Installing hardwood flooring step by step – Forbes Advisor


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  • Work time: 8 hours a day
  • Total time: One to four days
  • Competence level: Advanced
  • Project cost: Hardwood floors cost between $3 and $7 per square foot.

POINT: Check hardwood floorboard warranties, most have a 25-year residential warranty.

Hardwood floors can be a stunning addition to your home. Installing hardwood floors yourself is a big DIY project, but not too difficult for an advanced DIYer.

You can install hardwood floors by gluing them together using manufactured wood pieces. There are also click-fit or tongue-and-groove hardwood floors that people use over cement, tile, or radiant heat floors. Then there is the installation of nailed hardwood flooring. Nailing requires a subfloor which you will need to install if there is not one already.

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Security Considerations

If you plan to install hardwood floors by cutting hardwood yourself, you will need to follow safety guidelines when using a saw, whether it is a miter saw, saw jigsaw or table saw. Wear safety glasses, a safety mask, work gloves and hearing protection when using a saw. When installing hardwood floors, be sure to wear knee pads to protect your knees. Steel toe boots are a good idea if you choose to use a pneumatic nailer to install hardwood floors.


  • Tape measure
  • lever bar
  • moisture meter
  • Earplugs
  • Drill and bits
  • Hammer
  • Protective glasses
  • Safety mask
  • work gloves
  • Table saw, miter saw or table saw
  • chalk rope
  • Pneumatic nail gun (optional)
  • Punches and nail sets
  • knee pads
  • Stapler
  • Mallet
  • Long level
  • nail set


  • Undercoat
  • Vapor barrier paper
  • Hardwood
  • Wood putty
  • Nails
  • Strip parquet nails

Instructions for installing hardwood floors

1. Choose hardwood and estimate material needs

There are three ways to achieve hardwood floors and each varies depending on time and material needs. For our purposes here, we will cover how to install nailed hardwood floors. You will first need to measure the space where you intend to install hardwood floors.

Once you have measured your space, add 5% for trimming or up to 10% if you are laying hardwood flooring on a diagonal surface. Remember to round up when ordering hardwood floors.

2. Let the hardwood acclimate

Hardwood floors need time to acclimate to your home’s climate. Retailers suggest letting the hardwood sit for five days before installation at 75 degrees with 30% to 55% humidity. This will help reduce any expansion or contraction of the hardwood.

3. Prepare the area for hardwood installation

Start by pulling up the baseboards and checking the subfloor to make sure it’s level and smooth. If you don’t have a subfloor, you will need to add one. Mark where the floor joists are and cover the floor with underlayment.

A 15 to 30 pound asphalt saturated felt or silicone vapor barrier or vapor barrier paper works well to inhibit moisture and protect floors and subfloors from spills and water vapor from the ground below.

4. Install hardwood planks

Choose the straightest boards for the first two rows. The first rows should be nailed through the face of the board while the others can be nailed through the tongue with a pneumatic floor nailer, which you can rent from a home improvement store. If you are not using a pneumatic floor nailer, you can drill a 1/32″ diameter hole ½” from the grooved edge.

1. Attach a chalk line and lay the first board along it with the groove facing the wall. Place ¾ inch spacers for expansion space along the length and between the wall and the end of the plank.

2. Drive the nails into the pre-drilled holes. 6d or 8d ground nails will work best.

3. Use a mallet to tap the next plank into place and nail in place. Blind nailing is a way to hide a nail using an adjacent board. With tongue and groove flooring, you can drive a nail at a 45 degree angle through the tongue and conceal it with the groove of the next plank.

4. Countersink the nails (slightly sinking them below the surface to avoid interference in the joint) with a nail set and fill the hole with matching putty.

5. Cut the board to fit the end and leave ¾ inch space for expansion.

6. Nail at a 45 degree angle on the tongue edge to each floor joist along the row.

7. To start another row, push the groove into the tab of the first row and tap into place with a tapping block. Stagger the joists 6 inches and nail them in place at the end of the row.

8. Install the rest of the hardwood planks, using planks from different boxes, staggering the joints and leaving room for expansion. Use an air floor nailer after the third row to drive the nails into the tongue, then tap with a mallet. You may need a jigsaw to cut out the objects around the boards. You can rent a pneumatic nail gun for around $40 a day from a home improvement store.

9. Nail the last two rows on the tongue side. Drill 1/32 inch diameter pilot holes ½ inch from the edge. Cut the length of the boards to fit the last row and leave ¾ inch space for expansion, then use a pull bar to join the boards together, then face the nail.

10. Trim excess undercoat, sand and stain. Fill the nail holes with wood putty that matches. (PS: You can apply the dye before or add ptty.)

5. Replace baseboards

When you replace the baseboards, they will cover the expansion space. Hold the bottom edge of the baseboard flush with the top of the floor and nail it to the wall. Next, nail the shoe molding to the baseboard. Do not nail the shoe molding to the floor or subfloor.

6. Install threshold or transition strips

There will be places where the edge of the floor is exposed and you will need to add threshold or transition strips to cover it.

When to call a pro

Calling a professional early in the process can be a good idea, as older homes may have asbestos in the old flooring. If you’re completely unfamiliar with installing floors and want to be sure you’re not wasting money on materials if you accidentally get it wrong, calling a professional is always the ideal choice.

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