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How to Install Tongue and Groove Flooring

In this video, Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shows host Kevin O’Connor how tongue-and-groove flooring works, how to install it, and some of the tools and techniques required for the job.

Tom Silva gives Kevin O'Connor a demonstration on installing tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring. Tom shows Kevin a prefinished flooring product that he chose and explains how the tongues and grooves line up for a proper installation. Tom explains that it's crucial that the first row be as straight as possible and shows Kevin how to make that happen using a chalk line for reference.

Before getting to work, the two discuss a few methods of installing hardwood flooring, including gluing, nailing, and combining glue and nails. As the two begin installing boards, Tom shows Kevin when to nail through the board's face and how to use a finishing nailer to install boards when a flooring nailer doesn't fit.

Tom continues to explain how to mark boards for cutting and how to tap them into place with a rubber mallet. As the job wraps up, the two discuss how to hide the gaps and nail holes for a perfect finish.

How to Install Tongue and Groove Flooring

  1. Mark the first row by placing the groove side of a board against the wall near a corner, leaving a gap of approximately 3/16 of an inch between the board and wall. Mark the subfloor on the tongue side and measure the distance between the mark and the wall. Transfer this mark to the other side of the room and snap a chalk line between these points.
  2. Run a bead of construction adhesive between the chalk line and the wall. This is only necessary for the first row.
  3. Lay a piece of flooring on the floor, so the outside of the tongue lines up with the chalk line. Use a finish nailer to nail through the face of the board along the groove side of the board.
  4. Place shims or spacers in the gap between the flooring and the walls to hold it firmly in place.
  5. Holding the finish nailer at an angle, shoot nails through the tongue every 8 to 10 inches.
  6. Install the next piece of flooring against the chalk line, aligning the tongue and groove between the two pieces. Use a rubber mallet to join the two pieces before nailing through the face and tongue of the board. Continue across the wall until you get to a corner.
  7. Mark the end piece for cutting by keeping the tongue pointed toward the wall while also flipping it upside down. Maintaining a rough 3/16-inch gap at the wall, use a pencil to make a mark where it meets the previous board. Cut the board to length with a miter saw. Nail through the face and tongue to hold it in place.
  8. Continue using this method until you're far enough from the wall to use the flooring nailer. At that point, lay a new board and tap it into place with the rubber mallet before nailing through the tongue with the flooring nailer.
  9. Continue laying the boards, tapping them in place, and nailing every 8 to 10 inches. Ensure that the seams where the boards meet between corresponding courses are at least 6 inches from each other.
  10. Once you make it across the room, it won't be possible to use the rubber mallet to jockey the board into position. Use a flooring jack pressed against the wall to position the boards properly.
  11. Along the wall on the other side of the room, switch back to the finish nailer and nail through the face of the boards every 8 to 10 inches.
  12. Fill the nail holes with wood putty, buff the surface, and install baseboard moldings.

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