Installing Nail-Down Oak Flooring

DIY Projects, Home Improvement, Rennovations No Comment

Rightly or wrongly, we dove into the kitchen renovation with one immediate goal: get the flooring down so that we could put the new appliances in.

As I mentioned in the last post, we ended up purchasing appliances during a Memorial Day sale when our dishwasher officially kicked the bucket, and by Independence Day weekend our living room was filling up with appliance boxes.

The original plan: demo the cabinets & remaining flooring (which was just the underlayment at this point), install the new flooring, and hook up the new appliances — the rest of the kitchen could wait until we had the money.

In a perfect world, I would say that finishing the flooring would be one of the last steps in completing a room. You don’t want to subject your brand-new floors to demolition damage, after all. But this felt like the roadblock between us & using our new appliances, so we went for it. If they were going to be taking up space in our house, we might as well have the pleasure of using them, right?



This was the kitchen after demo was complete (I promise the subfloor is not wavy, I just didn’t have a very steady hand in my panoramic iPhone picture). We are down to the original subfloor, and also took out the plaster & lath on the exterior (east-facing) wall, as well as the ceiling.


A somewhat nosy neighbor commented on these Waste Management Bagster dumpster bags saying “that’s an entire room, isn’t it?”. I had to correct him — actually, it’s just an underlayment, a partial wall, and a ceiling. Plaster and lath is a beautiful construction technique — it makes for some very sturdy and very insulative walls. But man it creates a lot of waste. I hate taking it out when I don’t need to (for the sheer amount of effort, not to mention the waste).

Why did we demo the interior of that east-facing wall? Because we’re doing some reframing — taking out the door and window, and replacing it with a second window — more on that later.

For now let’s talk about the flooring.

Our house was built in 1942, and like many houses in the Pacific Northwest built during that time (and on the west coast in general, as I understand), the flooring is face-nailed 5/16″ oak strip (no tongue-and-groove). Oak is not my favorite wood. I don’t like the orange tone of it. I don’t like the prominent “cathedral arches” in the grain. I just don’t like it. However, it’s original to our house, and I believe in preserving things when you can. There was only minor damage to it, and it has at least one more refinish left, so we decided to work with it. We had already refinished the flooring on our “1.5 level”, which I will write about another time (spoiler alert – a drum sander is the most amazing tool I have ever had the pleasure of using).

Since we (1) decided that we’d keep & refinish the 2″ oak strip in the rest of the house, and (2) decided that we wanted to have hardwood in the kitchen as well, we went ahead and purchased the oak flooring 6+ months ago from a local flooring supplier. Usually they don’t sell retail (only to contractors), but they helped us out when no one else in town carried the type of flooring we were looking for.

First, we needed a new underlayment.


We used 7/16″ plywood because that would put us even (once we put down the floor boards) with the adjacent room. We’re planning on having a transition between the rooms, but otherwise wanted them to be at the same level.


Now is probably the point that I disclaim – I HAVE NEVER INSTALLED FLOORING BEFORE. I AM NOT IN ANY WAY LICENSED / BONDED / QUALIFIED TO OFFER ADVICE ON FLOORING INSTALLATION. Everything I’m about to explain is taken from my best advisors, Google and YouTube, plus a little bit of trial-and-error.

First I want to point out — it was surprisingly easy. It really is as simple as:

  1. Place the board
  2. Nail (use pneumatic finish nailer for speed)
  3. Repeat

You want to place your first board on the longest sight line, and get it as straight as possible. You’ll see a lot of tips on placing the boards to minimize narrow strips at the edges (you don’t want to place a full board on the left side of the room & the end up needing on a 1/4 board on the right when you could just do a 1/2 board on each side, if that makes sense). In our case, virtually all of the edges would be covered by cabinets, plus we were extending the flooring from existing flooring in the dining room, so it was more important to us to line up our floor boards with those in the dining room.


For this type of flooring, there is no tongue & groove, and the nail is meant to show on the top of the board, which makes installing it as simple as pulling out your finish nailer and popping in nails. Generally you place two nails in the width of the board (about 1″ apart), and then place two more nails every 6-12 inches. We took a piece of floor board and marked the distance based on the existing flooring, which ended up being about every 8″, and then used this as a guide in placing our nails. Here’s a good source on tips for installing 5/16 flooring.

A PIECE OF ADVICE: We worked “forward” and “out” as we went (seen in the photo above), pulling the boards tightly to one another (they had been acclimating in our house for months, and this being the summer time they are probably as swollen as they’ll ever be, so we want to minimize potential gaps later). If I did it again, I would do one complete row “forward” (in the center of the room) before adding any boards to the outside, and would complete each row before moving to another outside row. Very small angles in boards at the entrance to the room propagated into much larger gaps as we worked towards the back wall, essentially meaning we couldn’t pull outside boards tight enough to the center boards. We ended up having to pull more than a few out and re-set them because of a newbie mistake in the order of installation.

After the floor was installed, we gave it a good vacuum & wipe down before starting to apply the stain.

Yes, I know. Staining perfectly good hardwood floors, covering up their natural beauty. Blasphemy.

But we did it, and I have no regrets.


(Another wonky-looking photo based on my iPhone panorama “skills”)

We used the same stain formulation I had used when we refinished the 1.5 level floors – a mixture of General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain in Walnut and Brown Mahogany, plus a little bit of General Finishes Water Based Dye Stain in Medium Brown. I tested many combinations and ratios, and this ended up giving us the medium-dark color we wanted, while neutralizing the red tone of the oak.

Staining tips: don’t be afraid to mix colors to get what you’re looking for – just make sure you mix oil-based with oil-based, or water-based with water-based (bonus: you can dilute them with oil or water, respectively, to further customize the final result). HOWEVER: make sure you use measuring cups & write the recipe down so you can recreate it!

I’ve used General Finishes products before and have been very happy with the quality. The Dye Stain was a new product to me, and a bit challenging to work with. It dries VERY quickly, and shows lap marks easily, so there’s no room for error in application. It absorbs into the wood more than sitting on top, as normal stain does, and is translucent so doesn’t obscure the figuring of the wood, which can be a nice feature. Overall, though, I found it challenging to get a consistent finish (probably because I’m not a professional), and it ended up slightly splotchy. The second coat of stain helped that quite a bit.


Because everything was water-based, we were able to recoat quickly. Above is after the second coat of stain, but before the coats of sealer (we used Zar UltraMax Waterborne Oil Modified Polyurethane in Satin, which I was happy with).

After a few days of drying (don’t want to scratch up the new flooring!), we moved the new appliances in so we could have a somewhat usable kitchen. Of course it wasn’t long until we covered our new floors up in cardboard & rosin paper so we could move on to plumbing & electrical …



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