Solid timber floors are hardwearing, low maintenance and match almost any style of home. Wooden boards used to be plain-edged planks up to an inch thick, but most modern boards are tongue and grooved along their edges so that the boards interlock, forming a barrier against draughts and dust.
Timber board packs
Drill and wood bit
Hand saw or mitre saw
Solid timber starts at around £28 per square metre; underlay costs vary, but bank on paying from around £15 for a 15m x 1m roll; a pack of spacers will cost less than £2.
This is a weekend project for a small to medium-sized room - any bigger, you'll need more time.
Advanced - to get a decent finish you need to be confident you can do the job neatly, so ideally you might have some experience of carpentry.
Step One: Prepare The Boards
As a rule of thumb, boards look best laid in the same direction as the longest straight wall. In a square room, lay the boards in the direction of incoming light. Leave the opened packs of flooring in the room for at least 24 hours so that the boards can acclimatise to the humidity before being laid. Take off any inward-opening doors before starting work, to make the job easier.
Step Two: Remove The Skirting Boards
Prepare the room by taking off the skirting boards (these - or more likely, new ones - will be refitted later on top of the new boards). Use a crowbar to lever away the old skirting. Place a wooden block behind the bar so that it doesn't damage the plasterwork.
Step Three: Fit The Underlay
Vacuum the floor and fit the underlay, using a craft knife to trim to size. If you have a concrete floor, there should be a vapour barrier under the floor. You can buy underlay with a built-in vapour barrier. The edges of each section must be securely taped together to prevent any moisture from the concrete damaging the boards.
Step Four: Set The Spacers
Place plastic spacers along the longest straight wall. The spacers maintain an expansion gap (10-15mm) around the entire edge of the floor so that it can expand as the humidity in the room changes. Remember to take out all the spacers once the floor is laid.
Step Five: Lay The First Row
Lay the first row of boards with the groove facing the wall, starting from a corner. The ends of the boards may also be tongued and grooved. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the best fixing method - either nailing or gluing. Cut the last board to complete the row of boards, making sure there is still an expansion gap at the end. Hold a try square on the board edge to mark a perfect right angle and cut with a hand saw or mitre saw.
Step Six: Lay The Second Row
Now start the second row, using the off-cut of the board used at the end of the first row. Always stagger the end joints of adjacent rows by at least 30cm. Use the fitting tool to push the ends of the boards together. Work your way across the room, pushing the rows against the plastic spacers. Tighten each joint by tapping the edge block against the grooved side of each board.
Step Seven: Working Around Pipes
Mark the position of any pipes on the board to be laid. Drill a hole about 5mm larger in diameter than the pipe. Make two angled saw cuts from the edge of the board to the sides of the drilled hole. Fit the board and carefully glue the small off-cut wedge behind the pipe.
Step Eight: Lay Final Row
If the last row of boards needs to be cut, measure the gap between the boards and the wall, deduct 10mm and saw the boards lengthways to fit. Glue the joints and force into place with the fitting tool. Mark and cut out the ends of any boards that fit around corners or obstacles.
Step Nine: Refit The Skirting Boards
Refit your skirting boards. If you don't want to remove and refit your skirting boards, fit the floor with them where they are and add a quadrant moulding around the edge to cover the gap between the boards and the skirting.
Illustrations: Ed Roberts
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