Hardwood Installation Guide
Nail or Staple Down Hardwood Flooring

NOTE: The tips provided here are intended to guide your installation. You should ALWAYS follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Buying hardwood flooring is one of the biggest investments you’ll make. As durable as this material might be, it is a natural product that comes with personality and sensitivity to certain conditions. As the new owner, you’re responsible for making sure it is installed correctly to protect those unique features. A nail or staple installation can be used with engineered hardwood and solid hardwood products.

Before you begin your nail or staple hardwood installation, check each box for the following:

  • Grade
  • Quality
  • Color
  • Finish

If you find any planks that are not up to par, contact your distributor or manufacturer before you begin your installation. Once the plank is nailed down, you have accepted it in its condition and cannot return it.

*Hardwood runs can vary between stain coloration. Work out of several boxes when installing the floor to get a uniformed look. 

Nail or Staple Down Installation Checklist

Even if you’re not doing the installation yourself (we advise you hire a professional to install nail down hardwood flooring), you should know and supervise the process. If something goes wrong or your flooring is poorly installed, you’re the one who pays the price.

Here are the tools that you and your installers will need for the install:

  • Power Miter Saw
  • Tenon, Circular, or Hand Saw
  • Claw Hammer and Nail Punch (specified by the flooring manufacturer)
  • Straight Edge
  • Measuring Tape
  • Moisture Meter (for both wood and concrete)
  • Chalk line and Chalk
  • Level and Leveling Compound
  • #20 Grit Sandpaper
  • Rubber Mallet and Tapping Block (note: hitting the hardwood without a tapping block damages the finish)
  • Pry Bar
  • Utility Knife
  • Safety Gear, such as goggles and ear plugs
  • Power Nailer
  • Hardwood Flooring Nails
  • Finishing Nails
  • Flooring Screws
  • 15 lb Asphalt Paper and/or Vapor Barrier Film
  • Underlayment with Vapor Barrier (Only for Engineered Hardwood)
  • Filler Stick and Touch Up Marker
  • Broom and Dust Pan

Acclimatize Your Hardwood

Just like in nature, the wood in your hardwood floors swells and reacts to changes in temperature and humidity levels. Before you install your new floors, you must give the flooring time to adapt to the room’s atmosphere.

Turn on your air conditioner or heater at least 14 days before your installation begins. Keep the room at level temperature between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. Using your moisture meter, monitor the moisture in the room during this time. It should not exceed 55% or go below 35%.

Your flooring must have the chance to acclimatize to its new space. At least 72 hours before you install your floors, put them in the room to acclimate to the humidity and temperature levels. Do not unload your flooring during wet or rainy weather. The wood will soak up the moisture and will take longer to acclimatize.

During humid months, your hardwood will expand. When it does, the planks will push against each other. If they do not have enough room to expand naturally, you’ll notice the floor start to cup or buckle.  The opposite occurs in the colder, drier months. As the wood shrinks, you might notice gaps between the wood. Use a humidifier (or dehumidifier) to keep your room neutral during any excessive changes.

Preparing Your Installation Site

Preparing your installation site is just as important as preparing the wood.

Before you can begin, any construction involving wet materials (such as concrete, paint, or drywall) must be completely dry. Close all outside windows and doors, and make sure your room is well ventilated to avoid excess moisture coming in or escaping during your installation.

Crawl spaces must also have proper ventilation. These spaces must be at least 2 feet from the ground to the underside of joists. The vents must have proper ventilation. If not, it could affect the moisture content in your subfloor. If the moisture content of the subfloor is over 12%, delay your installation!

Check your subfloor for stability, evenness and structure. If your subfloor is damaged in any area, you will need to properly fix and repair it. Your subfloor’s integrity is extremely important to the health of your flooring. Once you have cleaned and inspected your subfloor for any damages, you’re ready to install.

How to Install

With the preparations complete, it’s time to begin the installation! Here are the general guidelines for how most hardwood floors are installed. Don’t forget to double check your manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure these match up.

The First Row:

  • Staple down 15 lb. asphalt paper to the subfloor. The seams should be lapped 2” – 4”. If you’re installing an engineered, install your underlayment per the manufacturer instructions.
  • Mark the location of the joists on the perimeter walls.
  • Install your flooring at a 90 degree angle to the floor joists.
  • Determine the starting wall. This is usually the straightest wall in the room. Measure out from the wall and add ¾” for expansion. Use chalk to mark a parallel line to the starting wall for the placement of the first floor.
  • Nail the first row with face nails. Make sure the tongue side of the board is facing the wall. Drill holes through the face of the board at 6” intervals. Finish by securing the board to the subfloor with 1” finishing nails.
  • Along the tongue side of the board, drill pilot holes. Continue drilling these holes every 6” through the board. Do not drill closer than 2” from the end of the board. Finish with a 1” finishing nail in each pilot hole.
  • Install the remaining boards in the first row using these instructions. Don’t forget to align the tongues and grooves snugly together.

Remaining Rows:

As you begin the next row, make sure that you stagger the boards by ensuring the first board is at least 6” longer or shorter than the board in the first row. You can use your rubber mallet and tapping block to move these together and achieve a snug fit.

Nail the first few rows by hand instead of with a power nailer. When you’re ready to use the power nailer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

The Final Row:

The last 4 to 5 rows should be installed manually. You might need to rip saw the final row to leave the required ¾” expansion gap. Drill holes approximately 1” from the back edge and through the face at 6” intervals. Fill in the nailed areas with matching wood filler.

Finishing the Installation

When you’re finished with your installation, clean the floor with a broom or dry mop. Wipe the surface of the floors with hardwood cleaner to remove any extra dirt or debris. Install the moldings and baseboards by nailing them into the wall – not the floorboards. If you have a transition area, install the transition pieces accordingly. Move the remaining boards to a dry, temperate location for future replacements.

Have questions? Need a little bit of extra help? We’re here for you. Start a chat with one of our flooring experts in the box on this page and get a fast answer to your flooring installation questions.

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