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.

No furnace on – can we still acclimatize flooring?

Q: We plan to install pre-finished maple hardwood in Nov/Dec on the main level of our new home that’s under construction. We’ve installed laminate a number of times, but never hardwood. The flooring will be allowed to acclimatize in the home for 1 week. (should it be left longer than this? We live in S.W. Ontario.)

If we’re not able to have the furnace on (installing before closing) to control the temperature and humidity, will this be detrimental to the longevity of the floor? Should we wait? Do we need to leave an expansion joint of 3/8′ or 1/2′? Staples or Nails- which is better to secure the floor? Our floor will butt up against ceramic tile in two locations that oppose each other. Any suggestions on finishing?

A: At this time of year, having the floor in the house for a week is not really acclimating it if the furnace isn’t on. It could pick up moisture in the cold indoor climate. Then, if it is installed and the furnace is turned on, it will shrink with resulting gaps. I would make sure the home is at living temperatures and all wet trades finished their work. Staples are less expensive than cleat, but I prefer cleats.

How you finish up at the ceramic tile will depend on whether the two surfaces come in at near or exactly the same height. Is the tile edge nice and straight? Is the tile lower? There are speciality strips made for most scenarios or you could make your own if you have a decent table saw. There is also a strip called either a dome or flat cap or T cap which will span over the tile and hardwood to cover the joint. It is meant for use when the 2 surfaces are the same height.

Rows out of alignment due the slight variances in widths of hardwood

Q: Despite keeping the first several rows straight I am finding that due the slight variances in widths of the hardwood (1/16 – 1/8″) the tongue is causing the next board on the next row to bow slightly as it is stapled down, causing the rows to be out of alignment.

The wood is being laid at 45 degrees, the wood is Camaru select and better, strips range between 1-7 feet in length.

Are there any tips to ensure that the rows remain straight when stapling?

A: So, the milling on this flooring is not good. 1/8″ difference in width is quite a bit and reminds me years ago of when I had to do sub-contract work to pay the bills and the builders choice was B**** pre-finished. Same problem, same result.

There is no way to keep your lines straight and avoid gaps with flooring that is out by that much, especially when installing on an angle which is even more difficult.

Do you have enough to pick out the boards that are too wide? If you have time to burn, you could always check each board width and cut down the wider ones to proper width. You would need a good table saw and router/table with appropriate bits to cut the groove. Of course you could cut the board down on the tongue side, cut a corresponding groove in the edge and then glue in split tongues or splines to serve as the new tongue. Time consuming and tedious work.

Flaws in lower priced, lower grade of flooring

Q: We recently had hardwood (unfinished, common #1 red oak) installed in our living room. Upon inspection after the finishing (natural stain and 3 coats of tongue oil), we noticed many marks on many of the planks (2 1/4 in.) which range from 1/4- 1 inch long, 1/16″ wide to 1/16″ deep. They are almost black in color and go directly against the grain of the wood. They have been explained as wormholes.

Also, during the installation many nails were placed too closed to the edges and caused some small cracks, most but not all will be hidden by the base. Lastly, there are gaps between the majority planks.

Should I have the flooring company come back and re-fill, sand and refinish?

A: It sounds to me that these are things one has to expect when buying a lower priced, lower grade of flooring. Defects such as the dark pits, dark mineral streaks, etc. are all part of that grade, as are a lot more short lengths. It sounds like the gaps could be caused by poor milling. Again, a low grade product at low cost means less attention to the quality of the end product.

If the splits will be covered by base, I wouldn’t worry about them. The guys perhaps could have done a better job on filling gaps. The NWFA lists gaps as thick as a dime to be “normal”. I don’t see that a complete sanding is needed. The gaps could be filled, the last coat buffed and then another coat applied.

Best wood for a concrete base?

Q: I am looking at installing some hardwood floors in my house in South Florida. I have several questions. What would be the best wood to use as the floors are currently a concrete base? What are some precautions you would recommend I quiz the installer to make sure he know what he is doing? Any other concerns/education you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

A: I would probably suggest quarter sawn white oak because it is more dimensionally stable than many other species and is a bit harder than red oak.

Your installer should test to be sure there isn’t significant moisture coming through the concrete. The flooring itself should be stored in the rooms where it is to be installed for about a week at the temperature and humidity levels that would be considered normal living conditions year round.

He will have to install some sort of plywood base to nail into (and he could use a product such as delta flooring as a moisture barrier first) and the plywood and hardwood should be tested with a moisture meter before installing to be sure they are within 4% of each other. If the plywood is dryer than the hardwood that is OK. However if it has reading above 12% it would be a risky installation.

Related Q: Is it possible to install hardwood flooring on concrete? If so, what method would you recommend?

A: I would use an engineered floor such as Mirage or go with a click product such as Torlys or Quick Step Uniclic. Otherwise, install plywood and then a solid wood floor.

Is it possible to purchase wide pine flooring that’s pre-finished?

Q: Is it possible to purchase wide pine flooring that’s pre-finished? We’re going to be installing wide pine in several rooms (over existing, 160 year old floor w/lead paint). I’d love not to have to move out entirely to have the floors finished!

A: I’m afraid I don’t really know. I’ve never seen wide pine pre-finished. I would suggest you contact or email Timberline hardwood Dimensions in New York State and speak to Steve Crain.

