardwood right against this structure? Or should I leave a expansion joint? This would require moulding and wouldn’t look as good.

A: I would butt up to the rail but leave an expansion gap on the other side of the room or hallway.

Is Koa acceptable to use in the kitchen?

Q: My interior designer suggested I do the kitchen and breakfast room floor in Koa because I’m doing the entryway in Koa with a maple border. Is Koa acceptable to use in the kitchen?

A: I’ve never heard of the wood until your question. My wood dictionary, as no surprise says it is rare and grows only in Hawaii. It is mostly used in veneers and for musical instruments, but no mention of it being used for flooring. The reason may be because it is rare. It does sound fairly hard and stable though, and is also used in gun stocks.

If it is good enough for your entryway, I think it should be fine in the kitchen too. Like any wood, if you drop something heavy on it, expect it to dent.

Can we sand, stain and poly unfinished hardwood floors before installing?

Q: Can we sand, stain and poly unfinished hardwood floors (tongue and groove) before installing? We are trying to match our site finished floors but don’t want to have to move out for 3 days to have the new area site finished. We know the wood type (red oak) and the exact stain (Minwax Provincial).

A: No. The floor will not install perfectly flat. First install, then sand and stain.

Hardest time getting the planks to fit together

Q: We purchased U******** V**** Strip Double-Lock flooring to install in a condo. It is an engineered floating wood floor. We are having the hardest time getting the planks to fit together, in spite of following the directions and allowing it to acclimate, etc. We have used the appropriate tools and kits and have only managed to waste days and planks trying over and over again. Every time we get one to fit, another comes loose. Some are just impossible to get together. Is there some trick?

We are very handy, and, this is our 6th total home renovation. This flooring is the FIRST project that has ever stumped us. Please help!

A: I haven’t used this product. In hind site, I would have chosen Torlys or Uniclic. Your best course, I think, would be to contact the manufacturer. It may not be you. Could be the product.

If the sub straight is not flat that could create an issue too.

OK to just put shims under any uneven spots when installing hardwood?

Q: I’m installing 3-1/2×3/4 maple floors and there is one area of the room that has a hump and is not even. I have already put down new sub floor. Would it be OK to just put shims under any uneven spots when installing the hardwood?

Also, should I nail or staple?

A: I think in the long run, if the hump is a major concern, you should deal with it now rather than using a stop gap measure such as trying to use shims.

The floor is only going to be as solid and stable as what it sits on.

Personally I prefer cleats to staples.

Planks up against a transition piece

Q: When butting 5″ planks up against a transition piece do you just butt them up or do you cut a groove in the transition piece and cut tongues on the ends of each plank for a stronger fit? Is the stronger fit necessary if you use construction glue under the plank?

A: I generally like to have the tongue on the end of the plank insert into the groove edge of the transition strip AND glue both the transition strip and the ends of the planks. Doorways are high traffic areas and I just like to be sure it all stays together and nothing moves, or if there is movement, it all moves together.

Installing hardwood directly over laminate

Q: Please help. We hired a team to lay hardwood flooring down after they removed the laminate currently in place. Today we were told the laminate had been glued down and therefore it would be very difficult and expensive to remove it. They suggest (and say it will be okay) to lay the hardwood directly over the laminate. What do you think? Also, the same folks say there is no need to remove baseboards as shoe molding is easier and cheaper to do. I think that looks tacky. Your take?

A: This laminate as you call it, is it hard surfaced like a counter top? Or is this an all wood product like engineered floors? If it is the first case, no I would not install over it. Even if the cleats or staples penetrate that surface and not bend the core itself is basically a glorified version of particle board. It doesn’t hold fasteners well at all. If it is an all wood product with say a hardwood top layer built on what looks like plywood, then sure it will be fine provided it is nice and solid.

As to the baseboards this can be a matter of taste. It used to be standard to have baseboard and quarter round. In more recent times some have decided they don’t like the look of quarter round and instead use what is essentially a door stop or in other cases nothing at all except the baseboard. If you don’t want the trim then they will likely have to pull off the base and install it again after.

