DIY Flooring: How to Install Engineered-Wood Flooring

Do-it-yourself flooring has never been easier with snap-together, "floating" engineered-wood flooring. Follow these step-by-step instructions for how to put in wood floors.


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Known as engineered flooring, this flooring material is made of layers of wood topped with a thick hardwood veneer. A locking tongue-and-groove arrangement snugs the planks together. Engineered flooring is prefinished, stable, and relatively inexpensive. Because the planks lock together so firmly, you can "float" the floor -- another way of saying the floor need not be nailed in place.

What You'll Need

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  • Foam underlayment
  • Floating wood flooring
  • Glue
  • Carpenter's square
  • Safety goggles
  • Hammer
  • Tapping block
  • Utility knife
  • Clamps
  • Putty knife
  • Rubber mallet
  • Wood shims
  • Pry bar
  • Saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Rags

Prep Time

Buy the flooring a few days in advance and store it indoors, as it must acclimate.

When you're ready to install, gently pry the quarter-round trim from the walls. For painted trim, avoid chipping by running the blade of a utility knife along the junction between the top of the quarter-round trim and the molding. If you break a piece, don't panic; it can be glued. Next, to avoid making fancy cuts in flooring planks, undercut the door trim to the height of the planks using a fine-tooth handsaw. Remove protruding nails or screws in the old floor, then vacuum or sweep.

Getting Started

Measure the distance between the starting and ending walls. Divide that number by the width of one plank. The resulting figure is how many rows of planks you'll need. If there is a remainder less than 2 inches, trim your first and last row of planks lengthwise by half that amount. Check the instructions to see which plank edge should face the wall. Also check to see how much of a gap between the wall and the flooring is recommended to allow for normal expansion and contraction. If your wall is uneven, don't hesitate to leave more of a gap than required; but stay short of 1/2 inch -- the width of the quarter-round trim that will cover the gap.

Step 1: Unroll the foam.

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Foam underlayment beneath the floor adds a little bit of cushion between the subfloor and wood flooring. Lay one row at a time, and use tape to secure the pieces together.

Step 2: Place and glue the starter row.

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Working left to right, place the starter row, applying a 1/8-inch bead of adhesive to the bottom groove lip of the end (not the sides) of each board. (Some manufacturers require a straight board be used as a guide for the starter row.) Use a rag to wipe off excess glue.

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Getting the starter row straight is important -- some manufacturers recommend that you install a temporary guide board. Gluing requirements vary; some manufacturers require that the sides and ends of all planks be glued by applying adhesive into the groove. Others ask that you glue the ends of the starter row. (Either way, have a damp rag handy to quickly wipe off excess.) For the sake of appearance, always stagger joints by at least 1 foot.

Step 3: Tip plank in place.

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Set the tongue of the new plank into the groove of the plank already installed, so their ends align. Tip the plank downward to lock it into place. Continue placing the planks in the rows. Stagger joints by at least 1 foot.

Step 4: Mark for crosscutting with backward-upside-down approach.

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By turning a plank upside down and rotating it 180 degrees, you can accurately mark it, and, when cutting it, avoid feathering the finished wood surface. Remember to keep the space equal between planks, and, as shown here, between the planks and adjacent tile surface.

Step 5: Make a cut.

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Where marked, make an inch-long cut, then stop the saw and slide a carpenter's square or another board against its blade. Clamp or firmly hold it in place, using it as a straightedge guide, and finish your cut.

Editor's Tip: A saber saw is the safest and least expensive power tool for cutting flooring. Always make your cuts with the wrong side of the material up.

Step 6: Mark final row pieces for lengthwise cutting.

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If you trimmed planks earlier for use in your last row, use them now. Otherwise, trim lengthwise as in Step 5. On this row, wedge the groove in and tap it in place firmly with the rubber mallet, as it lacks an anchoring plank on the wall side.

Remember to allow for the gap between the flooring and the wall or where it transitions to another surface; a spacer is handy. Where you can't tip the board to lock it in place (say, under a cabinet toe-kick), you can chisel off the locking ridge from a plank and glue the final piece in place. To finish, reapply the quarter round and the necessary transition pieces.

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Where new flooring meets old (such as in a doorway), install transition trim that bridges the gap between two even surfaces or smooths a 1/4-inch difference in height. Many transition profiles are available. They are prefinished and will involve only cutting to length and fastening in place. Often, you can use what was there before.

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Nail the trim using 4d (4 penny) or 6d finishing nails, sinking them beneath the surface of the trim with a nail set. Better yet, rent a gas-powered trim nailer. With the pull of a trigger, it shoots and sets trim brads.

If you choose to cut new quarter round, remember to cut ends at a 45-degree angle to minimize seams. You might discover that corners are seldom square enough for simple miter joints. Instead, cut one piece straight, then cut another piece at the appropriate angle to make a tight corner joint.

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