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Expert tips: how to fit and care 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.
Which?Editorial team
Drill floor 436700

How to fit a wood floor - expert tips

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.

Get off to the best start with the correct tools

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.

Avoid these common mistakes when fitting a wood floor

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.

Potential wood flooring mishaps

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.

How to care for your wood floor

A clean sweep: brush or vacuum the wood floor regularly to prevent a build up of dirt and grime that can cause discolouration.

Damp, not wet: wash the wood with the floor cleaner recommended by the manufacturer, but don’t put too much fluid on it.

No soaking: clean up any spills immediately. If water soaks into a laminate’s core it will swell, causing the edges of the board to rise up.

Keep it pristine: be careful not to damage the surface by dragging heavy pieces of furniture across it. Use felt protector pads on the feet of furniture to reduce damage.

Cover up: use a doormat to protect wood floors from grit and grime in rooms that are subject to extra-heavy wear and tear.

High heels off: ask people wearing high heels to remove their shoes, so the pressure from their heels does not create indentations.

Beware the sun: the colour of wood flooring can change when it is exposed to sunlight, so avoid placing rugs on floors in front of windows.