Installing Hardwood Flooring

Installing your new hardwood floor yourself is a great way to save on project expenses.

The wood flooring of today is much different from the wide sawn planks of years past. Wood is one of the easiest floors to install. Modern wood flooring is kiln dried and machined to standard dimensions. Tongue-and-groove edges ensure a tight installation with a level surface and, in many cases, wood is sold pre-finished.


  •  There are 15 steps to completing this project:
    Step 1  Check the Condition of and Prepare the Subfloor
    Step 2  Acclimate the Wood
    Step 3  Lay Out the First Row
    Step 4  Pre-Drill Holes for Nails
    Step 5  Fasten the First Row
    Step 6  Continue the First Row
    Step 7  Rack the Flooring
    Step 8  Install the Next Row
    Step 9  Install the Remaining Rows
    Step 10  Straighten Bowed Boards
    Step 11  Frame Flooring Obstructions
    Step 12  Cut Corners
    Step 13  Install the Last Rows
    Step 14  Cut the Last Row to Fit
    Step 15  Install the Trim & Inspect the Floor

  • Hardwood Flooring
    15-lb. Tar Paper, Red Rosin Paper, or Asphalt paper

  • Hammer
    Pry Bar
    Tape Measure
    Table Saw
    Chalkline & Chalk
    Countersink Bit
    Drill with 1/16" Bit
    Floor Mallet
    Nail Gun

Check the Condition of and Prepare the Subfloor
Check the Condition of and Prepare the Subfloor

1  Check the Condition of and Prepare the Subfloor

The subfloor must be wood since this type of flooring cannot be installed on concrete or cement. A 3/4" CDX or OSB plywood subfloor is acceptable. A minimum 5/8" CDX existing wood floor or tongue-and-groove solid wood subfloor is also acceptable. Concrete floors require a 5/8" Plywood subfloor to be installed over a vapour barrier. Hardwood flooring cannot be nailed down over a radiant heated subfloor. Make sure you understand the requirements for your subfloor before you begin the installation.

Check for dips or bumps, sanding high areas or joints. Use an approved flooring moisture reader. If there is too much moisture or a floor drain is present the hardwood should not be installed. The subfloor must be free of any debris, old adhesives, or other dried substances. Undercut door trim before installation. Removed baseboards, shoe moulding, etc.

Acclimate the Wood

2  Acclimate the Wood

Prior to installation, remember to acclimate the wood in the area where it will be installed. Ensure your wood flooring is within acceptable range of moisture content with the wood subfloor. For solid strip flooring (less than 3" wide), there should be no more than 4 percent moisture content difference between properly acclimated wood flooring and subflooring materials. For wide-width solid flooring (3" or wider), there should be no more than 2 percent difference in moisture content between properly acclimated wood flooring and subflooring materials.

Don't have it delivered on a wet day and make sure all humidity-producing aspects of building and remodelling have dried before bringing the wood home. Plan to provide 4" (10.16cm) of air space between the hardwood flooring and the concrete.

Lay Out the First Row

3  Lay Out the First Row

Mark the walls to show the location of the floor joists. For strength, the floor should be installed perpendicular to the floor joists. Cover the floor with 15-pound Asphalt paper. Start your layout at the longest uninterrupted wall that's perpendicular to the joists. At each end of the wall, measure out the width of a floorboard, plus 3/4" (18.5mm) for expansion space, and make a mark. Drive nails into the marks and stretch mason's line between them to lay out the first row or lay out a chalk line connecting the two points.

Pre-drill holes for nails

4  Pre-Drill Holes for Nails

The first and last rows of flooring have to be nailed through the face of the boards. All the other boards are nailed through the tongue only. To prevent splitting face-nailed boards, drill 1/16" (1.6mm) diameter holes for the nails, 1" (2.54cm) from the grooved edge. Space the holes so the nails hit a joist, or as directed by the manufacturer.

Fasten the First Row

5  Fasten the First Row

Align the first board with the layout line, with the tongue facing into the room and along the chalk line. Put a 3/4" (18.5mm) spacer against the adjoining wall and slide the end of the board against it. Drive 6d or 8d flooring nails through the pilot holes, then drill additional pilot holes through the tongue. Countersink all the nails.

