How to install a hardwood floor: part 2 (aka the fun part)

img_1859By Elle

In the last installment, I promised to tell you how we chose our wood and the design, to share our thinking about why we chose unfinished hardwood and how we chose a stain, and to explain the steps for installing an unfinished hardwood floor.

First, we chose unfinished maple for the field of our floor mainly because it’s one of the hardest  domestic hardwoods available — perfect for a high-traffic area such as our dining room — and it allowed us to choose the finish ourselves. This came into play even more so because we:

  • wanted to install a cherry border around the entire room
  • wanted to integrate the dining room floor with our kitchen floor, which is hickory
  • can always refinish it

And we got a great deal on just the right amount of unfinished maple (but you knew that was coming).


Our pile of maple hardwood, waiting to be installed. Wood needs to be acclimated to the temperature/humidity of the area where it will be installed, so our wood sat in the back hallway for a couple of weeks.

Installing maple hardwood has some disadvantages. For one, it stubbornly resists stain. For two, you can easily spot scratches because of its light color. For three, extended high humidity isn’t its friend. None of those disadvantages dissuaded us from choosing it. We were immediately drawn to its rich, glorious beauty and decided that if we couldn’t stain it, we would just use a clear coat. We also were set on using a Belgian product called Rubio Monocoat, which offers a protective bond that helps resist scratches.

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Rubio Monocoat is totally easy to use, comes in a multitude of colors and is zero VOC. We’ll use this product again on our floors.

For a few weeks, we experimented with creating our own stains, using various teas and an iron solution made from steel wool and vinegar. If you’re interested in learning more about these techniques, which you can use to quickly age anything made from wood, visit The Brewer & the Baker.


These three maple boards were stained with a combination of our homemade tea and iron brews. To us, they just looked dirty. Fail!


These two maple boards show the results of a few Rubio Monocoat stains. From left to right, top to bottom: Cherry Coral, Bourbon, Cotton White and Mahogany. The Bourbon had a lot of potential in our minds, but the maple wouldn’t accept the stain evenly, and we really wanted to avoid a blotchy floor.

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First row: iron acetate aging from between 8 hours and 21 days. Second row: the same iron acetate aging but this time over tea-stained boards. Third row: 8-hour iron acetate stained board with various varnishes and oil finishes. This series shows how a look can vary over time.

In the end, we rejected all our experiments and settled on Rubio Monocoat’s Pure (clear) coat, which was easy to apply and which we’re totally happy with.

Because we decided to install our floor on the diagonal, we needed to start in the center of the room. It also meant that we had to change the direction of the tongues. After snapping a chalk line, we nailed down a bracing board, against which we installed our first row of planks.



Under each section of hardwood, we stapled down a layer of flooring paper as a vapor inhibitor. Our crawlspace, which is now conditioned space, is right below our dining room so technically we didn’t need to lay down paper, but we wanted to stick with a best practice.

Since we needed tongues on either side of our center boards, we had to cut and glue in an ersatz tongue to the grooved side. This was accomplished with some skillful sawing and wood glue.


By doing this, we now had tongues on the outside edges of our two center rows so we could attach the subsequent rows.


We chose to lay the floor on a diagonal because:

  • the direction completely mimics the traffic flow through our dining room
  • because we’re running tongues in both directions, we’re cutting the expansion and contraction of the floor in half. In short, the floor moves less
  • a diagonal floor looks way cool, especially with a border

Although it seems like we would have a lot of waste, the truth is many boards have ends that are unusable. Plan to use those boards as your cutoffs, and you really aren’t wasting much at all.


Once we had the first rows done on each side, we just kept adding rows until we were done. Sounds easy! Yeah, don’t be fooled. To be frank, this was a shitload of work.


Woo hoo! Four rows done and a crapload more to go, thus a moment of meditation.

The fun part was figuring out which boards to lay where. (Off the bat, expect about 10 percent waste.) Lots of considerations:

  • length (so that you don’t waste too much)
  • quality (checking boards for any visible defects, such as warping and splits)
  • appearance (e.g., grain, knots, worm holes

Some folks don’t care for markings such as worm holes, but we think they have strong visual interest. Thus, we combed through our giant pile of boards, picking out the ones with the most character and then strategically placing them in high visibility spots, such as doorways.


Yay, worm holes!


We chose to install three rows of hardwood along the perimeter of the room as our border: two maple rows and one cherry row. Once we determined the width of our border, we installed the diagonal boards without nailing the very ends since we’d be cutting them off to insert the border.


Here you can see the markings for the border on the underlayment. The Frog tape shows where we’d be cutting off the ends using a circular saw.


In the next installment, I’ll explain how we inserted the cherry/maple border around the diagonal boards and how we (finally!) finished the floor.

PS: If you like this post, please share it with your friends on Facebook. Maybe they’ll like it, too!

3 thoughts on “How to install a hardwood floor: part 2 (aka the fun part)

  1. Pingback: How to install a hardwood floor: part 3 (aka the Big Finish!) | Abby & Elle Upstairs Fashion & Design

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