Farrell Wills Wood Floors


Burlingame, CA                                   Installation, sanding & refinishing, repairs, and recoats

Installation procedures

There are three basic categories of wood flooring that we install.  Within those three categories are different grades, species, and cuts.  We first divide the flooring up according to how it is installed.

1)    Top-nailed flooring; nailed from the surface

This is oak flooring, and is the most common floor in the Bay area.  The basic size is 5 / 16" thick, and 2" wide.  It also comes in plank sizes, from 3" to 8".  It can be either red or white oak.  The red is salmon-colored pink to yellow/ pink; the white oak is gray, tan, and white.

In older homes especially, these floors often have a five-board border around them, which creates a “picture-frame” effect.  They can also have thin stripes of mahogany or walnut  feature strips, and keyed corners with intricate designs.  

[Photo of these is on the "Contact" page of this site]

In top-nail floors, each board is nailed separately.  So there is not as much expansion and contraction in these floors.  We still install them with a gap of  1 / 4 ".  Baseboards or baseshoe then cover this gap. 

Top-nailed floors must be sanded and refinished.  They require at least two trowelings of putty to fill all the nailholes, as well as hand-filling any remaining nailholes between coats of polyurethane. 


2)  Tongue-and-groove flooring, blind-nailed below the surface

This is the most common oak flooring almost everywhere else in the United States.  The dimensions of the wood are 3 / 4 " x  2  1 / 4" in strip form.  It also comes in plank sizes. 

“Tongue and groove” refers to the way these strips fit together.  The flooring is laid with the wooden tongues facing out.  Then nails are driven into the tongue at a 45-degree angle.  The groove in the next strip of wood then fits onto the nailed tongue, and covers over the nailed area.  These floors are only top-nailed around the edges, next to walls.

These are very sturdy floors, but there is usually a height difference between this floor and an existing floor.  T&G also comes in a 1 / 2" thickness, to help with this problem.

This type of floor is almost always laid without borders; it runs wall-to-wall.  A border and feature strips are much more expensive to install on T&G, although they can be done.

Expansion gaps are very important with T&G floors.  They must be at least 1 /4 " to 1 / 2 ", and they are covered with baseboard or with baseshoe molding.

T&G comes in red and white oak, as well as a wide range of custom woods.  Maple is next most common, but there are species such as cherry, birch, ash, and mahogany available. 

This flooring also needs to be sanded and refinished.  It still needs to be toweled with putty to fill all the cracks, but it does not have thousands of nailholes on the surface.


3)  Pre-finished laminated and engineered wood flooring

Engineered floors are constructed in a sandwich-like manner, with a top veneer of hardwood.  They are prefinished at the factory, and have a very hard and lasting finish.  They can be nailed down, glued, or they can be set up to click together.  They form an unbroken surface, with no cracks between any sections or joints.  The typical thickness is 7 / 16", and the length is usually around 7' per plank.  Laminated floors are made of plastic, with digital pictoral reproductions of wood finish.

The planks can come in one, two, or three strips to a panel.  The ones that look the most like a traditional floor are the one-strip models.  These floors can be very beautiful.  They are useful for laying on concrete slab, for high-moisture areas, and for high traffic areas such as kitchens and playrooms.  They can be very practical for commercial applications.

We like these floors because it gets us away from chemicals, dust, and noise.  While we may still seal off the rooms to do cuts, the process is relatively clean. 


Red oak or white oak?

Oak is the most common flooring we use, and there are two varieties to choose from.  Red oak is mainly salmon-pink in color, while white oak has tan and gray tones.  I have samples of both, and you can see the differences immediately.  Red oak is the most commonly used.  In houses that are 50 to 90 years old, the existing red oak ages, and has a tan appearance when sanded.  To match this color, I use white oak, and I stain both floors to blend them.  Houses built from the mid-50s on are usually easier to match.  The red oak in them is often the same color as modern red oak.


Grades of oak flooring

Oak is graded according to appearance, and the higher grades have less color variation, pinholes, longer lengths, and so on.   The grades also refer to the part of the tree where the wood originated.  Plainsawn oak comes from the side of the cut tree, and 80% of oak grades are in this class.  Plain-sawn has both straight and wavy grain patterns to it.  Most existing oak floors are of this type.  The top grade of this class is called clear, and that is what we use for most of our floorsSelect and better is the next grade down, and is also acceptable for home use.  Rift and Quartersawn oak comes from the top of the log, and is considered an elite flooring material. Quartersawn material is flecked with light stripes and highlights.  Rift flooring is very straight lined, and has almost no wavy grain.  This wood costs more per square foot than plain-sawn.


Maple, Birch, and Ash floors

Maple is the commercial wood used for gyms and bowling alleys, and it was often used in older department stores.  Maple, Birch, and Ash are all light blonde in color when refinished, and have a high-density surface.  In homes, maple is often used for kitchens.  It is also used in modern floor plans where the kitchen, living room and dining room are all continuous floors.  It comes in tongue-and-groove format, both 2  1 / 4" and 3  1 / 4" wide.  It is more expensive to sand and refinish these floors, as they show imperfections more easily than oak does. 


Custom hardwoods

There are many other species of hardwoods available, although they cost more per square foot.  Cherry, mahogany, hickory, and walnut are all milled for floors.  There are also exotic woods from Africa and Australia


Softwood floors

Douglas fur floors are the primary softwood floors in the Bay area.  These are milled in planks that are 3  1 / 8" x  3 / 4".  They are also tongue-and-groove format.  Softwood floors are a more rustic look, and they are usually left natural.   They are yellow when new, but quickly age to an orange-red color.  In older houses, they were typically laid in bedrooms, while the main rooms of the house had hardwood installed.



