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Installing Hardwood Flooring Borders

Aside from hardwood medallions and other designs seen on other pages, borders of any design, simple and intricate are possible. Designs without using prefabricated products include narrow one board borders (photo right). Borders in our photo example can be used from contrasting hardwoods to define an area. Different sized widths can be used. While narrow strip material is often harder to obtain, 2 Hardwood floor border on room perimeter1/4" common strip flooring is often used for simple border designs.

See Our Video Series- Part I Installation, Part II Staining & Finishing

Installing such can be a bit perplexing, requiring the use of a circular saw. In addition, when the field (main area) is trimmed, routing and splining of bordered items should be considered. This insures the whole project is connected with surface areas having the same vertical height. Failure to do so will cause creaking or squeaking sounds with everyday foot traffic as the boards will rub against one another.

USA Made hardwood floors

Other borders that come prefabricated follow similarPrefabricated border stained procedures in the way they are installed. My example on the right was actually an existing hardwood floor that had a carpet insert. A decision was made to remove the carpet, install new hardwood in its place and run about 45 lineal feet of a nine inch wide boder around the perimeter of the room. The project involved a sand and finished floor that was also stained.

How & When Are They Installed? One Strip Border Example

Borders are easier when the flooring is being installed. Prior to all work, perimeter areas should be established. In some cases installers will begin in the center of the field so as to allow a perfect alignment of the final board being the same size on parallel walls. Measure from each wall and divide by two to find your center. Once areas are defined, a dry run, or loose lay on the bordered corners will help insure you have everything squared properly. More important would be if you've allowed the proper amount that will be covered by baseboard or other trim moldings

Depending on the layout, many installers will beginStart installing field working off a preset planned layout. The square room example below illustrates a black border starting point on the left side and bottom. With groove facing into the field on the edge of the blue chalk lines, install the boards by firmly pressing to the subfloor with construction adhesive on the back.

Once you've found the border to be aligned perfectly, secure the boards to the subfloor by nailing through the tongue on a 45 degree angle (also called bind nailing). Insure all boards are flat and secure to the subfloor while remaining on the edge of the chalk line (not shown, covered).

Splines, Slip Tongue

Splines (discussed below) are used to connect all inside perimeter areas with the field during starting and interlocking procedures. Considering hardwood is milled with tongues on the left side of each board, the first spline is inserted into the left side border groove and glued with Titebond or similar woodworkers glue. Begin the installation from left to right with groove facing front. A spline will also be needed for the starting border on the bottom as well.

My blue reference chalk lines are stopping points when running the hardwood left to right and top to bottom. Fasten all boards with your tool of choice (flooring nailer) inside the area but not over Slot cutterthe line, as the balance that falls over the chalk line on the right side will be removed with a straight edge and circular saw.

It is not necessary to install the fill area or the portion on the outside of the black border until the rest of the floor has been laid. In the example, proceed bottom to top with the tongue facing forward when starting, stop the last board row as it approaches the other blue chalk line.

Once the field is completed with opposing right area trimmed we want to insure this area interlocks as other sides will. By grabbing a slot cutter and router, this can be accomplished in short time. It is vital the groove you are creating on the cut off field side be the same proportion to the tongue it will interlock with on the border. Word of warning; if you do not have a flat subfloor the router will follow the contour making for a harder installation. For all main borders and fill in pieces insure you are using the straightest boards possible.

Working With The "Field"

When the field is completed with opposing wall border trimmed and installed, begin installing the fill by working off each corner and into the center. Corners should be splined if they are mitered. Our Cut excess offnext illustration (right) shows working from each corner (darker colored brown boards)

For filling in between the corners, boards will have to be cut to fit. Installers have varying methods to secure ends that are not tongue and groove. One method is milling a new groove (with slot cutter) on the cutoff end, then removing the bottom portion.

With each and every installer being different in what works or what they are accustomed to, one method of securing is by applying an adhesive on the top of the adjacent tongue with the new partial grooved end overlapping. Top and side nailing may also be performed. Others will apply adhesive to the backside of the board and subfloor to fasten the board(s). The procedure described allows for an easier method instead of trying to align in the corners.

What's A Spline?

A spline, (see my video quickie) also known as slip tongue is a small piece ofHardwood spline hardwood that is inserted into the groove portion when reversing direction of the tongue and groove system. It becomes a strengthening or interlocking device when two grooves are facing one another. Splines should be glued into place when connecting the two. Do not leave splines glued overnight without connecting as they may have a tendency to move creating severe problems with fit the next day.

