If you are wondering whether staples or nails are better for a hardwood flooring installation, there are two main factors to consider. Your first consideration is what type of subflooring or base you will be installing your flooring on because that will determine your methods of fastening the floorboards.
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Your next consideration should be the manufacturer’s recommendation for installation because an improper install will void any warranties. When in doubt, always check with your supplier or the manufacturer for the correct method.
Types of Flooring and Subfloors
The two common types of hardwood flooring are solid wood and engineered flooring. You can use nails, also known as cleats, or staples on both types.
Fasteners are driven through the tongue of the floorboards so that they will not be visible, which is also known as blind nailing.
The floorboards are normally fastened to a subfloor that consists of plywood installed over either a slab foundation or joists. There will be a moisture barrier laid underneath the plywood. This is to prevent vapors or moisture from reaching the plywood, which would wreak havoc with any flooring installed above it.
Because of the necessity of a vapor barrier, it is important to use only the recommended length of nails and staples so that they just grab into the subfloor. You do not want to go through the subfloor and puncture the vapor barrier. This will allow moisture, if present, to seep in and cause problems with your flooring. This damage can be in the form of mold, mildew, popped floorboards, or creaking.
If you need to replace or repair your subfloor, be sure not to use particleboard. This is because nails and staples are unable to properly grip the particleboard and you will find your floorboards popping up. Use the recommended thickness of plywood as needed for replacements.
Nails vs. Staples
Nails and staples differ in their holding properties. A staple will give a stronger, less-forgiving hold because of its two-pronged construction. Nails allow for a more natural expansion and contraction of the hardwood floorboards with fewer problems.
Because stapled floorboards are fastened tighter; the hardwoods may be more prone to cracking in response to changes in moisture because they cannot contract or expand as well as nailed floorboards.
While staples have become increasingly popular over nails, they tend to damage the floors more often. The tongues of the floorboards tend to crack. This eventually will lead to the floorboards creaking and squeaking until the tongues snap off entirely and the floorboards come up.
According to the blog on HardwoodFloorsMag.com, many installers recommend using nails for installing exotic hardwoods. This is due to the force needed to install staples into these harder woods, which tends to cause the wood to split.
Depending on which fastening method you choose, you will find that nails and staples are usually spaced at the same at intervals. The National Wood Flooring Association guidelines recommend that nails or staples should be spaced between eight and ten inches for solid hardwood strips and planks. For engineered strips and planks, the recommended spacing is between four and eight inches.
If you choose to use staples for your installation, you will still need to nail the first and final row of floorboards by face nailing with your hammer. This is because you will be unable to properly fasten these rows with the stapler against the wall. Keep in mind; this is the only acceptable method of using both types of fasteners together.
The same holds true if you plan to use a nail gun with nails. For the first and final rows you will need to face nail the nail boards because you will not have enough space with the walls to use the nail gun.
When laying all of the other floorboards, you should never mix staples and nails because of the way hardwoods contract and expand with the changing humidity. This will only cause problems later on with your floor having gaps and buckling.
Use the Right Tools the Right Way
Before starting your installation with either nails or staples, you need to make sure that you know how to operate your tools properly. Not knowing how to use them the correct way can lead to injury or damage to your floorboards. Be sure to wear both eye and ear protection and keep children and pets away from the tools.
Years ago, the choices were limited when it came to tools to use for fastening your hardwood flooring. You are no longer limited to spending long hours hammering away with a hammer or a manual stapler. Nails would also need to be trimmed and heads cut off, but this is no longer necessary with the automatic tools that are on the market today.
It may be possible to rent tools instead of purchasing them and having them sit on a shelf gathering dust once you are done installing your hardwood floors.
The choice of tools, whether they are automatic Pneumatic machines or manual machines, will depend upon the wood’s thickness and hardness, and whether the floor is solid or engineered hardwood. Most machines are capable of using either nails or staples. One such brand, the Powernail, is available in different levels for different woods and types.
It is important to make sure the setting for the air pressure on the machines is set correctly for the length of fastener being used. If it is set too high, you run the risk of driving the nail or staple too deep and cracking the tongue of the floorboard. Alternatively, it is important to use the recommended size gauge for nails and staples. Harder exotic woods will require a thinner gauge fastener to also avoid splitting the tongue.
Don’t Skimp or Go Crazy
Don’t go cheap with your supplies and tools. Follow the recommended guidelines for using the correct amount of nails and staples with the right amount of space in between each.
If you put in too many fasteners, you run the risk of your floorboards cracking. If you put too few fasteners in, then your floorboards are more apt to shift and to creak and pop under your feet.
Make sure that you choice the proper installation methods for the grade of your floor if you are on a concrete slab foundation. If you are using solid hardwood flooring, be sure that it is on or above grade. If your flooring is going to go below grade, then you must choose engineered hardwood flooring, which is suitable for installation on, above, or below grade.
You can determine your grade by examining the outside of your home to see how far down the slab is into the ground. If your slab is above the ground, then you are above grade. You are on grade if your slab is level with the ground. If your slab is four inches or lower into the earth, then your grade is considered to be below.
Make sure there are no leaks present that could be coming from walls, entrances, windows, or pipes. Check for any evidence of water damage. You will want to be sure to repair any leaks or water damage before installing your hardwood flooring. If you do not take care of the existing problems first, you are only asking for trouble down the road.
Before installing your solid hardwood flooring, make sure you have allowed ample time to allow it to acclimate to the room where it will be installed. This involves laying out the boxes around the room several days in advance to allow the flooring to adjust to the humidity and temperature of the room. This will help to prevent any severe surprises with contraction and expansion after installation.
Engineered hardwood flooring does not always require acclimation. It is best to always check with the supplier or manufacturer for their suggested acclimation procedure.
Other Types of Installation
Depending upon your type of subfloor and the type of flooring you choose, you may decide that nailing or stapling your hardwood flooring is not the type of installation for your needs. Other installations exist, such as gluing floorboards to the subfloor or a vapor barrier laid over the concrete slab.
It is suggested if you choose to glue your hardwood floorboards to the subfloor to install an additional layer of 3/8″ plywood to the existing subfloor. This is because, if you ever need to replace floorboards, it is easier to have to replace this layer than the original subfloor.
Another option is to install a floating floor. This is possible only with the engineered hardwood floors, not solid floorboards, because they can be clicked and locked. It is not necessary to nail or staple this type of flooring down because the perimeter is held into place by moulding such as shoe moulding or quarter round.
For more information on installing hardwood flooring in your home, be sure to check out the articles and advice available on THIS website!