Similar Q: My wife and I are planning on getting our house done in hardwood floors. Currently we have carpet over particle board over plywood throughout the house. One contractor told us that the hardwood manufacturers would not honor the warranty if placed on top of particle board due to swelling if it gets wet. So now we are looking at tearing out all of the particle board first. My question is do we need to build the floor back up with more plywood or is it okay to lay the hardwoods directly on top of the very bottom layer of plywood? We are on a crawl space foundation.

A: Definitely a no to installing on particle board or chip board. You should have at least 3/4 spruce plywood. Make sure the crawl space is dry and ventilated.

Difference in the stability of 1/2′ versus 3/4′ flooring?

Q: Is there any difference in the stability of 1/2′ versus 3/4′ flooring? We are planning to put hardwood in our dining room and have an existing oak railing. The 1/2′ will fit very well up against the railing, so we are thinking of going with the 1/2′ product for that reason.

A: By stability, do you mean expansion and contraction of the wood itself? Not really. It can be more of an issue with wider planks. However, the 34′ boards offer much more structural stability than the 1/2′ will. You should be fine with the half inch, considering the issue with the railing.

Changing install direction of tongue and groove

Q: We’ve just started installing a 3/8′ Red Oak Bellawood prefinished wood floor on a 5/8′ plywood subfloor attached to concrete/terrazzo. With remodeling/construction yet to start, we foresee a possible need to change the direction of the tongue and groove at some point in this process.

Is this commonly done? What’s the best way? What concerns should we have?

A: I haven’t worked with this product. However, with a 3/4 thick solid product changing directions isn’t much of an issue. I simply glue splines into the groove. With something as thin as you have, you may have to face nail and glue both rows which have grooves back to back.

Installing different widths of hardwood in different rooms?

Q: Would you ever lay 4″ boards in one room (small office and small kitchen) and 5″ boards in another room (dining/living room) of the same material (Santos mahogany)? We would use thresholds to separate the rooms.

A: Sure. I (personally) can’t think of a good reason not to do so. Good idea to separate the rooms by a threshold in my opinion. Some people prefer to have all the hardwood flow seamlessly from room to room. The drawback with that is if one area needs attention you can’t separate it from all the other areas. When using thresholds you can.

Durable, dent resistant engineered flooring with a super hard finish?

Q: Are there specific guidelines to help in selecting a durable, dent resistant, engineered flooring with a super hard finish that does not scratch with everyday traffic and chair movement?

I would really like specifics such as brand and collection and wood species if possible.

A: I can’t give you any guidance on specific products. There is a huge market. Basically the harder the wood the more stress it can take before it dents. The hardest north American species is Hickory. Jatoba is also very hard.

Scratching is a different thing. There is no finish I’m aware of that cannot be scratched. Most if not all pre finished floors are coated with aluminum oxide coatings which by their nature are scratch and scuff resistant. This also makes it more difficult to buff such a coating to apply a maintenance coat in the future.

Mirage engineered does come in Jatoba and their AO coatings are now done with nano technology which is suppose to make them even harder to scratch. I do have unsettled questions regarding this type of technology and it’s safety when cutting and especially when sanding. Mirage engineered is amongst the best as far as milling and fit are concerned.

Should I use recovered beetle kill pine for flooring?

Q: Should I use recovered beetle kill pine for flooring? What are the potential problems that could arise if I do?

A: From the little I’ve read about it this pine is dried out and prone to cracking, and has blue stain from the infestation which may or may not be an issue depending on one’s taste. This wood is being used for a building project at Okinagan college as framing.

If you are after a rustic look and can get it for a decent price it could be worth a shot.

If there are a lot of knots they tend to hold resins that can have some minor interaction with finishes like any other pine floor or wood.

I forgot the mandatory 3/8 gap around the outside edges

Q: I got half way through laying down my hardwood when I realized that I hadn’t left the ‘mandatory’ 3/8′ gap around the outside edges. Obviously, this is necessary for expansion. I will finish the job leaving the gap. Am I doomed to see warping or lifting in the section without the gap?

A: Not necessarily. If you feel humidity is a problem, buy a dehumidifier.

Knots, checks, coloration in rustic wood

Q: Our new engineered hardwood has open cracks and small knots. We are replacing our floors with a rustic grade white oak engineered hardwood. We noticed issues in the work he has done so far and have an opportunity to bring the issues to his attention before we proceed to the next floor.

