Probably the most under appreciated "hero" of any hardwood flooring installation is the fastener. Buried beneath the floor surface, never to be seen or (hopefully) heard from again, the fastener plays a subordinate position in the hardwood flooring industry. And yet, from the contractor's viewpoint, fasteners have always been an intricate element of all wood flooring products that are suitable for a nail down application.
More and more wood flooring products historically installed by adhesive are now using fasteners. The transition to mechanical fasteners, when appropriate, increases the flexibility to engineered hardwood flooring. Considered the fastest growing segment of our industry, engineered hardwood now offers the versatility and the flexibility for installations on any grade. The addition of mechanical fasteners has provided another option for applications that had always been a "sticky situation."
Fasteners also enable you to maintain a clean work area as opposed to adhesives which can require flash off before product contact to the subfloor. Fasteners are available in a cleat or staple version. The two variations of cleat are in the formation of a "T" or an "L."
Staples are still utilized in our industry but their popularity appears to be slipping. Staples are more prone in splitting the tongue of the flooring and perhaps they are also considered to restrictive to movement with wide swings of humidity. Cleats are tapered and serrated which allows minimal movement with the capacity of allowing the flooring strips to their original location when normal seasonal changes occur in the home. The sizes of cleats range from 1 1/4" to 2."
Keep in mind that fasteners are only as strong as the subfloor they are attached to during the installation process. Determining an acceptable substrate at the job site is the sole responsibility of the contractor and requires some research: What is the gauge/thickness of the subfloor? Is the condition of the subfloor suitable for fastener retention? Has the subfloor been sufficiently nailed and glued to the floor joist?
Please note the maximum distance between the floor joists should not exceed 16" on center. Following the manufacturer's installation guidelines is a must and adhering to them will ensure that the contractor will stay on top of the installation.
A box of cleats will usually accommodate 200 sq. ft. of a 2 1/4" linear hardwood flooring product. Solid linear wood floors must be fastened at minimal intervals of 10 to 12." Products exceeding a width of 3 1/4" require fasteners every 8". Each short board requires two fasteners. Avoid nailing directly next to the end joint. Whenever possible, fasteners should be installed into the floor joist. This procedure is definitely obtainable on 5/8" CDX plywood or OSB.
Particleboard subfloors are unacceptable for a nail down installation. They tend to swell with moisture mishaps but do not return to their original dimensional size when dry. This allows for some wiggle room around the fastener and drastically reduces the cleats holding power. Install a layer of 1/2" CDX plywood before proceeding.
Most engineered hardwood flooring products are suited for mechanical fasteners so check the manufacturer's specifications for the right fastener. Wide plank wood floors, 5" or greater, may also be screwed and plugged to further reduce potential movement.
What's new in floor nailing?
Besides the tried and true manual flooring nailing machines, such as Powernail's model 45, Primatech H330, Portanailer 402, several manufacturers offer pneumatic systems as well. For a start up contractor, most manual machines can be purchased for under $300. They're all well made and easy-to-use. Inevitably you will need replacements parts such as drivers, springs etc. They should be purchased in advance for that inevitable day when you need them. Remember your downtime is substantially more costly than the price of parts.
Pneumatic equipment reduces worker fatigue by lessening the physical demands associated with a hammer. The equipment emphasizes the skill of the individual rather than his strength and that, of course, helps keep someone on the job for years to come. Pneumatic hardwood nailers were introduced more than a decade ago and they just keep getting better and less cumbersome to work with. Today's machines have been refined to have greater balance.
Many of these nailing machines are surprisingly quiet. Keep in mind that unlike your silent fastener partner, Wood or Wood Knot is glad to make noise so you and your customer will continue to smile for years to come.