Bamboo is the floor material of the future, as it does not require cutting down forestry for harvest of the wood. Bamboo is a quick-growing grass.  The grain is very tight, and the color is usually a yellow natural finish.  Bamboo flooring material can be darkened by a process called carbonizing, which heats the wood to a dark color.  It is not stained like traditional hardwoods or softwoods.  Traditional bamboo floors come in two grain choices; horizontal and vertical .  Each grain is available in either natural color (yellow), or cabonized, (a darker brown.)  Bamboo can also come in a form known as stranded.  This is a manufacturing process that allows the bamboo to be woven into layers, and also allows it to be tinted different colors.  Stranded bamboo is one of the toughest woods available on the market.


Parquet and Cork

Parquet blocks come in many different patterns, and are commonly 9" x 9" or 12" x 12" squares.  Installation involves spreading mastic and laying the tiles in the adhesive.  Parquet is still available, although more as a decorative pattern.  The simple utility block pattern often seen in apartments has been discontinued.  Cork is rarely seen, but it is sold as a flooring material.  It comes in blocks, and can be sanded and refinished just like regular wood. 


How we install each type of floor

Top-nailed floors

The first order of business is to prepare the floor for the wood.  We have to knock down existing nails or staples, and cover the floor with brown insulating paper.  This is both a moisture barrier, and a cushion for the floor.  We also cut all the doorway wood trim, to allow the wood to slip underneath them.  The majority of top-nailed floors have borders around them.  The border will vary in size from room to room.  Typically, it is five courses wide in main rooms, and three courses wide in bedrooms and halls.  As described, it is a “picture frame” effect, surrounding the floor in each room.  The border will be the first thing to go in. 

Once we have the border in place, we begin filling in the field of the floor.  We lay the courses out, and begin arranging them in rows between the borders.  We work our way across the room, tightening the rows together, and locking them into place with holding nails.  These are temporary fasteners until we begin the final nailing process.  When the field and the border are all in place, the floor is ready to nail.  We mark out lines every 7" across the floor, and then nail along those lines, putting two nails into each piece.  We add two more nails at each end joint.   When we’re done nailing, we then apply putty to the whole floor, spreading it on with a trowel.  This fills nailholes and any cracks in the floor.


Tongue-and-groove floors

These floors usually do not have borders; they are laid from end wall to end wall, and the gap is covered by baseboard.   Borders are more complicated in T&G flooring, because the tongues need to be cut off of end pieces in order to fill in the field.  This means we need to cut new grooves in the flooring, and insert splines into the space between the two boards.  Splines are small inserts that replace the cut-off tongues.  We also have to put mastic under the cut pieces, to fasten them in place.  We lay black tar paper as a cushion and moisture barrier for T&G floors.  This is a heavier barrier than brown craft paper, as moisture protection is more important on these floors.

With tongue and groove, each board is nailed into place as we go.  We lay the floor out loosely in front of us, and then pull the boards up tight and nail them, a row at a time.  When we have laid the whole floor, we then trowel it with filler and allow it to dry.

Important note:  The National Oak Flooring Association recommends laying T&G floors, and then letting them acclimate in place for one to two weeks before sanding them.   T&G flooring is affected by moisture to a greater extent, since each course of the floor is locked into the one next to it.  The expansion and contraction that all wood goes through has more of a “ripple” effect on tongue-and-groove flooring.  It can push the edges of the floor into the walls, or cause big cracks to appear between boards.

If the floor can acclimate at room temperature for a least a week before installing, then the need for additional acclimation is reduced.  The Bay area climate is fairly forgiving, as we do not have large shifts in humidity and temperature.  


Laminate and engineered floors

For these floors, we install special moisture-barrier foam, and tape it into place.  Then we began assembling the rows, one plank at a time.  These floors are sometimes tongue-and-groove, and they can also be milled so that they click together.  We might use nails, staples, or glue to fasten them.  There are no cracks to fill in this process.  With this type of flooring, you can immediately move furniture into a room after we’ve finished installing it. 

Prefinished floors require more careful handling, to avoid chipping or scratching them during installation.


How we charge for installations

I list each component of the install process separately, so that it is easier to add, subtract, or change the items on the estimate. 

1)    Price of the material you select.   This is listed, with tax included.

2)    Other materials   These include moisture paper, nails or staples, shims, and other extra material.

3)  Labor cost to install.  This is time that it takes to actually install the basic floor.

4)  Borders, Feature strips, and Keyed Corners  Any extra features are listed here.

5)  Transitions   These are all the doorways and junctions we’ll encounter on your floor.  Since each layout is different, I list all of these separately.  We may need to match grout lines for kitchen tile, install a threshold at the front door, put a nosing on the top stair, or install a carpet bar at the bedroom door.  I list time and materials for each transition.  Some of these can be very time-consuming.

6)  Sanding and refinishing    The price for sanding the floor, if that is necessary.

7)  Extra coats    The additional coats for heavy-traffic or commercial uses.

8)  Delivery charge    This is added on if I need to be present for the delivery of the wood.   There is also a delivery charge on any size order of pre-finished flooring.

9)  Baseboard, toekick, or baseshoe installation   Time and materials for these items, if we’re installing them.