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How to buy wood flooring

Expert tips on fitting and caring for your wood flooring

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Expert tips on fitting and caring for your wood flooring

Our guide to avoiding the common errors that can happen when you lay a wood floor yourself, and how to keep that wood floor looking as good as new.

Expert tips for fitting a wood floor

Professional floor fitter Martin Howe has replaced many badly fitted laminate floors. He often finds that his customers have tried to lay a floor themselves, and either found it too difficult or were not pleased with the results.

People usually turn to a professional floor fitter for downstairs rooms which other people will see, where they are prepared to spend money on good materials and want to get the best possible finish.

If you want to lay a wood floor yourself, his advice for a successful outcome comes down to five key points:

  1. Be realistic in your expectations – don’t expect a cheap material to look great quality
  2. Prepare the sub-floor well
  3. Read the instructions
  4. Have the right tools
  5. Take your time.

If you are laying the wood floor yourself you'll need a tape measure, carpenter’s square and pencil for measuring and marking boards.

A decent handsaw is essential for trimming lengths and a jigsaw is great for cutting along the length of a plank to fit it to walls (use one with the blade that cuts on the down stroke to avoid damaging the top layer).

You’ll need a hacksaw and spade drill bit for dealing with radiator pipes, and a coping saw if you need to cut out intricate shapes.

A flat saw is good for trimming architrave (the wooden framing around doors).

Finally you can buy a laminate kit, which includes basic tools such as a pull bar, wedges and a tapping block. The instructions will explain how to use each of these tools.

It's generally easy for a professional to tell if someone has installed a floor themselves, especially if they’ve ignored the manufacturer's instructions.

The tell-tale signs are:

Regimented board patterns: Floors look best if you stagger where the ends join, so make sure you start each row with a different length board. Using off-cuts also reduces wastage.

Poorly finished beading: Badly mitred corners and beading that ends with unattractive gaps rather than a neat return.

Butchered boards: Often seen around radiator pipes.

Floors cut to fit around an architrave: This is the wooden moulding around a door or window; ideally you'd trim the architrave and slide the floor in underneath it.

Gaps between boards: Usually because not enough glue has been used, or tongue-and-groove boards were not held together overnight while the glue was setting.

Hollow footfalls: Caused when there is a small void underneath a board, usually because the sub-floor is uneven or there is inadequate underlay.

Creaking floors: Caused when loose floorboards in the sub-floor haven't been fixed before laying the new one on top.

Floors butting up to skirting boards: Ideally you remove skirting, then fit it back over the new floor.

Laminate can come apart if it's not well manufactured or if it has been laid over an uneven floor.

‘Tenting’ of the joints occurs when moisture has got in, causing the board to swell so the edges stick up. You can wear off the picture over time, especially in tented areas.

A wood floor can buckle because it hasn't been laid with an adequate expansion gap around the edge of the room. You can remedy the expansion-gap problem if you remove the last boards, trim them down and refit them, but swelling upwards can't be solved.

It's easier to renew the finish on a solid wood floor; you can fill it with a wood-coloured filler if it develops small gaps, and if the finish becomes worn you can always sand it back and re-oil or lacquer.

Caring for your wood floor