Ugly quarter round at front door

Q: We just had someone install hardwood flooring (glued) from our front door, down the hall and into the family room. At the front door we had herringbone pattern. After installing the flooring the installers used quarter round at the front door. It really looks tacky whenever you are walking towards the front door from the hall way. What can we do to make our entrance look nice? Also, as you are walking down the hall way to the front door, on the left hand side about three feet from the door there is a piece of wood that is about a half inch higher than the other flooring. Is there anything that we can do about that or is it something that we are going to have to live with since the flooring is glued?

A: They probably used the quarter round to hide a small gap between the floor and the outside front wall or threshold. Maybe a smaller, less conspicuous piece of quarter round or some alternate trim can be used instead. As for the raised piece, I don’t know. If this is pre-finished I would have thought that should have been dealt with at the time of installation. Or it is possible, if they used a heavy polyurethane adhesive that the one piece shifted after they left the job as the adhesive started to set. You might have to live with it.

1/4 Ply pops and cracks, should install be halted?

Q: We are putting in 7/16 engineered hardwood. The contractor tore out our old floor and tile, put down Auquabar “B” underlayment, and then stapled down 1/4 ply. This was so that the new floor would be the proper height for our other floor tile in the home.

He has yet to put down our wood flooring as it is acclimating to the house. However the 1/4 ply that we are walking on pops and cracks. I do not want my new floor to sound like this. Our old floor did not make noise. the contractor tells me that when they nail and glue down my new floor it will be fine. But I feel like something isn’t right. Thoughts? I do not want to move forward and find out the prep work was done incorrectly. They did not fill gouges or level the floor. I was told that was not what installers do and that the new 1/4 ply would cover all the gouges from the tile tear out.

A: I would not expect cracking and popping of the plywood. I don’t know what is under that and the vapor layer but he best make sure that is absolutely secure before he starts installing the engineered because it will be as solid as the surface it sits on. If the sub floor moves it will also.

Follow-up Q: Thank you for your response. The ¼ ply is stapled to our existing sub floor. We have a raised foundation and crawl space. So I believe our existing sub-floor was 3/4 inch plywood. Not sure why they put the Aquabar B down in between as the surface is dry.

It feels like the new ¼ “(measures less), is flexing in spots and we can lay a straight edge and see that we have high and low spots. They tell us they will glue and nail the floor solid!, Also that we do not need paper between the new engineered and the ¼”. I thought you had to have some sort of barrier between the wood?

A: The aquabar, though I’ve not worked with it is the vapor retarder or membrane. The adhesive itself will do nothing to make the floor solid if it is attached to a surface beneath which is not secured. Having said that the plywood is only 1/4″, probably poplar and it simply provides a smooth surface. It would likely flap about a bit. It’s usually used for vinyl floor installations. If they feel confident their cleats will go through all this and give good grab on the original plywood subfloor then it should pull everything tight. I’d still be inclined to bang in a few ring nails. Just keep an eye on it without putting the workers under a lot of stress. Show them your concerns and then the responsibilities are on them. Get it in writing if that would make you feel better. That shouldn’t offend them because it is our job to earn the home owners trust. I do believe everything will be fine. I personally like to remove any doubt if I can.

Follow-up: Thank you, I believe that given how uneven the sub floor is due to tear-out of old tile and hardwood, The holes should have been filled and even out. The engineered wood manufacturer confirmed that the specs need to be followed for a warranty to offer any coverage, should a problem arise down the road. They want paper a vapor barrier between the sub floor and their product. Not under a new layer of sub-floor. No wood on wood they say. So I think it’s best to stop the project. Thank you for your help.

Filling grooves from shrinkage

Q: I have recently installed tongue and groove spruce floors. The boards shrunk a bit so there are grooves between most of the boards. I have applied a mixture of 1/2 stain 1/2 waterlox to the wood but am wondering what you would suggest to use as a final coating that would give a harder finish and also fill in the grooves? Thanks.

A: I have used Waterlox several times including staining a very large pine floor with stain mixed with the oil coating. It worked really well. Waterlox is meant to be a finish coat and there is no need to screen it between coats if you need to freshen it up. That is a big plus. However, it isn’t a hard surface coating. If you want that sort of finish I would use Poloplaz Primero. Great polyurethane and applies beautifully well with a roller. You will likely need two coats over the Waterlox but you will have to judge yourself after applying one coat. 500 Sq. feet per gallon.

It isn’t unusual the spruce shrunk and left gaps. I’d give it a full 4 seasons to see if some of them close up. There isn’t a fail safe wood filler I’ve used or heard of. If there is any movement between boards or even vibration, it will eventually crack and start falling out.

New heart pine doesn’t match old heart pine

Q: I recently had a room converted to hardwood floors and asked that the floors match the existing wood in the house. I’d like to send you pictures to get your opinion. Apparently the existing wood is “heart pine”, possibly antique. The company that installed the new floor is telling I got “heart pine”, but it doesn’t look the same.

A second professional came out and told me the problem was the floors were a different type of wood, but from what I’ve found out online there seems to be no set definition of heart pine and that it comes in different %. Any advice on how to not be taken advantage of by the company that did the install?

A: My view is that I would never tell a home owner I can exactly match a new floor with an older one. Wood changes over time, certainly in colour.