Fancier Borders

Other more intricate border designs are available prefabricated and are not normally one solid piece, but engineered. Types will depend on each individual manufacturer. They will also be different in construction as some will be pre-grooved on all four sides, while others for solid 3/4" installations will not. Lengths will also vary but the unofficial standard runs in the three foot range.

Minimum thickness for prefab borders generally runs at 3/8 of one inch. Anything thinner becomes a shipping problem because of their fragile makeup and number of pieces involved before installation.

Widths run anywhere from two inches up to twelve. All prefabricated borders are glued and not nailed to proper subfloors.

Job Example

In this particular job a prefinished herringbone floor was installed in the den of a home and bordered with a contrasting Maple. Mentioned previously, the field was installed first then followed by trimming the edges (with a Festool plunge saw). For a straight edge, the installer used a long piece of baseboard that was tacked to the floor with finish nails.

Straight edge circular saw cut
Area done
Using straight edge for cutting
Final appearance

The next set of photos on the opposite side of the room shows the field running over a preset line (not visible). Considering this was a gluedown herringbone installation, the installer spread the adhesive up to, but not over the reference line he established. This definitely avoids any complications with excess pieces that get removed after the perimeter is cut.

Before field iis trimmed
Finished installing border
Before field is trimmed
After installing border

See My Video - Installing Prefabricated Borders

Part 1 of a two part series shows a new diagonally laid field and nine inch prefabricated borders installed in place of old carpeting.

Part II - Preparation & Specialty Stain

See the water based finish application mentioned in the video.

Transcript Part I

Once the 45 degree direction is chosen by the customerVideo transcript a starting area is established in the center of the room. Here the installers lay two starter boards with the tongue facing in both directions. After the starting area is nailed and glued, installers begin to loosely lay or rack out what is to be installed. The object is to presort in a fashion to give the best visual of boards with regard to color and joint spacing.

With the area laid out, installers work by nailing in the field in both directions. This is the area that will be inside the nine inch border in both directions.

Once the field is in place the object is to find a square ness or reference to the original installation and make adjustments so the borders arte aligned squarely.

Let’s check in with Al Havner contractor on this job.

“First thing we have to do to get the border installed. We need to straighten this line down here. Somebody had put a bevel on the edge, so you didn’t have such a sharp edge when the carpet was in. So we’re going to use a straight edge with a piece of molding for a straight edge, run a saw down, take an eight of an inch off and get everything straightened out.”

“We have a nine inch border that’s going to fit in here and we’re going to basically do the same thing as this, bring it (straight edge) over here, run the saw all the way down. Then the border should just drop right in.”

Once the cutoff material is removed and the border inset area cleaned out Al checks for fit. A similar procedure is handled on the other side of the corner area except that only one cut was involved as they were able to maintain a square edge on the outer perimeter by simply replacing old boards with new.

When a satisfactory fit is achieved it’s time to glue with a urethane type adhesive troweled on the back side of each piece. Methods may vary as some professionals would rather spread the adhesive in the channel, then drop the pieces into place. With all the borders and corners in place some minor filler is added prior to any finishing procedures.

The next step involves a rough cut with the drum sander to flatten out any vertical height differences between the new and old hardwood. This procedure is then followed up with a finer grit to lessen any sanding marks.

Transcript Part II

Let’s check in with Al on the staining and finishing procedure.

“Alright, what we’re going to do now is stain the border. We’re going to stain the border with a neutral stain. Neutral stain is just a clear stain. What that does is it enhances the colors of the exotic woods; it just brings them out. Makes them pop. Then we’re going to stain the rest of the floor with a golden oak. Then let all that dry overnight, come back the next day and apply three coats of a water based satin finish called street shoe.”

With the floor vacuumed of any dust or debris, Justin Havner begins the tedious process of taping off the border areas that will receive the neutral stain Al talked about. Here Justin applies the stain with a sharp eye on keeping in contained within the taped perimeter. The procedure is continued around the room that consists of about 60 lineal feet of the nine inch border.

The next day after waiting for the stain to dry the first coat of finish is applied. As Al has mentioned, a water based finish with a satin sheen is used.

Once the finish has cured the entire border area is then finely sanded with a 220 grit maroon pad that works to flatten out or remove any first application brush marks. This is then followed up with extra detail on removing any surface debris with a damp tack rag and finally a cheese cloth that removes 100% of any particles that may be left on the surface prior to the second coat of finish.

After the second finish coat application and removal of tape, another taping step is involved. This time the focus is taping off the border on the inside in preparation of staining the field and hardwood outside the perimeter border.

The actual staining begins with the area outside the border as the finishers plan a way to work out of the room without being trapped for lack of a better term. Finally the field is stained then wiped.