Flooring Nailers

Whether you opt for manual or pneumatic, either kind is less work than fastening flooring by hand, and either kind is available to rent. Although some old-timers claim they installed more by hand than we do today with all our new electric saws and nailing guns, for most of us a flooring nailer is the way to go.

Whether manual (bottom) or pneumatic (top), both kinds of nailer beat doing it by hand—and either kind is available to rent.

As 15-gauge finish nails have less holding power than 16-gauge flooring cleats or 15-gauge staples, the nailing spacing should be closer, about every 4 to 5 in. In most cases these nails should be long enough to penetrate the subfloor fully, but 11/2-in. fasteners are used where they cannot penetrate the bottom side of the subfloor (for example, over radiant heat, or plywood over concrete).

The pressure delivered by air compressors is adjustable, usually with the turn of a knob. If the pressure is too low, the fastener won’t be driven completely and you’ll have to set it with a hammer and nail set. Too high, and the fastener will be driven too deep, resulting in possible tongue
damage. Start with the air pressure at 70 to 75 psi and adjust until proper fastener setting occurs. You’ll know when the fasteners are driven consistently just below the surface.
Flooring in most rooms starts from one of the walls, but, as mentioned earlier, it can be a good idea to start the layout of wide rooms from the center so the expansion of the flooring goes in two directions instead of one. To start a center installation, i strike a chalkline down the center of the room, and then screw temporary blocks along it. Start the instal
lation with a row of long, straight boards that butt to these blocks. Just nail through the tongue—there’s no need to face-nail this row. Remove the blocks once you’ve installed four or five rows of flooring.
At this point, only the tongue side of the first row of flooring is fastened to the subfloor. The groove side of the flooring must also be fastened down. The old method of doing this was to face-nail the first row of flooring down the very center of the room, but, to my eyes, these highly visible nails look unattractive. Instead, I install a second tongue, called a spline or a slip tongue, into the groove of the first row of flooring, and nail through that. Although you can’t tell by looking at the finished floor, the slip tongue allows the flooring to be installed going in both directions. The spline is about twice the width of the flooring tongue.