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Interlocking Hardwood Flooring: How Does It Work?

interlocking hardwood floors how do they workHardwood flooring has enjoyed some innovations in the last few years that have really brought hardwood flooring into the realm of do-it-yourself for even the novice weekend warrior homeowner. One such innovation is interlocking hardwood flooring, and how it works is very simple.

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Interlocking hardwood flooring is a quick and easy option for any homeowner who wants to save some money on installing a hardwood floor. It is very easy to put in interlocking hardwood floor, and it eliminates the need to hire someone to do it.

Engineered Hardwood

Interlocking hardwood flooring is an option that is found with engineered hardwood. Engineered hardwood consists of several sheets of wood, referred to as plies, according to the World Floor Covering Association. Each ply is laid in a perpendicular fashion and glued together under great pressure. This creates a board that is about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch thick.

Engineered hardwood has some distinct advantages over solid hardwood when used as flooring.

Engineered hardwood is generally more resistant to scratching and denting than solid hardwood, as the perpendicular plies makes engineered hardwood flooring stronger. It also usually has a number of protective coats, increasing its resistance to scratching, according to the Selecting the Right Floor Guide of the Timber Merchants Association.

interlocking hardwood floors and how they workThe crisscross pattern also helps with expansion, bulging, cracking, and buckling, so engineered hardwood flooring can be installed in more places than solid hardwood. It can go in below-grade areas such as basements and in bathrooms and other high-moisture areas.

Engineered hardwood can also be installed as a floating floor, which is not really an option for traditional hardwood flooring. Floating hardwood floors are not nailed or glued to the subflooring at all. In fact, floating hardwood floors can generally be installed right over an existing floor with a layer of underlayment in between. This is where interlocking hardwood flooring comes in.

Other Names

Different manufacturers have different names for their products, and some call interlocking hardwood flooring by other names. Interlocking hardwood flooring is also called locking hardwood flooring or click-together hardwood flooring, as it does make a clicking sound when it is put together.

Lock and fold is another name that some manufacturers use, as that explains the basic installation process. Some refer to it as tongue and groove, though it is not technically the same as traditional tongue and groove hardwood flooring or other applications.

Usually, the misconception comes from the look of the interlocking board itself. The top part of the board extends out, and is referred to as a tongue. The bottom part of the board extends out on the opposite side of the board from the tongue. The two overhanging parts snap–or lock–together, keeping the floor in one piece.

Materials and Tools Needed

Interlocking hardwood flooring is easy enough to install, so most homeowners can install it themselves. There is really very little that could go wrong.

Common mistakes include not prepping subfloors properly, not snapping a center line, measuring incorrectly, and cutting the boards to the wrong size.

The tools needed to install such flooring are minimal. Different installers might recommend additional or different tools, but it is usually just a matter of preference. Common tools that you will need to install interlocking hardwood flooring include:

  • A tape measure
  • A chalk tape for making a center line
  • A pencil or other marking tool
  • interlocking hardwood flooring how it worksA saw for cutting the wood, such as a table saw, miter saw, or circular saw
  • A utility knife

The materials needed to install an interlocking hardwood floor are few in number, as well. To assist you as you install your interlocking hardwood flooring, you will need:

  • Your interlocking hardwood flooring boards
  • An underlayment
  • Spacers
  • Wood glue
  • Transition pieces for going from one type of flooring to another
  • Safety equipment such as glasses, a dust mask, and knee pads, as recommended by the HardwoodFlooringNut Blog


Underlayment is a thin barrier between your interlocking hardwood floor and the subflooring or the old flooring you are going to cover. It usually looks like a thin piece of foam, though there are other kinds of underlayment. It helps to protect your wood floor from moisture and it absorbs sounds. Other types of underlayment include paper, felt, cork, and rubber.

interlocking hardwood flooring how does it workGenerally, for interlocking hardwood floors, foam underlayment is used. It may be referred to as two-in-one or three-in-one; this refers to additional sound barriers or vapor films that are part of the product.

