Tommy’s Tips: Oak Flooring

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I briefly mentioned in my last blog an oak flooring project I was working on, so today I would like to expand on that project, and point out some of the pluses and the minuses!

I do love hardwood flooring, and oak in particular, and have used it extensively in my own house, including a beautiful handmade barrel cut string staircase in oak to match. All the doors throughout the house are four panelled Victorian style solid oak fire-checked doors, tailor made for me by Leaderflush doors UK (don’t ask how much they cost!) It really works wonderfully well with door linings, and wide architraves, with high-stepped skirting’s all painted in white eggshell to balance the oak and show it in its best light! I will tell you how to make high-stepped skirting’s and architraves for a fraction of the retail cost, but that’s for another time!

We need to talk about skirting’s though, when we are talking about oak floors! Some contractors and builders lay new floors, leaving the skirting’s on the walls and cover the expansion gap required, with a bit of quadrant or moulding of some sort, what we call in the trade an overlaid floor! Do not accept this! To do the job properly, the skirting’s must be carefully removed for refitting after, or be replaced, that way a 10-15mm gap between the flooring and the walls can be left around the whole floor for expansion, but remain unseen when covered by the refitted / replaced skirting.

Tommy’s Tip: When fitting skirting’s I normally cut a stack of 3mm packers for temporary use between the new floor and skirting, so when the flooring and redecorating is finished, apply a nice flexible mastic seam to the gap around the whole room to allow for any movement, and that professional finish, “It’s always in the detail for a classy finish!”

So back to my oak floor, one of my best mates Richard Foy is a “Fit-out” contractor on big new blocks of luxury flats, and he was using huge amounts of lovely 12ins (300mm) wide cross-bonded tongue and grooved pre-finished oak flooring (the price of this stuff was £138.00 per square metre, plus VAT, just to buy it!) There were lots of off-cuts, damaged pieces and planks that were unsuitable because they had too many knots in, or a slight colour issue! Richard kept all of these and let me have them, so I re-machined these boards where necessary at another of my mates, “Jimmy the Joiner’s” workshop, by re-grooving the offcuts, and creating loose tongues for the grooves with thin strips of birch-faced plywood. Damaged boards, we cut down the width, and re-grooved effectively creating three different widths, the differences which were unnoticeable when laid, (obviously keeping the three different sizes in their own lines!) The oak flooring had to be laid on a screeded floor, which I carefully cleaned to ensure the floor was smooth. I firstly had laid porcelain tiles in the kitchen area, on top of waterproof cement board to exactly match the calculated height of the oak floor when laid, edged with stainless steel trim, to avoid a trip hazard, and to suit the open-plan design of kitchen diner and living area.

The most important element of laying a new floor is the setting out, and where to start! Put down some flooring dry (un-fixed), and ensure the lines you’re working to are square to each other. Another one of Tommy’s Tips: Cut a piece of plywood using the 3:4:5 method to create a right angle triangle. This will give you the perfect right angle off your centre line!

My flooring was engineered by cross bonding three layers of solid oak, this creates stability and stops warping and cupping, especially with wider boards! Normal engineered flooring has a top layer of oak and cross bonded layers of a substrate like plywood to use less actual oak, and create a very stable product. Engineered wood is definitely the way of the future for the timber industry! I bought an expensive flexible adhesive to ensure good adhesion, and I primed the floor first, and used a 4mm serrated trowel to apply the adhesive. I spread enough adhesive to lay two lines at a go, to ensure the flooring was fixed within the adhesive “open-time”. Tommy’s Tip: Keep a white spirit sodden cloth handy to wipe off excess adhesive from your hands and any surfaces!

The suppliers suggest using weights to apply downward pressure, so I used bags of sand on top of spare flooring at right angles to the fixed floor, spreading the weight across the laid flooring. I have to admit, the new floor looked pretty impressive, I carefully vacuumed the floor to remove any dust or dirt, then applied the finish! Another friend of mine gave me three gallons of Junkers floor oil, he had some spare left over from a job (which was great, as it is real quality, and normally very expensive!).

I applied three layers of oil using a lamb’s wool roller as described. However I should have wiped off the excess oil, with a mutton cloth to avoid trapping air bubbles which burst through the finish (a bit like lots of mini-moon craters), so now I have to sand the finish off, and re-apply! We all make mistakes, especially when rushing, hopefully by reading this, you can benefit, and avoid mistakes! By the way, the floor still looks fantastic, and all at a fraction of the normal cost!

Hope this helps you in some way and gives you some inspiration.

Tommy Walsh

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