We are seeing some boards with slim but deep cracks along the grain. They aren’t sealed. Similarly, the large knots are sealed, but some of the smaller knots are not and crumbled slightly when I ran my fingernail along one. This doesn’t appear to be all boards.

I’m not sure if it is representative of the cheaper off brand product our installer recommended, or a sign of him rushing his work. It only took a crew of three two days to remove 400 square feet of existing hardwood, screw in the old 1920s subfloor into the joists, add new plywood for levelling, and install the new product. He claimed he didn’t need to leave the product on site for more than a day because they kept it in an acclimatised facility.

Any advice for my upcoming discussion with him would be helpful.

A: This is a product issue or more specifically because it is rustic. Lumber and flooring has grading representing it’s quality. For example best is clear, then select and better, then common 1,2,3. Then you have mill run. Each grade has specifications on what is allowed in regard to knots, checks, coloration such as dark mineral streaks, etc. You won’t get ‘rustic’ from wood that is clear or select and better. You get it from a lower grade of material containing such imperfections. Each box should have come with a paper explaining the product. It may or may not state what you are getting. Did you understand what rustic was?

Follow-up Q: Thank you for your response. We did not understand what rustic was. We did however ask for a Lauzon product that I have since learned was select. Our installer said he could get us a similar quality product at a lower price, showed us a couple of planks from that product and we went with it.

I guess we just buy putty to seal and fill the open cracks and knots?


A: You could do that. Wow, maybe they should have done a better job of making sure you understood what rustic is. Did the select product have the same issues as the one you went with?

If you can find it, there is a filler in a tube called ColorRite. It comes in hundreds of colors. It’s easy to use and to clean up.

Follow-up: Thanks for the follow up!

The select product we looked at had small knots. The planks he showed us from the product we agreed to had smaller knots and less colour variation than what we got.

None of it had the sort of issues we are seeing in some boards. I have attached some photos of those issues (cracks along grain, jagged edges, and splintering that we cannot figure out the cause of). He still has half the job to go so I’m trying to determing whether to keep going, change the product, or change the flooring company.

Thanks again.

A: Why can’t the installer pick boards like that out and not install them? If a large part of the flooring shipment has these defects send it back.

Easy way to correct a misfired cleat?

Q: Is there an easy way to correct a misfired cleat when installing 3/4 inch oak flooring? I had allowed the pressure to drop and fired almost an entire row of nails that didn’t set deep enough.

Trying to manually hammer them in doesn’t seem to be working.

A: Try a hammer and nail punch with a larger head. These cleats are meant to be driven in with one blow. If they don’t and if you don’t have enough control and force with a hammer and punch then you need to keep moving the cleat back and forth until it breaks off.

Related Q: Our new home has hardwood floors and we have lived in it almost one year. We have been noticing lumps in the floors along the seams, rippling to the touch. You can pick the area and it is coming up. Is this caused by weather, workmanship, settling or upkeep? Or is this normal?

I am coming up on my warranty time and need to know if this is something that I need to get fixed.

A: This may possibly be caused by floor nailer cleats that were not properly seated on top of the tongue or were a result of a misfire. Pressure on the adjoining plank causes the upper edge of the groove to elevate at that point.

If you have swings of high to low humidity this could become a problem.

How do I attach trim around a brick fireplace?

Q: I’m in the process of finishing up my glue down hard wood floor on a concrete slab. Soon I’ll be starting on the 1/4 round trim.

How do I attach the trim around the brick fireplace? I’m not supposed to nail it to the floor. Do I use the same adhesive and glue the trim to the bricks? Around the entry way I have painted bricks. Would the glue stick to the painted bricks?

A: I don’t think I would try to install the trim around the brick fire place. Of course, there will be a gap between the floor and the brick. Unavoidable.

I would fill it with caulking or a colour match caulking/filler in a tube such as Color-rite.

Options for installation around the drain?

Q: We are finishing our basement. It is cement with a drain. We are using an underlayment as sub-floor, and then installing a floating floor. What are the options for installation around the drain?

A: You could make a recessed cut out and glue the laminate to it. This would pull out if you needed to gain access to the drain. Or find some sort of grill that will do the same thing.