Installing Wood Floors Like a Pro: Tips for a Smooth DIY Project

Installing Wood Floors Like a Pro: Tips for a Smooth DIY Project

Imagine the radiance and eternalness of sparkling hardwood covering your home. How would you feel knowing that such a look in your home results from your DIY project efforts and that you saved your money by a huge margin compared to hiring a professional? That result is the reason we have this guide for you. From this, you’ll gain:

  • The satisfaction of a professional-looking DIY project
  • Cost-effective installation: Save money—quite a bit—by doing it yourself.
  • Step-by-step guidance: Our guide covers all the bases, from choosing the right wood floor to finishing touches with video explanations.

Prepare to change your space with the beauty and repair-ability of hardwood flooring! Let's get started.

Selecting Your Wood Floor or Essential Items

The basis of the successful DIY hardwood floor installation is detailed planning and the use of appropriate tools. This part will help you choose the tools and materials that will make the project seamless and professional-looking.

Essential Tools for Installation

  • Measurement and layout
  • A tape measure, square, and chalk line will be your best options when it comes to accurate measurement and layout.

  • Cutting tools
  • If the cuts are simple, a miter or a circular saw will be the tools you would require for accurate cutting actions. For some more intricate details, you might want to have a jigsaw ready instead.

  • Installation equipment
  • A flooring nailer, or more generally a pneumatic nail gun, is what you need to nail the new hardwood flooring to the subfloor. A pull bar is a handy tool for ensuring great fitting seams while a tapping block helps to gently arrange the boards into perfect parallel positions. You will also need a drill to make pilot holes.

  • Safety gear
  • Keep your safety in mind by utilizing safety glasses, knee pads, and work gloves throughout the installation.

    Material Selection

    The essence of your work is in the type of hardwood you choose.

  • Solid hardwood flooring
  • This universal option possesses everlasting strength and unparalleled attractiveness. Solid hardwood is a good investment, though it may come with a bigger price tag.

  • Engineered wood
  • The biggest benefit of engineered wood is that it offers an economical option with high moisture resistance. Even though it may not have to be refinished as often as solid wood, it is still a great alternative for areas subject to humidity fluctuations.

    Engineered vs. Real Hardwood Floors: Which Sells More, And Why?!

    Pro tip: Whenever you buy hardwood for flooring, you should add 10% more square feet than the calculated area to account for wasted material during the cutting process.

    The next section of our guide will be focused on preparing the subfloor. This step is the most important part of the preparations to make sure that the hardwood masterpiece you are about to create has a level and moisture-free foundation.

    Preparing Your Subfloor for the Hardwood

    Before it is time to install the new hardwood flooring, the subfloor preparation must be flawless.

    Subfloor Inspection

    Wood subfloor

    On a wood subfloor we will make sure that there is no unevenness and the floorboards are not creaky. You can sometimes eliminate small defects by granulating high spots or placing shims at strategic locations for a flat surface. It's equally important to check if the wood subfloor is dry with a moisture content within the prescribed range of the manufacturer. One major reason for creaking is uneven floor joists. Therefore, be careful with any section that needs extra support.

    Concrete subfloor

    In the case of concrete subfloors, a moisture barrier is a non-negotiable element to prevent moisture from rising and deforming your new hardwood flooring. Also important is that of an even and level concrete surface. If you are a new DIYer, you’d be better off leaving significant unevenness to the professionals.

    Acclimating the Wood Flooring

    Ok, it sounds so fancy, but it's an easy and crucial move that shouldn't be skipped. Consider your new wood planks as living beings that need to settle in their new environment. Just as we have to take a while to overcome jet lag from a long flight, your wooden flooring needs to get used to the humidity and temperatures.

    You are essentially helping the planks to acclimatize to the room's temperature and humidity conditions by giving them a few days to get used to their new home. This will result in the perfect fit after installation and no warping or gapping later on. Remember that you have a manual from the manufacturers. Follow the instructions in it to acclimate your flooring properly.

    In most cases, you will be instructed to set the unopened pallets of planks in the installation area for several days before you can start. The particular time frame will depend on the specific flooring product and your climate.

    Planning the Layout

    At this point, planning is the best move. Even a little bit of planning can make all the difference and make the result amazing. In most rooms, they start installing from the longest wall, and there's a reason for that. It makes the room look bigger and better, and your visitors' eyes will naturally follow the length of the room, making it feel more spacious.

    Some points might motivate your decision on the starting point, such as existing fireplaces or some other objects that are already fixed. Whatever you decide on the starting point of your planking, do not forget that the tongue side of the first row of planks should face the wall. With this arrangement, you will be able to lay down the consecutive rows next to each other using the groove system of the flooring.

    Expansion Gap

    Wood is a natural material that can swell or shrink depending on the moisture content in the air. To account for this movement, it is necessary to leave the small expansion gap around the perimeter of the already installed floor. Use spacers to ensure that the gap is always the same from one installation point to the next.

    How to Prep Subfloor for Hardwood

    Pro tip: Mixing boards from different boxes can introduce variations in color tone and help to make the finished floor look more natural. That is especially the case for solid wood flooring.

    The next sections will help you get the first row into place. Brace yourselves for an amazing makeover!

    Installing the First Row

    With the subfloor being prepped and the wood flooring being acclimated, let's focus on the main part of the installation process—laying the first row! This row is what sets the tone for the entire flooring, so it must be perfectly straight and secure.

    Mastering the First Row

    Snap a chalk line

    Our good old friend, the chalk line, once again comes in handy. Take a string and make it parallel to the longest wall. Do not forget to keep a proper distance from the wall (remember the expansion gap!). This line is the reference from which you must make sure that the first row of hardwood boards is absolutely straight.

