Initially introduced to the market on laminate flooring in the late 1990s, glueless, or click mechanical locking systems crossed over to the hardwood category in the early 2000s. With the introduction of these glue-free locking systems, installing hardwood floors became as easy as 1, 2, 3.
As with the locking systems in the laminate industry, since their introduction to the hardwood market several advancements have been and continue to be made.
The original laminate system was based on a separate steel clip that was hammered into a groove prior to installation. Only the long sides were locked, while the short sides had a conventional tongue-and-groove connection.
In 1994, Swedish R&D company Välinge Innovation developed an advanced glue-free system for both the long and short sides of the plank. This technology hit the market a couple years later, making its debut at the Domotex flooring trade show in Hannover, Germany, and it immediately generated a buzz in the industry, said Darko Pervan, chairman and founder of Välinge Innovation.
“The introduction of the glueless Alloc laminate floor at Domotex in January 1996 created a huge interest from the industry,” he noted. “We showed with Alloc that 500 square-feet of laminate floor could be installed per hour with simplicity and guaranteed quality. The mechanical locking created the breakthrough for laminate flooring as an [easy-to-install] product and it has grown about 20 times in volume since then.”
Since this introduction, various companies have introduced locking systems to the market, including for the wood flooring category.
Armstrong Industries is one of the many manufacturers around the world that currently uses one of Välinge’s locking systems on some of its wood flooring product offerings.
Milton Goodwin, Armstrong’s vice president of hardwood products, has noticed a 50% to 80% increase in wood floors now using a locking system in comparison to just five years ago.
“Locking products serve a purpose,” he explained. “They are quick and easy. If the market wants to go in that direction, Armstrong is ready.”
Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood for Mohawk’s Unilin division, said the click method is reshaping the hardwood market “by providing beautiful flooring with outstanding performance at a lower total cost. Consumers will continue to demand products with a strong price/value relationship. The inclusion of locking systems definitely increases the value proposition of wood floors that feature them.”
These glue-free products eliminate the need for drying times, which allows floors to become functional immediately upon installation, not to mention the need for certain tools such as a nail gun or stapler. And, just like with traditional installation methods, products with locking systems allow customers the creative freedom to mix flooring plank styles to create a unique look. Plus, if at any time the flooring needs to be removed or relocated, customers can simply remove the wood planks as quickly and easily as they were installed.
On the Other Hand...
Although locking systems on hardwood flooring products are indeed gaining popularity in the U.S., they are still just a small portion of the wood business, according to Goodwin.
On the contrary, these locking systems have been widely accepted in Europe and have become a standard for engineered flooring, according to a Välinge representative.
Goodwin believes the reason behind the hesitation and resistance in the U.S. comes from the expectations customers have, which is rooted in 250 years of wood flooring in America. “When someone is installing a wood floor, it’s seen as a forever floor—meaning it’s glued or nailed. Locking serves a purpose, but it’s not necessarily forever.”
Another setback for these products when it comes to wood he also noted is that in order to be a glue-free profile, the product has to be perfectly straight or else it can’t be locked together. This creates a problem for customers who want longer lengths and limits most locking systems to engineered product offerings. While solid products can be locked if they meet locking system length requirements, due to the planks’ higher production costs, Goodwin does not expect to see more solid products with locking systems in the near future.
Despite these cons to locking systems, the evolution of this technology continues as new advancements are made within the flooring industry.
“Since the ’90s, the way of installing hard surface floorings has considerably evolved,” Pervan said. “The invention and improvements of glueless mechanical locking systems allowing for easy and fast installation of floating floors have contributed to change the way people install and use floorings.”