Continue The First Row

6  Continue the First Row

Put the next board in place along the layout line. Seat the end tongue and grooves into one another and push the two boards together for a tight seam. Nail down the board (a face-nailer gun is useful for this type of work), moving down the row until you reach the side wall. Cut the last length to fit, leaving a 3/4" (18.5mm) expansion gap, and nail it in place.

Rack The Flooring

7  Rack the Flooring

Spread the boards from several bundles across the room. Mix bundles, and mix shades, colours, and lengths, using the natural variety in the wood to create a random pattern. Lay out the boards in the order you'll install them. Pros call this "racking the boards." Flooring bundles tend to be uniform in colour, and if you don't rack them, you'll create noticeable light and dark areas in the floor. Make sure you finish the process by arranging the joints so they are sufficiently offset across the floor.

Install The Next Row

8  Install the Next Row

Put the first board of the new row in place. Always start a row by selecting or cutting a board at least 6" (15.24cm) longer or shorter than the one used in the first row. Put the end against a 1/2" (12.7mm) spacer and seat the edge snugly against its neighbour. Gently tap the boards together using a floor mallet. Drill pilot holes in the tongues, then nail and countersink them through the tongues (but not the faces) to hold the boards in place. Work your way down the rows, one row at a time.

Install The Remaining Rows

9  Install the Remaining Rows

Usually by the second or third row there will be enough space between the wall and the board you're placing to use a side-nailer gun for this task. Position the nailer so it will drive a nail through the tongue of the board, then hit it with a mallet to shoot the nail through the tongue. Adjust the air pressure as needed so the nail countersinks into the tongue. Continue to work your way across the room, leaving a 3/4" (18.5mm) expansion gap between the end board and the wall.

Straighten Bowed Boards

10  Straighten Bowed Boards

Even the best flooring comes with pieces that are not perfectly straight. Set these aside initially; if these end up as extras, you won't have to use them. If you must use a slightly bowed piece, drive a chisel into the subfloor and pry against the edge of the bowed strip to straighten it. If the piece is badly bowed, screw a piece of scrap to the floor about 1" (2.54cm) from the strip. Tap a wood wedge into the gap, as shown, to straighten out the board.

Frame Flooring Obstructions

11  Frame Flooring Obstructions

Often a floor will meet an obstruction such as a fireplace or counter. If so, miter boards to create a border that frames the obstruction. Position the boards so the tongue or groove mates with the rest of the floorboards. Cut off the tongue if it's on the edge that meets the obstruction. Apply the rest of the floor as you normally would, fitting the pieces into the frame as you go.

Cut Corners

12  Cut Corners

Where the flooring meets a jog in the wall or a similar obstacle, cut corners to fit. Snug the piece of flooring against the obstacle and lay out the cut by marking where the edge of the obstacle meets the board. Allow for a 1/2" (12.7mm) expansion gap at the end of the board and a 3/4" (18.5mm) gap along the edges; make the cut with a jigsaw.

Install The Last Rows

13  Install the Last Rows

As you approach the wall on the far side of the room, it becomes difficult to use the side-nailer. Once you don't have enough room to swing the mallet, follow the nailing pattern used for the first row. Begin drilling pilot holes for face-nailing or use a face-nailer gun, but nail only when you've laid down all the boards.

Cut the last row to fit

14  Cut the Last Row to Fit

You will probably have to cut the final row to fit. Measure the space and subtract 3/4" (18.5mm) for the expansion gap. Cut the boards with a table saw. Put the boards in place. Pry against a piece of scrap on the wall to seat the boards and close any gaps between them. Face-nail to hold the boards in place. If the final row is less than 1" (2.54cm) in width, it can be glued to the adjacent plank.

Install The Trim & Inspect The Floor

15  Install the Trim & Inspect the Floor

Install the baseboard and shoe moulding to cover the expansion gap. Keep the lower edge of the baseboard even with the top of the floor, and nail the baseboard into the wall. Once the baseboard is in, set the quarter-round shoe moulding on a piece of paper to keep it just a hair above the floor. Nail it to the baseboard, not to the floor or subfloor. Nail threshold or transition strips in place where the edge of the floor is exposed.

Inspect the floor and fill in all minor gaps and defects with the appropriate blended filler. Install or re-install any transition pieces, reducer strips, T-mouldings, thresholds and/or bases.

What You Need for This Project