    Positioning the first board

    First, put up the board with the groove side facing the wall. Remember that this groove is where the tongue of the next board has to perfectly fit. Don’t forget to use spacers to maintain a consistent expansion gap between the boards and the wall.

    Securing the first board

    The approach at this point will be different depending on the kind of flooring you've selected.

  • Solid hardwood
  • When it comes to nailing hardwood, a nail gun is your best bet. First of all, always prioritize your safety when using power tools. Use safety glasses and ensure that the nail gun is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction before handling it. After reading the manufacturer's instructions, drill pilot holes to prevent the wood from splitting when you nail it. Next, use the nail gun to nail the first board down at an angle through the tongue and into the subfloor.

  • Engineered wood
  • Engineered wood flooring may have a click-lock method or require nailing the first board down. Make sure that you comply with the installation instructions provided by the manufacturer of your chosen engineered wood product.

    Ensuring a tight fit

    Regardless of the installation technique used, ensuring a tight fit between the planks is imperative. This is where the pry bar will become your go-to tool. Carefully use the pry bar to push the first board into perfect alignment with the chalk. The tapping block can also be useful in lightly tapping the panels, ensuring that the surface of the wood is not damaged.

    Pro tip 1: Take your time, particularly with the first line. Taking care of this first row properly and correctly will make the rest of the installation process much easier.

    Pro tip 2: Make a natural look by alternating boards from different boxes as you go through the installation.

    We've really been able to lay the groundwork with the first row! In the next part we will deal with the installation of the following rows with the tricky corners and cuts.

    Installing Subsequent Rows

    Having meticulously laid the first row, we can now embark on the exciting journey of installing subsequent rows, witnessing your dream hardwood floor come to life. This section will guide you through efficiently and precisely connecting each plank to its neighbors.

    Seamless Connections

    Second row and beyond

    The installation process for the second row and subsequent rows will vary slightly depending on the type of hardwood flooring you've chosen.

    • Solid hardwood

    For solid hardwood, utilize the flooring nailer to secure each plank to the subfloor. Ensure you follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding nail size and placement. Typically, nails are driven at an angle through the tongue of the plank and into the subfloor. Remember, we pre-drilled pilot holes in the first section to prevent splitting—a practice you'll want to continue throughout the installation process for solid wood flooring.

    • Engineered wood

    Engineered wood flooring might employ a click-lock system for a fast and easy connection. Alternatively, some engineered wood products might require gluing the planks together. Always refer to the specific installation instructions provided by the manufacturer for your chosen engineered wood product to ensure optimal results.

    Maintaining consistency

    Consistency is key to achieving a professional-looking installation. Here are a few tips to ensure seamless connections:

    • Tight fit

    As with the first row, strive for a tight fit between each plank. A tapping block will prove invaluable for gently nudging planks into perfect alignment.

    • Mixing boards

    For a more natural aesthetic, continue the practice of mixing boards from different boxes as you progress through the installation.

    • End joints

    Pay close attention to the end joints between planks. These should be staggered by at least 6 inches to prevent a "ladder effect" throughout the floor.

    Approaching the end wall

    As you work your way across the room, you'll eventually encounter the end wall. Here's how to navigate this transition smoothly:

    • Measuring and cutting

    Carefully measure the remaining space between the last row of planks and the end wall. Transfer this measurement to a plank and use a saw (miter saw or circular saw, depending on the complexity of the cut) to achieve a precise fit.

    • Securing the last row

    Similar to the first row, you might need to secure the last row using the flooring nailer for solid hardwood or following the manufacturer's instructions for engineered wood. Remember to leave a consistent expansion gap along the end wall as well.

    Pro tip: If nail holes are visible on the surface of the solid hardwood planks after installation, you can fill them with wood putty that matches the stain color of your flooring. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper application and ensure the wood putty is completely dry before sanding smooth.

    We've successfully navigated the intricacies of installing subsequent rows and the last row! The next section will explore the finishing touches that elevate your new hardwood floor from simply functional to a true work of art.

    The Finishing Touches: Transforming Function into Flair

    The final touches breathe life into your newly installed hardwood floor, transforming it from a functional surface into a stunning visual focal point of your space. Here's how to add those finishing elements that elevate the overall aesthetic.

    Shoe Molding

    Shoe molding adds a polished look by concealing the expansion gap around the perimeter of the floor. It also protects the wall from kicks and bumps from everyday use. Choose a shoe molding style that complements the overall design of your room.

    Transition Strips

    If your new hardwood floor abuts a different type of flooring, such as tile or carpet, transition strips provide a smooth and professional-looking connection between the two surfaces. A variety of transition strip materials and styles are available to seamlessly blend with your existing décor.

    Cleaning and Maintenance

    Proper cleaning and maintenance are essential for preserving the beauty and longevity of your new hardwood floor. Invest in high-quality cleaning products specifically formulated for hardwood floors. Avoid harsh chemicals or excessive moisture, as these can damage the wood. In a future article, we'll provide a more detailed guide on cleaning and maintenance.


    You've successfully installed your very own hardwood floor! Take a moment to admire your accomplishment. The sense of satisfaction that comes from a DIY project well done is truly rewarding. Not only have you saved money compared to hiring professional installers, but you've also gained valuable skills and created a beautiful and durable floor that will grace your home for years to come.

    That said, when you meet a professional who knows what they're doing, it can make a world of difference in the overall outcome. Professionals like us at Master of Wood Floors have the expertise and tools to ensure a flawless finish, saving you time and potential mistakes. So, while DIY projects like wood floor installation can be fulfilling, there's no shame in seeking professional help when needed. Be proud of your DIY achievements, but also know when it's best to leave certain tasks to the experts.

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