Brace yourself, this is a long post!
The big day had arrived, a moment we had been waiting for a long time… it was time to install our hardwood floors. Finally we could bid farewell to our retro brown and white terracotta tiles, and welcome our new beautiful warm wooden flooring. Our decision to install hardwood floors and the type we opted for has already been outline here, but I thought some of you might be interested in hearing more about the process of how we installed them.
This was a task that we seriously considered hiring a professional for knowing that it would save a lot of time, but again with a limited budget, and help offered from friends (to whom we are eternally grateful!) we thought let’s just get on with it and learn as we go. This tactic had worked for us so far and now was time to keep plugging away for the final stretch.
We were planning on installing hardwood floors for the hallway, kitchen, living room and bedroom. Now due to height restrictions in the kitchen (again outlined here) we had had no choice but to remove the old terracotta tiles to make room for a new surface. However, this experience, even based on a small space, was enough for us to know it would take a herculean effort to remove the tiles throughout the rest of the apartment. What’s more, with no other height restrictions it seemed unnecessary when we knew it was possible to glue the wood directly onto the original tiles. The problem however, was their wonky, uneven surface. We needed a smooth, flat surface on which to lay the wood for an even finish.
So based on our circumstances, I’ve laid out a 10 step guide to gluing down hardwood flooring, which may come in handy for the other ‘courageux’ out there taking on similar challenges.
Make sure the original surface you are working from is as clean as possible, free from any hairs, dust, and anything else that could get in the way.
Before attempting to level out any surface, you will need to apply a bonding agent to ensure the levelling product used in the next step will adhere correctly. In our case, we opted for this one - a bright smurf blue product. Apply this product firstly using a paintbrush for the edges of your floor surface, and fill in the rest of the surface using a paint roller.
Next comes what the French call ‘ragréage’ (fun to try and pronounce properly), which means levelling. This product is required to even out an existing floor surface, filling out all the little cracks and bumps to give an overall smooth, flat finish. There are some great products out there, which are simple to use and create an excellent surface on which you can then glue down the hardwood floors. We used this one and working from one edge of the wall to the other, the product was poured over the existing surface. The magic mixture will naturally even itself out as best it can, but it is best to apply it in stages, working as a human chain (hence the need for some moral support). After the first section has been poured out, it must then be evened out completely using a leveller, controlled by two people at either ends with very steady hands.
Leave this product to dry for at least 24 hours before continuing to the next step.
Before the gluing process can begin, it is important to lay the wooden boards down in a rough pattern, in order to line up the knots and colours to give your desired effect. Make sure you lay the boards down with the tongue side facing the rest of the room and leaving a 1cm gap for expansion at either end. We found it easiest to work in rows, laying the entire length of one before moving onto the next.
Pattern in place, now comes the glue. we used this one (which looked like a giant pot of melted chocolate), as well as a trowel to spread the glue on the beautifully smooth surface. Again, a human chain is best used here, with one person applying the enough glue for a few rows of boards at the time. The second person should be ready to apply the wood straight on to the glue for maximum adhesion. Once the wood is down, it needs to be knocked into place with a dead blow hammer (to avoid damaging the wood as well as the tongue and groove system) Don’t worry if excess glue gets onto the boards at this stage, this can be washed off or sanded down later.
For the second row, ensure that you use a board at least 6 inches longer or shorter than the first board to stagger the floor for a nicer appearance. Fit the groove into the tongue of the first row and again use the dead blow hammer to ensure a tight fit.
Once you arrive at the edges of the room as well as the last row of the planks, it is likely you will need to cut the boards to fit (if you find that your boards fit exactly the length and breadth of your space then you are the luckiest person alive!) For those of us whose walls are less than straight, this proved the trickiest section, particularly around the stone walls section. Measure the distance between the last laid board and the wall, include the expansion gap, and then cut to fit. When cutting the wood, we found a circular electric saw worked best, giving the most precision.
Once the entire surface has been laid, leave it to set for at least 24 hours before daring to walk on it.
For some, the process will now be complete. For us however, as we had purchased our boards in a natural, unvarnished state, we now needed to sand and varnish them to seal the deal as it were.
Job done, and what a huge transformation.
Hopefully the pictures below will help to illustrate the process. My version is simplified down so don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment if you have more detailed questions.