Nail it down. The proper tools make a would of difference for installers. Here, an installer workers on a hardwood floor using a nail gun from Power Nail

As always, manufacturers will use this month’s National Wood Flooring Association’s annual convention to highlight new products, including the latest tools. Many of the new entries will no doubt be impressive, but rest assured it’s the tried and true products that remain the foundation of the hardwood flooring business. If you are among those set to attend the show in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., March 25-28, you can expect to see them maintain their “respected” position at the showcase.

On the flooring side, look for both engineered and solid hardwood introductions that boast improved finish technology. Likewise, there will be plenty of sundries on hand including user-friendly finishing products for both jobsite work and recoats. Wood related trims and medallion inserts enable you to offer “packaged creativity.”

The show will also remind us that our business these days is quite global. Manufacturers from all around the world will be on hand hoping to stir up interest among the attendees. If you are a savvy retailer, you will spend your time at the show wisely by “soaking” up the entire show floor. You’ll keep a sharp eye out for the items that have helped you create your bottom line and new ones that can help fatten it.

Installation contractors just might have the greatest opportunity of all. Those in search of equipment for the installation, sanding or finishing portion of our industry can rest assured they will find plenty. This is one major flooring show that is specifically dedicated to all things hardwood. Although, personally, I’d like to see more table and chop saws that have been upgraded technically, the reality is power tools tend to take a backseat to the actual flooring items. Honestly, that just doesn’t make sense to me. I have never seen a product jump out of the box and install itself. Even if you just have to “click,” you still have to “cut.”

And when considering new items, don’t forget protective gear and apparel. Our most important tools-the ones we were born with-are supposed to serve us a lifetime. They include your eyes, ears, lungs, knees, and skin. Dust, projectiles and solvents can damage your eyes and lungs. Loud power equipment, over a period of time, can cause hearing loss. And without latex or rubber gloves to guard again skin absorption, stains and other solvent applications can pose a serious danger. As for your knees, good kneepads are probably more important than your saw or nailing machine. It is normal to replace parts on “mechanical” equipment but you are only born with one set of knees.

Obviously talent, skill and the right attitude are the heart of every installation, but the right tools can make or break the installer (or sander). Do you realize that installations were once handled with a hatchet for cutting, a hammer with a curved handle for nailing and cut nails instead of cleats? Can you imagine showing up at a customer’s home today with these relics and presenting yourself as a “professional” installer? What was once the norm would today appear almost barbaric.

Today, your skill is more crucial that your brute strength. Blocks of wood wrapped with sandpaper have been replaced with “continuous belt” sanding machines. The tedious task of hand nailing has been replaced by both power nailing machines. Hand sanding the edges of installations is now efficiently performed by a rotary edger.

The following are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking at tools. Your local distributor should provide the equipment as well as replacement parts and even access to repairs. In any event, stay away from big box stores. They seldom have knowledgeable customer service and are notorious for offering only the most generic equipment. And don’t forget spare parts. A good installer always keeps handy common replacement parts nearby. Downtime is expensive, especially when you must leave the job site in search of parts.

Nailing machines: You should own both a manual and pneumatic nailer. Both are essential. A pneumatic machine may not necessarily increase production but it definitely cuts down on fatigue and physical distress on your arm and shoulder. A manual machine, meanwhile, is perfect for foyers and other small jobs. In the event your pneumatic machine malfunctions, you’ll still have a “backup” available.

Both the manual and pneumatic machines should feel relatively comfortable when grasping and demonstrate “balance” when positioned on the flooring strips. If the machine has a tendency to “fall” over when unattended, it could damage the flooring surface.

Sanding equipment:  Remember, dust is the enemy on jobsite finish applications, so don’t cut corners here: Purchase a commercial vacuum.  There are multiple sources for sanding equipment. My preference is the machines that are a little less aggressive. Sanding requires a three-cut operation under normal conditions. Reducing that procedure increases the risk of “left behind” sanding marks. The total sanding process should only require 1/32 of an inch to obtain a smooth surface.

Saws and hand tools:  Besides their obvious applications, your hand tools can also aid in completing any installation and/or jobsite sanding. Pneumatic finish nailers are great for the starter rows of the installation as well as pulling the wall line and reattaching wall trim. Black & Decker offers an excellent lightweight workbench that lets you clamp down your chop saw. Save your back! Band saws are also quite practical and extremely safe for intricate cuts.

An assortment of screwdrivers, wrenches and a power drill can help you remove dishwasher kick plates or disassemble furniture such as bed frames and headboards. Putty and utility knifes and molding lifters are essential for the removal of a baseboard without damage. A soft bristle broom and a horsehair brush are perfect to clean up debris left from an old floor covering or removing dust from the new installation as it progresses. Remember also to keep the area around your saw as clean as possible to avoid “tracking” dust and dirt onto your new installation.

There is one more key ingredient for professionalism: your appearance. Avoid wearing tee-shirts with logos not related to your profession. Company work shirts that display your name are an excellent idea. One last thought, unless you need to stay in contact with your office, leave the cell phone in your vehicle. And no iPods! They are distracting and look unprofessional. Also, they do not offer protection and should not be used as a substitute for ear plugs.

Wood or Wood Knot will always promote professionalism as it reflects the pride you take in your work and yourself. But it’s even more important now that times are a little tough. Why make your job tougher? Quality tools are essential to get the job done right. They are an investment not only in your future, but in our industry as well. It has never been a better time to “power up.”