Navigating the Unknown

Photos courtesy of Wildwood Floors of Eastern Iowa

Any successful hardwood flooring installation demands attention to detail and a skilled craftsperson. However, when you combine an extremely unusual flooring pattern with an absence of straight lines, layout uncertainty, and zero margins for error, the installation challenge rises exponentially.

“The most difficult installation I’ve ever attempted began when a contact approached me with a project that included what he simply described as ‘extremely unique-looking wood flooring,’” explains Andy Eicher, owner of Wildwood Floors of Eastern Iowa. “He told me he guessed it would not be a standard installation, as it was a type of flooring that he had never seen before.”

While the project was only around 1,000 square feet, the challenge for Eicher was that the pattern he was asked to install did indeed have a very unusual appearance.  

“He was correct about it not being a standard installation. The shape was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or since, and I immediately realized why I had gotten a call to assist,” says Eicher. “That said, I’m always up for a challenge, and I thought it was an interesting shape, so I agreed to do the install. My next step was to determine how I could lay it properly.”

The flooring was 5/8” thick engineered, with a prefinished oak top wear layer from a company located in Spain. Unfortunately, the product lacked instructions other than “use a good adhesive.”

“I struggled mightily to understand how it was intended to be installed. I could see the flooring had a tongue on the top of the circular portion, while the bottom ‘tail’ had a groove,” says Eicher. “Aside from the strange appearance, they were very well-milled parquet pieces that arrived ready to install. It was just up to me to snap lines and lay it, which was certainly easier said than done.”

From his experience, Eicher understood that any orientation that was out of square even one degree off would be a disaster. He had done parquet work that involved herringbone, chevron, or finger block parquet, but those all had straight edges to work with. This flooring had none.

“Even the ‘tail’ had a minor radius to it. I had a lot of questions, but no easy answers. Where do I start? What direction should I lay it? How do I make cuts when necessary?” says Eicher. “I knew that any type of separation would look horrible. If my approach was wrong, it would be hard to fix, and it would only get worse and worse as I progressed.”

To get answers, Eicher reached out to Brett Miller with the NWFA. Miller was able to assist and offered advice that helped get him started. But even Miller indicated he had never installed this type of pattern before. Miller put him in touch with others in the industry who he knew may have worked on different types of irregular patterns similar to this.  Eicher then got in touch with NFWA Regional Instructor Lenny Hall who offered further advice.

“Everyone had some great pointers and provided connections they knew who could assist me.  For example, I was correctly apprehensive about cutting on my table saw, but Brett had the idea of using a track saw, a tool that ended up becoming a necessity on this job,” says Eicher. “I also learned that the product needed to be laid down in a diagonal, stairstep fashion. In most installs, we would avoid stair-stepping, but here, that’s how I would need to put it down.”

To accomplish the precise layout, Eicher was first advised to find points on the material to line up to find the angle, and snap a line. Eicher also was reminded to pay special attention to both the concrete substrate and milling of each piece. 

“The pieces have to be perfectly flat when they interact. Also, if you have a board that is not perfect due to milling issues, we’d be forced to tear it out and hope the replacement piece worked well with the other glued down pieces around it,” explains Eicher.

With the information gleaned from his inquiries, Eicher began the process of installing the floor.

“Having learned what I needed, I began the installation process, using Wakol PU-280 moisture barrier and Wakol MS 262 wood flooring adhesive,” explains Eicher. “After ensuring the substrate was flat to within tolerance, I went in with a diamond brush and scarred the surface of the substrate to prepare it, and then applied two coats of PU-280 to the concrete, which would act as our moisture barrier. I then used my battery-powered WAKOL Applicator 90 to apply adhesive quickly and without waste. On this job, that applicator helped save me a lot of time.”

Armed with the right tools and information, Eicher quickly and confidently installed the floor to his satisfaction.

“In the end, it was the most challenging project I have ever done, certainly in regards to the number of unknowns that I was facing. That said, it also has been one of the most rewarding,” says Eicher. “Everyone who has walked in has been stopped in their tracks by the floor. It’s a great feeling. It is also wonderful knowing that when I have challenges, I have a group of peers who have my back when the challenges initially can feel overwhelming.” 

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