There are many specialty brands of underlayment, with some promising superior sound reduction and others focusing on blocking moisture. The manufacturer of your interlocking hardwood floor will likely have a recommendation for underlayment, especially for floors that have a high moisture content.

Another feature to point out is that many manufacturers might also want you to perform a moisture test on your subflooring or old floor before recommending an underlayment. Essentially, such a moisture test constitutes taping a plastic box to the floor, leaving it overnight, and checking it in the morning for signs of moisture. There are more involved tests available, but the plastic box is pretty standard.

After you prepare your subfloor or old floor for your new floor, you lay down your underlayment right on top of your old flooring or subfloor. Your new interlocking hardwood floor goes right over the underlayment.

How to Install the Interlocking Hardwood Flooring

You first need to make sure that your old floor or subfloor surface is properly prepared. This includes removing molding, cutting door casings, leveling subflooring, and removing any dust or debris. If you feel that you are not up to the task of such a project, there are many options of professionals to install your interlocking hardwood floor.

interlocking hardwood flooring and how it worksAnother thing you need to do is to read the manufacturer’s instructions. The instructions will give you any additional information you may need. They should also contain cautions and hints to help you to install your flooring.

The next step is to lay your underlayment down on top of your subfloor or old flooring. It is best to allow excess underlayment to go up the wall; you will cut it later. Pull out any wrinkles or bulges, as you need a smooth surface for your interlocking hardwood floor to float over.

Starting at a wall, snap a line with a chalk line on the underlayment so that you have a straight line from which to start laying your flooring. Place your first board along this line with the tongue side towards the wall.

Add a spacer between the board and the wall to allow for expansion. Each interlocking hardwood floor manufacturer will include the spacing instructions for their particular product.

Then continue the first row. The boards lock in on the ends as well as the sides. Usually, you put the tongue edge of the board into the groove, press the board down, and it snaps into place.

Once you have finished the first row, you start on the next row. Again, the tongue of the next board is inserted into the groove of the first board, and then the new board is pushed down into place on the floor, and the boards snap together.

Continue laying your boards. Most manufacturers recommend that the ends of each row should be staggered at least six inches apart.

interlocking hardwood flooring and how does it workWhen you come to obstacles such as appliances, kitchen islands, and columns, you need to cut the wood planks to fit. Once you come to the end of your room, you may also need to cut a board lengthwise to fit the last piece. Many manufacturers might also recommend that you glue small or thin pieces to others, such as the last piece.

That is generally all you have to do to install an interlocking hardwood floor.  Because the boards lock together, there is usually no need for nails, staples, or gluing the boards to the subfloor.

After Installation

There are likely a few other things you have to do to be completely done. Your interlocking hardwood flooring is installed, but your room is not finished.

interlocking hardwood flooring and how they workFirst, you need to cut your extra underlayment with a utility knife. Then, you need to install your transition pieces where your hardwood flooring ends and some new flooring begins. Also, you need to install your molding pieces around the wall at the floor, whether you bought new molding or are reusing the molding you removed during prep.

Now, the most important thing is to keep your new flooring dry, though engineered hardwood floors can stand up to moisture much better than solid hardwood floors. Clean up spills, fix leaks, and try not to track in moisture from rain and snow.

Next, keep it clean, as dirt and debris can cause abrasions. Clean it with a vacuum cleaner set on bare floor and mop it with a slightly damp mop and any cleaner recommended by the manufacturer, according to the National World Flooring Association.

Use area rugs, runners, and mats in high-traffic areas; use felt pads on the feet and bottoms of furniture; and try to minimize scratches from pets and shoes. Lastly, enjoy the beautiful look of your new interlocking hardwood floor for years to come!

Don’t forget to click here NOW to read more about the care and maintenance of hardwood flooring!

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