Sunday, May 3, 2009

Softwood Flooring

This past weekend we laid a Douglas fir tongue and groove floor, on top of rosin paper, over the floor framing. No subfloor. It took 3 of us to lay the floor (Thanks, Scott!); from 9:30a to 5p including a lunch break. It took me another 2 hrs after dinner to smoosh putty into the floor cracks wearing heavy rubber gloves. I tried other methods but this way was the most effective. We chose Douglas fir because it has a beautiful grain and was far less expensive than the prefinished hardwood floors we had oogled. Until this week when I started to research no VOC finishing options we didn't know that it is the softest wood. We now have a rule that we won't wear shoes in the house so it will look great longer.

Flooring lesson #1: Use the right tool for the job. We had a table saw and thought that we could use it to cut the floor boards. Because we're stubborn it took longer than it would have if we'd just rented a chop saw. It took one of us at the table saw trimming ends while another of us held the other end of the 8' long board in order to get a straight cut. Do yourself a big favor and use a chop saw for this job. We did rent a pneumatic soft wood flooring nailer and loved the tool.

Flooring lesson #2: The first few rows along a wheel well are the hardest and slowest to install. After the first 2 1/2 hours we had only about 5 rows nailed down. After lunch we picked up speed once we got into the groove of things.

Flooring lesson #3: Brute force may not work when flooring so take a deep breath and think of another solution. The milling of lumber is seldom precise so sometimes the tongues from board to board don't align so the groove of the next board won't attach. We loosened the nailing on the lower board when this happened and shimmed it so it won't squeak later. We found brute force didn't help this problem...

Flooring lesson #4: Be prepared to be carded when buying plastic wood which is the putty we used to fill between the floor board cracks. We don't exactly know why we were carded but others obviously have more fun with this putty than I did. Nightclubs sometimes have a 2 drink minimum but we weren't told that there was a maximum on putty purchasing. We used 2 small cans.

Flooring lesson #5: Because we didn't install a sub floor (to save on weight), the floor boards need to be butt jointed and end nailed directly to the floor framing. Jeff had calculated the amount of flooring we'd need but can't remember the formula he used. I can tell you though that his calc was so amazingly close as we were left with only about 4 feet of board left over; all in small unusable chunks.

On Sunday we rented a random orbital floor sander and we worked from 9:30a to 2:30p. We started at 35 grit paper and went to 80 grit. The machine had a dust collector (which was fantastic!) and was very easy to use.

The vote was unanimous. We agreed that this was a fairly easy job to do. The hardest parts were the backache that came from bending over the pneumatic nailer to whack it with the hammer and lifting of the floor sander onto the trailer with the backache from the day before.

Tomorrow I buy the floor finish and will start to apply it on Tuesday after work.


  1. Daniel,


    This being our first attempt at flooring, we were surprised it wasn't harder to do. It should look even better once the finish is on.


  2. It looks pretty good natural already. I look forward to the finished look.

  3. As a former wood flooring professional, I think omitting the subfloor is going to prove to be a huge mistake in the long-run. Nothing affects wood flooring more than moisture from below. Even the slightest dampness in a basement/crawlspace (or, in this case, grass or dirt under your trailer) can warp and cup the wood floors above. I've seen it 100's of times (and was the culprit that resulted in nearly half of my floor sanding business).
    Also, the omission of a subfloor will allow your wood floor to move too much with the expansion and contraction of the seasons caused by hot/cold/humid/dry cycles. The joists simply will not offer enough nailing surface or square foot resistance to prevent such movement. The addition of even a thin layer of luan (1/8" plywood) with a vapor barrier would have been significant in terms of moisture resistance and added stability with very little headroom being robbed.
    In terms of putty, I would hold on to that extra can; you'll be needing it. All the putty you put between the cracks (which should be no more than a pint per 1000 square feet of flooring) is going to get driven out once your floor starts to move. If you needed more putty than that, I would have returned the flooring lumber to the mill or distributor. When properly installed, raw strip fir should require very little filling.
    I hope you don't find my opinion overly critical. I have been enjoying your blog and look forward to seeing it come to completion. However, as this is going to be a full-time home and not a backyard getaway, IMHO there is no greater importance to structure than a sound foundation and subfloor. It affects EVERYTHING that gets built upon it. God luck with your future endeavours!

  4. Brian,

    I don't think your opinion is overly critical at all, in fact I appreciate the information since you were a wood flooring professional.

    This being our first house building project we have been researching the many things that we don't know both before we began and during the process. In spots like this one where a subfloor should have been used, we trusted the construction plans that we bought from Tumbleweed.

    Though we'd already seen problems with the materials list, and noticed that the roofing plan was not given, we didn't know that plywood subflooring was so important.

    Any suggestions on how to fix the possible moisture problem besides ripping out the t&g floor?


  5. Hi Arlene-
    To do it right, I would rip out the flooring and re-use it (keep in mind all the measurement and cutting has been done). It's not as tragic as one might think. Because you've only nailed to the joists, deconstruction should only take an hour or two. Lay the boards upside down (mirror imaged) away from the trailer so you can renail them once a subfloor is in). I would lay a sheet of tyveck over the joists, then a minimum 1/2" plywood subfloor (NO OSB), followed by your red rosin paper or tar paper (roof felt), then reinstall your flooring. Installation will go MUCH faster having already done it once before. Four sheets of plywood shouldn't add more than 100 lbs. to your home but will stiffen the structure immeasurably.
    Because the floor has already been sanded once, if it is relaid in the same pattern only a modecum of further sanding will be necessary to ensure a smooth finish. It may sound horrific but it is not. I once pulled out and relaid 1100 square feet of 2 1/4" red oak when a home's new owner wanted to add radiant heat at the last minute. One day to pull out, one day to reinstall and resand. That being said, would you rather do it correctly now, or do it again once there is a whole house (and housefull of belongings) built over it? I, too, have learned these lessons the hard way. Hope this helps.
    When I see Jay Shafer in NYC this June, I'm going to ask about the roofing situation. I suspect he does not include framing plans as he is a designer and not a licensed architect. Therefore he's not liable for snow load/windshear/storm load data pertaining to his structures. In terms of low VOC finish, what about 5-6 coats of good old-fashioned linseed oil, hand-rubbed. You can manipulate sheen and depth by applying fewer or more coats and your method of buffing it. Feel free to email aside from the posts.

  6. Wow, so much work! Who would have thought that sanding would be this exhausting?! The floors look FANTASTIC.

  7. Hi WFR,
    Yeah, the boards come in slightly different thicknesses, so to have a nice even floor, we sanded. It wasn't very hard, but did take about a day with the sander.

  8. A great informative blog posts.Thanks for sharing. Nice photos too.


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