Whether you’re an ambitious DIY’er or a pro on the go, here are some handy tool recommendations to make your next tongue-and-groove floor installation go down more smoothly.
With a dedicated flooring saw, save time and energy by cutting boards right where you install them, rather than cycling back and forth between the floor and your sawhorses each time you need to resize a board. When flooring meets the walls of a room, the boards generally have to be cross-cut or ripped to width. A portable flooring saw uses a circular blade that glides along dual rails above an integrated work surface to make fence-guided rips with the accuracy of a table saw. Use the saw’s angle gauge to make straight or diagonal cuts with the accuracy of a miter saw. Attach a shop-vac hose to the dust port while cutting to collect sawdust for a tidy work environment.
The HIR team uses a Skil Flooring Saw, which features a high-RPM, 7-amp motor, similar to a grinder motor that turns in the neighborhood of 11,000 RPM to achieve fine cuts with a small 4-3/8-in. diameter blade. The saw comes in a small, lightweight package, is easy to carry, and cuts flooring up to 3/4-in. thick.
“Buzz Cutter” is a pet name the HIR team has given to the awkwardly termed “oscillating multi-tool,” which has been given a different label by every manufacturer. Bosch has the Multi-X, Rockwell calls it the Sonicrafter, Dremel dubs theirs the Multi-Max, but they’re all Buzz Cutters to us.
Available in both corded and cordless versions, these tools use high-speed oscillation rather than a rotating or reciprocating blade, which enables the various accessory blades to scrape, sand, plunge-cut, flush-cut and more. The oscillating action allows the user to perform either the fine, detail work of a jigsaw or to tackle more aggressive floor-installation applications.
One of the unintended consequences of installing a new floor, for example, is the increased height of the finished surface, which often won’t fit beneath existing door casings. A buzz cutter equipped with a flush-cutting wood blade makes it easy to undercut the casing so the flooring will fit beneath the trim. These multi-function tools can be equipped with a variety of different accessories for cutting off pipe, removing grout, making electrical cutouts and much more.
For securing the first and last few rows of nail-down T&G flooring, a 16-gauge finish nailer provides more working room against walls and a better line of sight than a stand-up tool. The 16-gauge nails leave a smaller, less visible hole when face-nailing. Or, use the tool to blind-nail the boards at a 45-deg. angle through the pocket of the tongues, which conceals the fasteners within the joint.
Once you’ve installed the first few rows of nail-down T&G flooring, you’ll have enough clearance to employ the tool of choice for most professional flooring installers—a pneumatic flooring stapler (usually available to DIY’ers at rental outlets). Powered by an air compressor, these mallet-actuated fastening tools secure the joints with a rock-solid connection using 14- to 16-gauge wire staples up to 2" long.
A quality floor stapler is a worthwhile investment for a flooring professional, and a recommended rental item for DIY installers because of the time and labor saved, when compared to hand-nailing.
Heavy-Duty Pull Bar
To pull tongue-and-groove boards away from a wall when there’s no clearance to use a hammer and tapping block, most installers use a pull bar. The problem with a cheap S-shaped pull bar is that over time, all the hammer strikes can bend the tab outward so it no longer catches the hammer blows, which renders the pull bar useless. Furthermore, with shorter pull bars, the close proximity of the tab to the wall can make it difficult to swing the hammer.
That’s why we like the design of the Bullet Tools’ Heavy Duty Pull Bar. It has a steel block that provides a heavy-duty hammer contact point that doesn't absorb your strike. It’s 17 inches long for better reach and clearance, and the fully felted bottom protects your new flooring. It even has a beveled end to pry into tight spaces.
Need to make a complicated cut in a piece of flooring? You can make a paper template, or maybe map it by taking multiple measurements … or you can save time by using a contour gauge. A contour gauge is designed to duplicate any shape instantly. This profile gauge creates an instant template for curved and odd shaped profiles, which you can trace onto the workpiece to guide the cut. Similar to a hair comb, the tool (also known as a profile comb) features a row of long, thin, moveable teeth and a perpendicular housing that holds them in place as they take an impression of the surface. A contour gauge is ideal for fitting flooring around moldings, copying curves, and a variety of other contour-matching jobs. Two 10-in. gauges can be combined to measure and duplicate larger shapes. The tool fits around most common pipes and round columns, so you can grab a pencil and easily copy shapes to tile, laminate, engineered wood, solid wood and vinyl flooring to precisely cut flooring to match objects.
The 833 Plastic Contour Gauge from General Tools features 3-in. deep fingers that measure profiles up to 1-1/4 inch. Rather than utilizing the thin metal pins (which tended to dislodge) of old-fashioned gauges, the new model features tough, durable plastic that will not harm the original finish of the shape being duplicated.
Bessey Flooring Tools
A few years ago, Bessey Tools introduced some handy items that have becomes staples in the HIR flooring toolkit. For lateral support of flooring, such as when you need to push a board away from a wall to close a tongue-and-groove joint, Bessey offers the Spacer PVA. This adjustable tool works like a clamp in reverse to spread the space between the wall and flooring, pushing the boards together.
To tighten or hold the installation across several rows of adjoining floor boards, the Bessey SVH Flooring and Clamping System extends the reach of the clamping action by incorporating a band of high-strength polyester between two durable clamping heads. The SVH400 offers 157 inches of reach, while the SVH400XL has a 300-in. clamping capacity. This tool is a big help for holding stubborn boards in position while you fasten them in place.