DIY Wood Floor Installation

 *This post contains affiliate links to Amazon*

The decision to rip up the downstairs carpet was easy, it just makes sense.  It wasn’t as easy of a decision for the upstairs.  JG and I disagreed, he wanted to keep the bedrooms carpeted, I wanted to replace it all with hardwood.   We sort of compromised (I think JG actually won this one).  We put hardwood in the hallway and loft area and left the bedrooms carpeted.  I didn’t fight very hard for this one because  1. $$$ –  adding wood in the bedrooms wasn’t in the budget  2. Time .. We’re running out of time!  Granted, we have no idea when (or where) we’ll actually have to move, we just know it’s on the horizon.  So we need to get the house functional and finished before it really gets down the the wire. Finally, 3. We can always put wood in the bedrooms later.

If you recall we installed beautiful dark wide planked laminate floors throughout the downstairs about two years ago.

We still love the look of the these floors, but you can read here why I wouldn’t install laminate again. However, if you’re still interested in installing a floating laminate floor you can read our installation tutorial here.

We chose  3/4″ x 5″ Handscraped Hickory from Lumber liquidators.  We love the color variation in the boards!  There are so many different shades and grain patterns.   It’s hard to believe they’re all from the same type of tree!
Ok, onto the how to!


Tools Used for Hardwood Installation
  • Pneumatic Flooring Nailer *Amazon Affiliate link* (this is the flooring nailer we purchased, you can also rent nailers from hardware stores.)
  • Regular Nail Gun
  • Drill + Bits
  • Hammer
  • Spacers (you can make your own by ripping wood)
  • Nail Punch
  • Mallet
  • Circular saw
  • Pry Bar
  • Pencil
  • Tape Measure
  • Tapping Block
  • Chalk line


  • Vapor Barrier
  • Nails for Flooring Nailer
  • Nails for Regular Nailer
  • Puddy to fill in holes in wood made from Regular Nailer

Step 1: Measure Floor

The first thing we did when we pulled the trigger on the upstairs floor was take measurements so we could determine how much flooring we needed, and what our price range was.  We had approximately 435 SqFt to cover.  We originally added 10% for mistakes, but while we were at the store the associate told us to just do 5% and we could always come back for more.

Step 2: Pick Floor Out


As I said we picked out 3/4″ x 5″ Hickory from Lumber Liquidators.  Lumber Liquidators isn’t paying me or giving me anything for this post.  However, I would HIGHLY reccomend using them.  I was almost annoyed we didn’t check them out when we were doing out downstairs floors.  They had the most hardwood flooring in our price range.  The store was small and easy to navigate, and associates were nothing but helpful.  These particular floors were out of stock so we did have to wait three weeks for them to come in (not a big deal in the grand scheme of things).  Also, when we looked into ordering out of stock floors from a different company they were going to charge us extra for shipping (even though it was not a special order item).  This wasn’t the case with Lumber Liquidators which was a nice surprise!

Step 3: Floor Prep

We started off by ripping the carpets out.  Again, they were in decent shape and I had no problem unloading them for free on Craigslist. I’m really glad somebody else is using our carpet instead of it going to the dump.
1pulling up carpet
Next Few Steps:

Step 3.1: Pull up Carpet and Remove Staples

After the carpet was gone we pulled the carpet staples and tack up.  Floor prep  for the downstairs was absolutely terrible, and took forever because we used pliers to individually pull staples up.  This time around we used a Bully Tool Floor Scraper *Amazon Affiliate Link* which made a HUGE difference  This tool saved us HEAPS of time.  Scraping the nails and staples off is 100% better than pulling individual staples up (USE THIS TOOL!!)

Step 3.2: Nail Down Squeaky Floors

Check the sub-floor for squeaks, if there is a squeak simply screw a long drywall screw into the subfloor wherever the squeak is.

