Hardwood Floor Installation Guide

Installation of solid hardwood flooring has its challenges, but they can be overcome, and your floors can look their best with the unsurpassed beauty and durability of hardwood flooring. The toughest part of installing a hardwood floor is trimming around obstacles such as floor vents or pipes. If you are comfortable with moderate to advanced DIY projects, you might consider installing the flooring yourself, otherwise our professional installers may be the best option for you. 

See below for the tools you’ll need, and go over the step by step installation guide before launching the project. They’ll help you decide if doing it yourself if it's the right choice. If not, hire our flooring pros for the installation and you’ll get the peace of mind knowing that it's in good hands. Don’t forget to take a look at our Hardwood buyers guide, and our guide on Cleaning and Maintaining your floor.

Tools and Supplies

Here’s a list of the essential tools and supplies you’ll need for the installation of solid hardwood floors.

  • Hand tools: Tape measure, pencil, framing square, coping saw, hammer, jamb saw, glue knife (if gluing engineered flooring).
  • Power Tools: Compound miter saw, jigsaw, circular saw if installing subflooring, jamb saw for cutting door stops – though you might be able to use a jigsaw or hand saw.
  • Installation Tools: Air compressor and nailer. Tape Measure.
  • Supplies: Chalk line, vapor barrier, nails for the nail gun and for hand-nailing first and last boards. Hardwood glue (if gluing engineered floors) You should also consider wearing safety goggles for all cutting jobs.

Preparing the Floor for Installation

The first step is to get rid of any existing flooring and shoe molding. If it is carpet, make sure you nail down or remove the padding staples. A flat shovel is a great tool for removing staples and loose debris. Remove the tack strip too, of course. If it was vinyl flooring or linoleum flooring, get rid of glue by sanding it down or scraping it off with a flat shovel.

The subfloor should be OSB or plywood and needs to be reasonably level. If it contains significant dips, you may need to fill the dips with something.

If the subfloor is high in spots, you can sand it if it is plywood. If OSB, you’ll need to pull the sheet and sand or plane the crown on the joist below. Glue and screw down the OSB when replacing it.

Walk all the subfloor listening for squeaks. If you find one, pull the subfloor, add glue and screw it down too.

If you’ve got a concrete floor beneath, you’ll need to install a wood subfloor if using Solid Hardwood. Engineered hardwood, however, can be glued directly to to the concrete. Another option is to use engineered wood flooring directly over concrete. That’s a very good choice when you’ve got radiant heat in the concrete floor.

Installation Techniques

It is best practice to bring the material indoors at least 48 hours before installation. This will allow it to acclimate to the indoor temperature and humidity which is important to prevent shrinking or swelling later. Then, before you start, mix 3-5 boxes of wood to ensure a blend of tones and shades.

Step 1: Remove all of the baseboard/shoe molding from the room. Be very careful when removing it so that you don’t split the wood. Pry it away from the wall, and when you find a nail, use a flat bar to pull the trim off the nail or use a hammer to remove the nail with the trim.

Step 2: When installation of the first row is correct, the rest of the job can go very smoothly. When possible, start along the longest run of outside wall in the room. Snap a chalk line 3/8” out from the base of the wall, and align your wood planks with the chalk. The gap will be covered by molding, and you’ll get off to a straight start.

Step 3:

  • For installing over a wood subfloor: use your nailer to drive fasteners through the groove and into the floor at a 45-degree angle. Make sure the nail head is level with the wood or slightly below the surface. Adjust your nailer to get the right depth. Put in a staple every 6” to 8”.
  • For gluing down Engineered wood:  If you are gluing the flooring to concrete, tile flooring or final flooring, apply the glue to the bottom of each plank with a glue knife. Read the manufacturer’s direction for how much to apply. When gluing, gently tap the piece using the tapping block so that the tongue fits tightly into the groove.

Step 4: Start the second row by choosing a piece of different length than the first one. Add glue if necessary. Gently tap the piece with the tapping block so that the tongue and groove fit snugly. Then, staple the piece if you are using a nailer. Continue with this method row by row throughout the room.

When you get near the far wall, space may become tight. You won’t be able to get a tapping block between the wall and the new piece. That’s where the pulling bar comes in handy. Slip the lip over the far end of the new piece, and use your hammer to tap on the upright piece of the pulling bar. This will pull the new piece snug with the installed piece.

Step 5: Trimming pieces to fit around floor vents, pipes and through door jambs is the most difficult part of the job. As they say, measure twice and perhaps you’ll need to cut only once. Take your time. Your jigsaw and coping saw will be useful for these cuts.

If cutting around a pipe, measure to the center of the pipe. Cut a piece that length and then cut a slightly-oversize half-circle for the pipe. Make an identical cut at the start of the next piece and fit it around the pipe.

For door jambs, it is easier to remove the jamb and slide the wood plank beneath it than it is to scribe around the jamb. Lay a piece of scrap flooring next to the jamb so you know how high to cut in order to remove it. Use a jamb saw or coping saw for the job.

Step 6: When you get to the far side of the room, you’ll have the same issue you started with. Your nailer won’t fit. So, you’ll have to drill pilot holes and blind nail the boards using a nail set. If using Solid Hardwood, be sure to trim the last board so that a 3/8” gap exists between it and the wall. This allows for expansion of the wood in warm and humid weather. If it is too tight, it will buckle in high humidity and warmth. The gap will be covered by the shoe molding.

Finishing the Job

Once the floor field is in place, replace the old trim or add new trim along with thresholds to complete the project. Before moving furniture back into the room, clean the floor entirely. See the Hardwood Flooring Maintenance, Care and Cleaning Guide for details on how to clean your new floor to keep it in great shape through the years.

Also, get cushioning pads for all furniture legs. This is true even for kitchen chairs. Carry furniture to its location rather than sliding it across the floor. If you must slide it, place carpet pieces under each leg with the nap side down.