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How to Install Herringbone Wood Flooring

By Kim M. Wahlgren
December 2001/January 2002
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Plenty of installers have gotten into trouble trying to install a herringbone floor. Stories abound of contractors like the one who tried to lay a herringbone floor in a mall—without snapping a single chalk line. If the layout veers off slightly, the mistake can grow exponentially into an installation disaster.

That's why, as with many wood flooring installations, the planning and measuring that happens before a single slat is laid is so vital. Herringbone merits extra caution, because it is an unforgiving pattern. If the floor is off, your customer will know it. Using a tape measure and a chalk line to plan for the best appearance of the final floor doesn't take much time, but it can spare you aggravation, such as when the floor begins to not fit together or seems to wander in a direction you don't want it to go.

The good news is that if you snap the correct lines, follow them and use quality material, herringbone is a straightforward layout that is a definite upgrade from the standard strip, and you can charge accordingly.

 Necessary materials:

  • herringbone flooring
  • adhesive
  • plywood
  • spline/slip-tongue

Necessary tools:

  • tape measure
  • square
  • chalk line
  • drill and screws
  • nailer

Step 1:

Discuss with the customer which direction the herringbone should run. Typically herringbone looks best with the points running in the longest direction of the room or directed at a focal point. When that is determined, snap a line down the center of the room.

Step 2:

To establish working lines, figure out what the distance will be between the corners of the slats when they are laid out. To do this, dry-fit a few slats together and snap lines through the corners. Then measure the distance— here, 1 5/8 inches—between the lines.

Step 3:

Or, an alternate method is to use a framing square to mark 45-degree angles off each corner from the same end of a slat. Measure the distance from one corner to the intersection of the lines.

Step 4:

With either method, the distance for this particular floor is 1 5/8 inches. Divide that in half—13/16 inch—and mark that distance on either side of the line. For more accurate lines, you may want to consider using braided fish line instead of the traditional chalk line, which leaves a wider, fuzzier mark.

Step 5:

Snap lines 13/16inch on either side of the original line. Now the red line—the center of the room—will mark the center of the pattern, and the blue lines will be the working lines to use as guides to line up the points of the herringbone slats. Now would also be a good time to transfer some other parallel lines across the floor to use as reference lines later.

Step 6:

A good way to start the first row is to use a plywood backer board. It should be a square piece of the same dimension as the length of the pattern to be installed—here, 12 inches. Line up the points on one of the working lines. Double-check the plywood to make sure it is absolutely square.

Step 7:

Screw down the backer board. With it in place, dry-fit the first pieces to make sure everything is lining up as it should.

Step 8:

Recommendations vary as to how to attach herringbone to the subfloor. NWFA guidelines recommend nailing only; NOFMA recommends using only adhesive. Some manufacturers recommend both nailing and gluing the floor—check with the manufacturer of the flooring you are using.

Here, the floor will be both glued and nailed. Remove the dry-fit boards and spread adhesive for the first few rows, making sure to use the appropriate adhesive and trowel.

Step 9:

Place the first slat. To lock the floor together completely, insert a piece of spline into the end joint before placing the next slat.

Step 10:

Carefully place the next slat and nail it in place.

Step 11:

So that every end joint will be interlocking, insert spline again.

Step 12:

As the pieces are placed, pay careful attention to the working lines visible through the adhesive and adjust when necessary.

Step 13:

As you are working, double-check that the floor is going down straight.

Step 14:

Continue nailing the flooring. For 12-inch material such as this, use two nails per board. Watch for squareness. The way you nail can help adjust the pattern as necessary.

Step 15:

If you haven't already done so, transfer a working line over for the next row.

Step 16:

Start the next row by inserting the spline into the end joint, then carefully placing the next slat.

Step 17:

After you've laid at least three slats in the next row, check for squareness and screw down the first slat of the row. This will prevent the slats from being pushed out of square when you start nailing.

Step 18:

Before going any further, double-check the angles again with a square to make sure the slats didn't move while the screws were going in.

Step 19:

With the first slat screwed down, the rest of the slats in the row may be nailed in. Before the adhesive sets up, replace the board with the screws in it with a good board.

Step 20:

Double-check the distance between the corners and the next line. As you are installing the slats, check this distance periodically to help keep the installation straight. If there are variations in the distance, you'll need to make adjustments while nailing to get back on track.

Kim M. Wahlgren is editor of Hardwood Floors.

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Hello, Thank you for sharing your approach. I have several thousand 19" pieces of Ipe that would be ideal to manufacture into t&G for a herringbone layout. The grain pattern is subtle and relieving the edges would make things flow visually. Is there a specific width to length ratio that needs to be adhered to when machining? Have you seen an approach where the herringbone intentionally wanders?
Dennis Curl  sole proprietor furniture mfg, etc  3/24/2012 8:59:46 PM

2.25 " by 15.75 " that would give the mill plenty to work with. if you have good material they may be able to get 3" by 18". visually it is usually in multiples of the width. I prefer the first dimensions. good luck
Jonny T  hardwood installer  3/30/2012 4:57:00 AM

An uneven subfloor can throw off the pattern as well. Flatness of the subfloor is essential in herringbone and chevron patterns. But it all starts with proper milling more so with a herringbone pattern than with any other. If multiple fillet widths do not exactly add up to the fillet length the pattern will be impossible to maintain.
Len B.    3/30/2012 11:33:01 AM

Once installed, how does one sand? The grain is going in different directions which sounds like it complicates things.
Mb  contractor  4/5/2012 7:51:19 AM

You mention above the width by length. How does one pick a length for the board, 12", 15" 18" 24"? Does the size of the room matter? I am working with a 10'x20' room and want to use a 3" board. Don't know if I should use 18" or 15". Any suggestions on how to choose?
Dennis Homant  Engineering Contractor  10/22/2013 9:59:45 PM

Dear Dennis, You might have completed your floor but if not, I saw a Bob Villa show on where they laid out all the boards across the width of the room to see if the pattern would be near perfect, wall to wall. I am cutting cardboard strips, 4" x 20" to see how it lines up. Good luck, Todd
Todd    2/3/2014 3:55:14 PM

Can I use 3 different widths when doing a herringbone? 3,5,7 3,5,7 and so on. Steve
steve  sales  6/2/2014 5:10:02 PM

Hi there, A supplier in town has herringbone floor on his showroom floor. The boards measure 4"x18". As far as I know, in herringbone pattern, the width must be exact multiple of the length. The showroom floor looks good and square. Am I missing something? Length should have been 16" but maybe they centered the starting boards differently.... 2" offset? Any explanation will be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Shlomo  Principal  6/14/2014 12:07:11 PM

Herringbone is like a street fight. No rules just try to get out of the room standing up.
Howard Brickman    6/16/2014 1:53:23 PM

The notion that the length must be a multiple of the width, simply put, is dated math that in fact has been put in writing and even taught, but rarely challenged for some strange reason. It is folklore from the old cats of our industry. What is most important is that one sets the backer boards in an orientation upon which the first set of rows established in either the center line or wall line layout are centered in both horizontal and vertical directions. To address the more pressing question, can the material be layed in a random width board orientation, well.........of course. One could theoretically use a different width board using progressively bigger, and then again smaller sets of boards What would be the challenging part is managing the working lines which would incrementally reduce in distance towards the center line as the boards progressive become more narrow. Inversely, as the boards progressive get bigger, the center line mysteriously walks away leaving one dumbfounded. After playing with the lines of symmetry, one will clearly recognize the reality that with a little imagination, the pattern can look like MC Ecsher's work. If the feat of trying the multiple width herringbone was attempted, one would need to establish the centerline layout offset relative to the backer boards. In another words the centerline (as written in the R&G's) becomes absolutely without a question worthless, what becomes important is a single working line upon which all adjacent sets are oriented. Handy online tools: Google right isosceles triangle and find your hypotenuse. Then, google the Pythagorean Theorem. Also, google decimal to fraction calculator. Daniel Moore
Daniel Moore  Regional Instructor  6/16/2014 9:07:20 PM

Daniel, thank you so much. The boards are not of a varying width. All boards are 4" wide. I was only wondering about having length that is not exact multiple of the width. Since I did not expect a prompt reply (like yours) I asked the supplier for two bundles and dry fitted them on the floor. It did work! It comes in "left and right". Thanks again, Shlomo
Shlomo  Principal  6/17/2014 9:39:00 AM

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