Step 4: Decide Which Direction to Lay Floors

From the research we did hardwood flooring should run perpendicular to the floor joists.  If visual  preference dictates the floor should run parallel to the floor joists we were given two different pieces of advice.  One was from  from  THIS  article.  It says the subfloor will need to be fortified by adding a layer of 3/8-inch plywood.  The other advice we got was from a family friend (who installs flooring professionally) who said if you had this problem (while not ideal) one could probably just nail boards in every 6″ and they’d probably be fine (so you’re taking a chance). Two very different suggestions.. If you’re thinking about installing floors running parallel to floor joists I would highly suggest doing more research.

Step 5: Determine if Room is Square

Before laying the floor it’s very important to determine if the room is square.  If it isn’t, the rows along the far wall will end up being at an angle and not parallel with the wall.  We did this by measuring the diagonals of the room which told us that the center of the room was indeed the center of the room.  We used a chalk line to measure the diagnols.  Fortunately for us our house was actually square (surprising).

I will explain more of this in Step 9, while our rooms were generally square, we had bowed/wavy walls which made our first row difficult (See Step 9 for more info).

Step 6: Bring Floor inside to Acclimate

Bring the floor inside and stack them  log cabin style, and open the ends of the boxes.  We read a few different guides, most saying to let them acclimate for 3 or 4 days.  We did read one guide suggesting to let them sit for 10 days.  We ended up on the 10+ day plan mainly because we got lazy and tired busy after we hauled all the flooring upstairs.

Step 7: Lay Vapor Barrier

Next it’s time to lay your vapor barrier.  We used a 500SqFt roll of Aquabar from Home Depot.

vapor barr


Use a staple gun to secure it to the floor.  Making sure each sheet overlaps at least 4 inches.  Instead of laying it down all at once we just laid it down as we worked.

 Step 8: Pattern

 We unpacked most of our boxes before installing to visualize lengths, color, wood grain variation, etc.  These boards had A LOT of variation.  The biggest surprise for us was the varied lengths of the boards.  When we installed the laminate downstairs the boards all came in 5′ lengths.  These boards ranged from less than 1′ to 6-7′.  So visualizing wasn’t too hard because no two boards were alike.  We did notice while unpacking the boxes that the color gradually changed from a very clean and light color to a dark and varied color, so unpacking allowed us to mix the boards up a little.  When visualizing it’s important that the ends of the boards in adjacent rows never line up with each other.  Lengths should be kept random and at least 6″ away from each other.  While nailing boards in I screwed up a few times and broke this rule at least a handful of times, whoops.
Unpacking Hardwood Pattern

Step 9: The First Row

The first row proved to be difficult again (we had trouble with the first row on the laminate floor install too).  After laying our first row (the first time), we pulled it up, because after laying our second row the boards all had terrible gaps.  For the record, pulling flooring nails out is absolutely terrible… We ended up giving up and just putting them in a giant ‘we screwed up pile’ to use later if we ran out of boards.  I’ll briefly describe what should happen with the first row and then explain our troubles.

For the first row you should try and find long straight planks (good luck) and place them tongue side facing away from the wall.  You should also start your first row on the longest unobstructed wall.  Mind the expansion gap  by using spacers (What’s an expansion gap??  Expansion gaps are important to allow the wood to expand when the temperatures change).  You can either buy spacers (which don’t work well in our opinion), or you can make your own spacers by ripping 2×4’s and nailing them into the wall.  We did this for the laminate downstairs  and made a sweet coat rack with the left over wood.  While trying to lay our first row (for the second time), we discovered that our wall had a huge wave in the middle section and it was making out first row gap ridden and crooked.  So we ended up ripping our first row out (again), and taking our spacers out.  We then very carefully put down a chalk line and laid our boards carefully along that. We made the chalk line parallel to the opposite wall.  This was incredibly tedious.  Once the first row was nailed in things went much smoother.

Also note, since the first row is so close to the wall you’ll most likely have to face nail the first row.  The tutorials we read suggested face nailing the boards at 6″ intervals (for the first row).  With this particular flooring face nailing was no big deal.  It’s hand scrapped and full of knots, and other random blemishes so a few nail holes (filled in with puddy later) really didn’t show up.

I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures during this step, I imagine I was distracted/frustrated and forgot, sorry!

