Becoming a 'Field General': Installing Brass Inlays in a Hardwood Floor
The interior design community continues to be a significant driving force behind product development in the floor covering industry. When segregated from alternative flooring products, the hardwood segment of the industry is always a prime target for their criticisms. Their requests are consistently inconsistent, ranging from suggestive to demanding.
Contrary to popular belief, their requests for an intricate installation are probably among the highest compliments that our industry ever receives. And their requests require response. Don't deprive yourself of the opportunity to experience a new challenge.
In the American Heritage Dictionary, art and technology are not mutually exclusive concepts. Art, for example, is partially defined as a "trade or craft" that applies a system of principles, methods or skills that are attained by study, practice or observation. In fact, a blend of art and technology is becoming evident throughout the wood flooring industry today. Experiments encourage practice and, as we all know, "practice makes perfect."
Today's technology has made it possible to mass-produce wood flooring patterns and designs, thus making such floors affordable to more consumers. However, there will always remain a need for individuals who are skilled in the art of creating handcrafted floors.
Consider the Floor of the Year contest conducted annually by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). The competition spotlights the work of hardwood flooring contractors, some of whom demonstrate a mastery of computer-guided lasers and others who showcase painstaking old-world craftsmanship. Fortunately, each category is judged separately so each stands on its own merit and creativity.
Clearly then, artistic wood floors are not an either/or proposition, a case of human vs. machine. Even laser-cut patterns require a high degree of woodworking skill to be installed properly.
Adding a new wrinkle to our ever-changing market was the introduction of mixed-media installations. This relatively new variety of hardwood flooring installations takes advantage of craftsmanship's main value -- the ability to manually produce unique designs that also require an understanding of the characteristics of non-wood components.
So it comes as no great surprise that brass inserts in wood floors have received a warm welcome from our old-world craftsmen. Ever so small and nearly "hairline fine," brass is an excellent choice for complementing any classic hardwood flooring installation. These inserts have proven to be right at home with their hardwood flooring neighbor. To use an army analogy of sorts, it doesn't require a lot of brass to "close the ranks" with our "wooden soldiers."
Remember my earlier comment about the three key components for learning a trade or craft? First, we must do our homework by researching the correct procedures and then we begin to study, observe if possible and then carry out multiple practice sessions. Experiments are only considered costly when they are conducted at the jobsite.
The following is a rundown of the materials and tools required to insert brass inlays in a hardwood floor. Current installation practices include jobsite sanding and finishing.
Most of the same hand tools utilized in woodworking shops are required to do a brass inlay. These include a plunge router with an appropriate bit for the traditional 1/4-by-1/4-inch brass feature strip. A variable-speed cordless drill will also be needed for the brass nails/brads used to secure the brass strip. The brads are needed to hold the brass insert in place until the required two-part epoxy sets up.
A steel miter box and a fine-toothed hacksaw will be required for cutting the brass to lengths appropriate for the installation. NOTE: a tabletop machine designed for bending metal will be required for making radius inserts. A hand scraper with a curved edge will be utilized to fine tune the brass insert. Also the insert must be polished with a pad such as 3M's Scotchbrite pad.
The fundamental procedures for installing the brass insert are as follows:
After the hardwood installation is completed, determine the location for the brass insert. Mark the floor with a pencil and utilize a "jig" and/or template to keep your lines straight or properly curved, depending upon what the job requires. The jig/template will also aid you in keeping the plunge router on the line.
Multiple passes are recommended when routing with the appropriate 1/4-inch carbide bit. Remember, you will encounter those 2-inch cleats along the way. The brass insert should be recessed just below the facial surface of the wood flooring.
After thoroughly vacuuming the 1/4-inch routed channel, inject the two-part epoxy using the mixing tube provided. Then install the brass insert. Because of drying time required for the epoxy, and the heat and stress that will be caused by the sanding process, 3/4-inch brass nails are required.
Drill the brass insert every 6 to 8 inches on opposing slight angles for sufficient holding power. The heads of the nails will be sanded, scraped and polished, and should be non-detectable. From this point forward, the traditional sanding process should commence.
CAUTION: upon completing the sanding process, thoroughly inspect the brass insert for any unwanted surface scratches. If fine tuning is required -- and it usually is -- apply blue tape along the edges of the brass strip before hand scraping and polishing with the pad.
Vacuum the area again and then remove the blue tape. The installation will then be ready for the traditional urethane coating process.
Wood or Wood Knot acknowledges your "attention" to details -- particularly when you're in the presence of the "top brass." In our industry, it never pays to be "at ease."