Inspector’s Report: Proper Tool Technique

Dry Dust Mop on Kitchen Floor
Photo courtesy of NWFA

A manufacturer called me to inspect a 20-year-old home that the new owners remodeled and put in a rustic, heavily wire brushed hardwood floor. After four months of use, the homeowner had concerns about splintering/chipping at the edges. When the homeowner was using a proper dry dust mop on the floor, it was catching splinters, which he claims was happening often.

When he called the retailer for guidance, the retailer was insistent that the chipping he saw was normal and just part of the beauty and style of the floor. In his opinion, no claim should be filed, but he would start a claim with the manufacturer to see if a manufacturing issue could be found. An inspection was ordered by the manufacturer.

In my initial interview, the homeowner shared his concerns about the floor. Later in the inspection, he mentioned the pace at which the floor was installed. He said, “it was like there was a race to the end of the row.”

The floor was a 7.5” wire brushed, white oak engineered with a 4-millimeter wear layer. It was a very nice quality floor. There was a total of 1,500 square feet installed on the home’s main floor in a Minneapolis suburb. Since we were still in the dead of a Minnesota winter, extra attention was paid to the relative humidity and the moisture content of both the subfloor and the hardwood floor. Everything was in line with the manufacturer’s instructions and NWFA guidelines. Proper humidification was in the home and was operational.

Inspector Detail
Photo courtesy of NWFA

Useful tip from an inspector: Use the proper tools with the proper technique. The failure to place the foot squarely on top of the hardwood floor tongue/edge, plus the aggressive swing at the cap caused the hard metal foot to damage the edge of the hardwood floor.

In checking the floor’s flatness, it also was well within manufacturing tolerances. I checked the fastener pattern, and while the sequence was good, I noticed that in many places, the chip or split was in the same area where a fastener was placed.

When interviewing the installer, he said the wood was acclimated and that he checked the moisture content with his pin meter.

The prefinished engineered floor and subfloor were documented at 7.5 percent and 9 percent MC, respectively. He also confirmed that the floor was checked before installation for the flatness that the installation guide required.

Inspector Image
Photo courtesy of Richard A Laughlin

The installer used a pneumatic nailer with 18-gauge cleats, along with the glue-assist that the manufacturer recommended. The installation was done by two installers. First was the foreman, who was there to get the job started, and then move to the next job making sure the projects were moving along to stay on schedule. The second was a younger, less-experienced installer, who, they admitted, primarily was used to install unfinished products, but had graduated to more prefinished for one of their builder/remodeler accounts.

We determined that the less-experienced installer used his equipment in ways that he was not proficient enough to handle. The failure to place the foot squarely on top of the hardwood floor tongue/edge, plus the aggressive swing at the cap caused the hard metal foot to damage the edge of the hardwood floor.

Some of the damage was visible right away, but most was very slight or even invisible and was not noticed until the homeowner caught the splintered edge with a dry mop during normal cleaning. Splinters were found in a sock or even broke the skin and entered the foot as a sliver. Other damage was caused by over-tapping with the mallet while getting the floor pulled tight.

Many newer, less-experienced installers find the right mix of finesse and power on the newer pneumatic nailers. Too much power in the swing increases the chance of hidden damage on the board’s edge, and a miss-hit may cause a telegraphing fastener or dimpling.

The importance of learning the proper technique of the tools used in our trade is of utmost importance. From the sanders and nailers to the T-bar or rollers that apply finish, everyone should learn proper techniques of each tool being used for the job’s success. Proper use of your equipment will pay dividends in your business.

Richard A. Laughlin is an NWFA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector based in Rochester, Minnesota. He also is in sales for Intermountain Wood Flooring, and may be reached at richardalaughlin@gmail.com.

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