Step 10:  Lay the rest of your floor!

For the first few rows you may have to continue blind nailing boards until the flooring nailer will fit.  Once you get far enough from the wall you can start nailing every 10ish”  with the flooring nailer.  Each board you nail should have a minimum of 2 nails.
Hardwood Floor Install Progress Collage
We bought this ->Pneumatic Flooring Nailer *<-Amazon Associate Link* this is definitely not the highest quality flooring nailer on the market, but for this small job the price couldn’t be beat.  We didn’t have any problems using this nailer, but if you read the reviews it seems to be hit or miss.  One big thing that seemed to help us was making sure to keep the piston well oiled.

10.1- Tools we used for getting boards into place

Laying the floors was pretty straight forward after the initial first row.  However, a problem we ran into that didn’t happen with our laminate install was bowed boards!  I felt like every single board  over 3′ was bowed!  It drove us nuts.  Also, the customer reviews on this particular floor were helpful and gave us a heads up that some of the board widths were  1/16-1/8″ off.  So every time we came across a narrow board we laid it aside with other narrow boards and waited until we had enough narrow boards to use them in a row.

For shorter boards I used a mallet, rag, and prybar to get the job done:
Prybar rag and rubber mallet
Because of bowed boards and the occasional board thats width was off by 1/16- 1/8″  sneaking into the mix we had a heck of a time with gaps in the first  2 rows.  At this point we realized something wasn’t working so we got out our Bessey Flooring and Clamping System(<-Amazon Associate Link) and they were total life savers.  We actually purchased these back when we installed our laminate floors but didn’t use them.  They are expensive ($40 a pop).  But I honestly don’t know how else we would have remedied the gaps.  We have three clamps, and there were definitely times when we used all three. I think at a minimum for a project like this you’d want two, three would be ideal.

Below is an example of the “gaps” I’m referring to and how these clamps saved our sanity…
Before and After Floor Clamp
When we’d try and tap the bowed boards in, one side would tap in perfect and the other would be left with a gap, think if a seesaw.  So we’d tap one side in, nail it, clamp the gap and nail it in.

10.2 Making Cuts

Jigsaw and Circular Saw for Hardwood Installation
Both JG and I were surprised at how far along we’ve come in our comfort level using certain tools.  When we did the laminate floors we made almost every single cut on the miter saw and a few on the table saw.  While for this project we used a jig saw and a circular saw almost exclusivley.  Using the Jig saw and circular saw saved us HEAPS of time because we could make cuts upstairs instead of schlepping up and down the stairs trying to get cuts perfect (our miter saw is in the garage).  I also think our cut quality improved because we didn’t get frustrated as quickly from walking to and from the saw in the garage 8x’s trying to get the perfect cut.  We even used the circular saw for a large portion of boards we had to rip (skipping the table saw), although for really skinny rips we used the table saw).

Although using tools in the house made a huge mess, it was totally worth it and we’ll be doing it in the future.

10.3 -Thresholds

For doorways transitioning into carpeted areas or more hardwood (closets) we laid down a board along the doorway threshold carefully cutting the carpet to fit and then tucking said carpet carefully down.  I don’t think we’ll end up using this as a permanent solution for the hardwood to carpeted area thresholds.  We’ll probably end up adding some type of t-molding to these thresholds.


Hardwood to Carpet Threshold

 For hardwood to vinyl transitions (i.e. bathroom and laundry nook transitions) we used a t-molding and simply cut it to fit, put some glue down and face nailed it down.

Note:  We took the doors and door casings down while installing floors.  While the t-moldings were installed after door casings/doors were installed.

All done!

Hickory Floors Installed

Hickory Hardwood Floors Installed
Hickory Hardwood Floors Installed2
Next up we’re going to try and focus in on BH’s room and actually finish it.  It’s been 1/2 painted/trimmed out for awhile.  And with the loft conversion he lost the shelving in his closet, so we need to build him new shelves.  Things are pretty chaotic upstairs and we’re hoping that getting his room finished up will help with the general chaos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *