By Keith Long
Keith Long here again to wrap up what we had started last week on the white oak herringbone and Greek key border.
This post is titled “What I Do” because I want to set the tone for how I intend to communicate on these blog posts. It’s my intention to show you what I do with my time and efforts when it comes to hardwood flooring. I am hoping it’s generally helpful and a positive way to associate.
That being said, I am not here to tell you what you should do. If you like what you see, and want to try it, you’ll at least have a baseline to go by, and can tweak and refine to your taste. If someone knows of a different or better way to do things, that’s one of the beauties of technology—information can be shared. I’m aiming for other contractors that read these posts to gain the confidence to try new things.
John Forbes and I built the above taping jig to assemble the Greek key. I’d like to give a shout out to Mark Scheller, a brilliant craftsman in this industry and longtime NWFA instructor. He was the lead instructor for the panel I was on when I took the Expert Installation course, and he showed Nathan Kobley from Alberta, Canada, and me how to make this type of jig, along with the Greek key jig. Mark has great vision for how to best approach the scope of work, and uses teamwork within his panel to get the job done on time. He taught the concepts so that I still remember them today.
When I was going through the NWFA coursework, I would drive to class and bring my tools. That way, when it came time to make a sliding table saw jig, it could be built to fit my table saw, and I’d take it home. If you don’t have that luxury, at least the schools train a person on how to make jigs, and with a little time and material, they can be replicated at home.
Although the taping jig is 8 feet long, and we taped the Greek key in 8 foot sections with clear packaging tape, it only took one try and a few choice words to figure out that trying to extract and stack an 8-foot section of the key from the jig all at once was not one of my brightest moves ever. After losing several pieces from it being bent and contorted, John and I reassembled and re-taped the key, then took a blade and cut the packaging tape at the halfway point of the 8 feet. Four-foot sections are much easier to remove and handle.
As a general rule, I like to assemble the pieces coming off the sliding table saw jig in the order that they are cut. With this job in particular, the ipé decking we used was so uniform in grain and color that it wasn’t a big issue. John did a great job of matching the white oak part of the key by grain orientation and color—I’d work with him any time. Being meticulous on details such as these has a large bearing on whether a custom job ends up being pleasing to the eye or not.
Things brings me to an aside: I did a few things career-wise before I found my niche in hardwood flooring, one of which was being a farrier (trimming and shoeing horses). My wife had already been a farrier for nine years when we met, and while on vacation in Arizona, we connected with a lifelong friend of hers by the name of Pat Gallahan. Pat shoes a number of gaited Arabian horses down there in the desert Southwest. We ran with him one day and shod horses together; it was a good way to be productive while getting caught up with what each of us had been up to.
At one point, Pat said to me, “See that other guy shoeing over there? He charges half of what I do to shoe a horse. He gets in such a hurry, and feels that he has no time to do any top work and make the hoof look pretty. Although his work is probably as functional for the horse as mine is, I spend an extra 15 minutes or so per horse to make the hoofs look neat and tidy on the outside, the part that the owner sees. Ask yourself, would you rather spend an extra hour sweating under another horse, where you have to buy another set of shoes and nails, or would you rather focus on quality over quantity?”
So, getting back to the Greek key, I like the fact that John searched until he found the right color and grain to make the key flow visually. Making sound decisions on the little details landed us in a position with a satisfied homeowner that, although he doesn’t know all the decisions we made to make the floor look the way it does, really likes what he sees.
We cut Baltic birch plywood that’s approximately 3/8 inch thick, and glued and nailed it to the subfloor where the Greek key would end up going. We cut the width of the Plywood 1/16 inch wider than the width of the key. We did this because we installed the two-row 5-inch white oak log-cabin-style border that goes to the wall before we installed the key. The bottom side of the groove on the flooring is 1/16 inset from the top side of the groove, and it’s the bottom side that touches the Baltic birch, while the top side touches the key. So, we took that into account and compensated for it.
Next, we dry-fit the Greek key in place. We opted to make the key continuous instead of letting it die off into corner blocks. This look is phenomenal, but takes time. It’s not likely that it will come to a corner on a full piece, ready to turn 90 degrees and keep going, so we fabricated some of the length-only components of the key 1/8 inch longer (a person could do 1/8 inch shorter, too, if desired). We kept going until it was all dry-fit to our satisfaction. Since the length changes by only 1/8 in spots where needed to keep the key continuous, the average person won’t pick it out at all. Then, we removed it and used full-trowel glue on top of the installed plywood, and inlaid the key.
3/8 of plywood equals 6/16, plus the 5/16 thickness of the key equaled only 11/16 thickness in wood. The flooring was 1/32 more thick than ¾, or a fuzz over 12/16, plus a layer of glue. For the key, because of the 2 layers of glue, one under the plywood, and one between the plywood and the key, the inlay was right where we wanted it from a height standpoint. After the glue dried, I didn’t worry about removing all the clear packaging tape on the key before sanding, and it didn’t foul up my sanders.
Hope this helps, your questions and comments are welcome. I intend to get into some stairs on the next post.
Have a good week; as the old timers where I come from say, “Check your cinch on occasion.”