History of Tools: How the Evolution of the Wood Flooring Industry Impacted Fastening Innovation

As Powernail celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, David Anstett, president of Powernail, and I discussed the various changes the wood flooring industry has undergone throughout that time. We spoke of trends, products, and processes that look very different now than from when his father, Carl Anstett, and uncle, Edgar Anstett, founded Powernail in 1947.

Carl Anstett
Carl Anstett

We discussed the introduction of new and exotic wood species into the market and how the arrival of certain flooring products required the company to institute broad changes to product designs. And we even dove into the rise of engineered wood flooring products that precipitated an entirely new type of installation tool. It’s safe to say that the industry must look much different now than it did to Carl and Edgar in the 1940s, but their legacy persists. We can easily track the evolution of the wood flooring industry by exploring some of their company’s inventions.

 

 

Edgar Anstett
Edgar Anstett

Let’s begin with the cleat. Designed in 1947 by Edgar Anstett and patented in 1950, the L-shaped cleat nail presented a quantum leap in efficiency for the wood flooring installer. This new fastener, called the PowerCleat featured an “L” shaped head, barbed shaft, and chisel tip. The Anstetts utilized their prior manufacturing experience and capabilities to produce a nail specifically designed to fasten tongue and groove hardwood flooring.

 

 

 

Powernail Cleat

Prior to the PowerCleat’s invention, wood flooring was fastened by hammering one cut-nail at a time. Installers nailed directly through a flooring strip and into wooden joists or a subfloor made of wooden planks to hold flooring in place. This new nail and its installation tool, the Model 145, presented a system that helped the installer work faster and more reliably. The more-popular species of wood at the time were oak, maple, and even some softwoods, so the 16-gauge, 2” PowerCleat quickly became the professional’s nail of choice. But as markets expanded the availability of different wood species, the rising popularity of denser and sometimes thinner species of wood necessitated a new size of PowerCleat.

Powernail 145 Schematic
When Powernail introduced the 16 gauge PowerCleat in 1947 they also developed a delivery tool the model 145 PowerNailer Photos courtesy of Powernail

Fastening wood with any sort of mechanical or metal fastener is a game of give and take. A large fastener provides more surface area and drag once it is set into a wooden substrate. The more of that fastener that contacts the wood, the more difficult it is for that fastener to be removed; essentially meaning that a larger fastener offers more holding power. Yet, if a fastener is too large and the wood too dense, there is a risk of the wood splitting and that fastener failing to do its job. Often, that failure results in split tongues or blowout on
the tongue side or bottom of the flooring board. A fastener’s gauge denotes the thickness of the steel used in its making. PowerCleats traditionally were made of 16-gauge steel, which is approximately 1/16” thick. 18-gauge PowerCleats are made of steel that is only about 1/20” thick. So, when installers began reporting trouble fastening denser species of wood, Powernail knew that it was time to offer a new gauge of nail. Thus the 18-gauge PowerCleat was born along with its installation tool, the Model 50C. This thinner fastener provided just enough of a size reduction to fasten properly and reliably hold even the hardest species of wood flooring.

As with bullets, cleat nails are useful only if you have a reliable nailer to drive them with. Given the product changes previously discussed, the tools for driving flooring nails have come a long way from hammers, cut nails, and sore thumbs. When Powernail introduced the 16-gauge PowerCleat in 1947, they also developed a delivery tool, the model 145 PowerNailer. This nailing machine would hold a strip of cleat nails at a consistent 45-degree angle while the installer struck the tool with a mallet. The mallet strike not only drove the nails home, but also worked to close the joints between floor planks, eliminating gaps between. The model 145 has been upgraded and changed over the years, and is known now simply as the model 45.

I asked Dave Anstett what have been the most significant industry changes he experienced over the years. He provided two answers. The first was prefinished flooring.

As prefinished floors came into popularity, the trusty model 45 and other similar, manual nailers were having the issue of scratching the new, factory applied finishes. Dave and his team knew they had to find a way to accommodate these products.

The answer was Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMW). UHMW plastic provided a material that could be milled easily and applied to the bottoms of each one of their tools. It provided a safe barrier between the floor’s prefinished surface and the tool’s steel bottom. To date, all of Powernail’s mallet-actuated tools feature a protective UHMW pad to ensure the safety and quality of a
floor’s finish.

The second change was the advent of air-compressors. As jobsite compressors became more of a construction staple, the opportunity to develop a pneumatic tool to simplify the task of the installer could not be ignored. In the mid-1990s, Powernail, along with several other tool manufacturers, brought their versions of pneumatic-assisted, mallet-actuated flooring nailers to market. Pneumatic technology paved the way for an entirely new generation of tools.

The millennium approached and new floor coverings gave way to new demand for nailers that could both simplify and quicken the nailing process. Soon, nailers would feature automatic foot adjustments to accommodate different thicknesses of flooring and even wheels to limit the number of times an installer had to pick up their tool. Installers were soon looking for a pneumatic tool that could drive 18-gauge PowerCleats to install a new flooring product made of bamboo and even super-dense, exotic products like Brazilian cherry (Jatoba) and Ipe. This demand brought about the birth of of the model 50P.

Powernail Cleat Nail Patent
Designed in 1947 by Edgar Anstett and patented in 1950 the L shaped cleat nail presented a quantum leap in efficiency for the wood flooring installer

The introduction of engineered flooring gave rise to new tools that are completely trigger-operated. They do not require a mallet strike to drive their fastener. This trigger-pull action is much less physically demanding, but has some drawbacks. Mallet-actuated tools, whether manual or air-assisted, were designed not just to drive a cleat nail, but to simultaneously tighten the joints between floorboards. With trigger-pull tools, prior to nailing, it is vitally important to use a tapping block or quality mallet to tighten those joints and prevent gaps from board to board. The other consideration with trigger-pull tools is that thinner and lighter planks tend to rock upward on the tongue side of the board. When nailing, one must be sure to apply enough downward pressure to the face of the board so that both the board and the subfloor are in direct contact.

The wood flooring industry is in a constant state of change. But even when it seems like we are on a crash course toward better products, processes, and systems, there is no better way to plan our future than by examining our past. The contributions of these inventors, installers, and designers are the reason we have the modern wood flooring industry. Carl and Edgar Anstett are just two of the thousands of individuals who have influenced wood flooring for the better. And I’m sure that today, they would look to our future with hope and the anticipation of solutions for problems yet unknown.

Tyler Powell is the founder and CEO of AllWell Agency LLC in Wentzville, Missouri. He has more than 16 years of experience in the building supplies industry, working previously for companies such as Powernail and EJ Welch. He can be reached at tyler@allwellagency.com. To learn more about Powernail, visit powernail.com.

HFM Subscribe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.