Proceed with Caution

Preparation on the front-end of a wood flooring project is critical, especially when the installation is detailed or somewhat out-of-the-ordinary. For these complex installations, plenty of pre-planning and making sure you check your work as you go is vital.

Ben Totta, co-owner of Totta Hardwoods, recently put these axioms into practice when he was approached about a project others felt exceeded their skillset.

“The client had purchased a new home and hired a company to refinish the existing wood floors. She then asked if they would be willing to install a basketweave pattern in her 16-foot by 5-foot L-shaped foyer,” explains Totta. “The company declined, as they were not comfortable attempting such a detailed install.”

Photos courtesy of Ben Totta.

Totta, who also is an NWFA Regional Instructor, says that patterns like the basketweave can be quite challenging without proper training.

“A basketweave is not the easiest installation to do, and it’s easy to get yourself into trouble if you’ve never done it before. It’s a pattern that looks simple, but when it’s time to put it together, it can be challenging,” explains Totta. “There is no continuous straight line. You cannot just put a straight edge down and start installing like you can with some other parquet patterns.”

Totta’s advice when attempting such a pattern is to go slowly and cautiously, carefully building it out and keeping everything aligned as you go.

“Once you understand the basics, it’s not too bad, but it is certainly more challenging than something like a herringbone,” says Totta. “It’s critical to plan, check your work, and don’t rush forward to the end.”

To create the basketweave pattern and keep material costs down, Totta sought materials he already had on-hand.

“The homeowner didn’t have a strong opinion on what wood she wanted me to use, as long as it matched her existing 2¼ red oak floor,” says Totta. “To help with the cost, we decided to use existing material that we already had in our shop. I used 2¼ red oak to make the blocks, and then I used 5” red oak for the picket pieces.”

After procuring materials, Totta focused on the layout of the floor. Due to the complexity of the pattern and the preciseness required, he leaned on technology to assist him.

“We did a mock-up using design software to show the homeowner how it would lay out. With the software, I also was able to estimate pretty precisely how many pieces I would need. I also made sure to make some extras in case something went wrong,” says Totta. “I set up a jig for my track saw to cut the block pieces and made a simple stop for my miter saw to cut the pickets to the exact length.”

Totta resisted the strong urge to save time and cut all of the pieces at once, knowing that cutting pieces too quickly is a recipe for disaster at the jobsite.

“Any time you are trying to make a precision piece, you must constantly make sure what you are cutting is remaining true and accurate to what you need. It’s so easy to get off on a piece here and there,” explains Totta. “I ran about half of my pieces through, then double-checked.  Sure enough, I discovered an error and was forced to correct the pieces by running them through the saw again.”

He recommends checking pieces every 25 to 50 cuts to ensure that you are not introducing errors. Once he was confident his pieces were cut correctly, his next step was to do final preparations at the jobsite.

“With a patterned floor like this, it’s critical the subfloor be as perfect as you can make it. To prepare it, we sanded it and screwed it down so that it was securely fastened,” explains Totta.

The next step was laying down the pattern. Erring on the side of caution, Totta first rough-laid the flooring without adhesive. 

“Since the area was relatively small, we did our layout lines for a center layout in the main section of flooring, and then dry laid the area,” says Totta. “Once we saw that it was correct, we spread MAPEI Ecco 995 adhesive down one piece at a time and set it in. Doing this, we ended
up being able to install the whole field all in one day.”

Totta returned the next day to install the border and perform the final sand and finish.

“To finish, we used a planetary sander, which is needed for a multidirectional floor because you cannot simply sand with the grain in this case. Finally, we stained it with DuraSeal Dark Walnut stain,” says Totta. “The result was gratifying, but it’s important to know that doing a floor like this takes time to get it right. You need to be prepared for the time and effort involved, and make sure you charge accordingly.” 

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