So, now that you’ve all patiently waited long enough, I’ll get into the installation phase of our pallet floors! Hang on to your seats, because this is going to get crazy! Just kidding. Go get a brad nailer, some knee pads, and some glue. It’s about to get boring!
Before I dive in, here’s a complete list of the tools I use during installation. I’m by no means a professional, and though I hope to someday get my hands on some more specialized (and pricey) tools, we’ve more than handled this with a couple basics:
- Pneumatic Brad Nailer and Air Compressor – I picked up a low end, 2 gallon Blue Hawk setup at Lowe’s for around $75. This thing has come in handy in myriad other projects, as well – good combonitation in which to invest.
- 18-Gauge Brad Nails – I started with 2″ brads, but after countless frustrating jams (Darn that wimpy compressor!), I switched to 1 1/2″ and haven’t had a single jam since. These are about $5 per thousand, and I think I’ve bought around six thousand at this point – keep in mind a good portion of these were used in other projects, were shot into the abyss during spells of boredom/frustration, were accidentally driven through my finger (that was fun…), or were just misplaced and taken by the brad gnomes. I guess what I’m trying to say is I couldn’t accurately tell you how many are in the floor, but best guess is… (average four per board, roughly three boards per square foot… 12 brads per square foot, multiply by 450 square feet… carry the one…) about 5400 brads.
- Liquid Nails Subfloor and Deck Adhesive - We buy the jumbo tubes of it and are on our third contractor’s pack (12 tubes for about $4 a pop. This is a slightly skewed number though. More on that below. I’ll just say that the last installment I did was around 80 square feet - pictured on the drying racks below – and I did it with three tubes. $4 for ever 27 square feet – about $0.15 per square foot. Here it is.
- Hammer, Chisel (because combined, the hammer and chisel are basically better inventions than the wheel), Pliers, Speed Square, Tape Measure, Chalk Line, and Knee Pads!
Before you get started with anything, we both recommend sorting the boards. Take them from the drying racks…
Photo by Brian Fitzgerald
And start organizing them. We usually separate the boards based on color scheme, texture, presence of nails/nail holes, and “specialness.” (We have around ten boards that are our “favorites.” For real though, they’re freaking awesome boards! Hmm… I should take some pictures…)
You should end up with something like this. All this does is make it a little easier to pick boards that look good next to each other as you lay them down. If you just took them off the drying rack in order, you might get some weird patterns. Personally, we like a random look, while still maintaining some control – we don’t want a bunch of similar boards “randomly” ending up in clumps next to each other. You can just be like, “Ok, Honey, we just laid a reddish one next to a burned saw blade marked one and a thin plain light one with two nail holes, do we have any medium dark ones with a big knot in it? Oh, or maybe one of the stamped ones would look good here! What about your special board? Could it go here?” Stuff like that. Yes, we have a wood code. It’s awesome. But this way instead of scouring through the drying racks to find the right board, you just have to check in the “special” stack, or the medium darkness stack. It just makes it a little easier to keep your momentum once you start laying them down.
So now to the work. The first step of installing a herringbone pattern floor is determining the focal point(s) of the room, and lay the pattern so that it nicely dissects it/them. Note: This is entirely a preference call. Maybe you have a nice fireplace in the center of one wall. Maybe there’s a large doorway that catches the eye. Maybe you just have a plain old room. For us, we focused on the hallway. As a long, narrow hallway, there’s only room for a few columns across, so we wanted these columns to be centered within the hallway. It would look extremely awkward having a full board on one side and in the middle, then a half piece on the other side down the length of the hallway. When it spreads into the kitchen and dining room, it’s not as big of a deal because they’re like fourteen columns wide. Having small differences along the edges of the bigger rooms is far less noticeable than these differences would be in the hallway. (Just try to imagine the pattern scooted to one side with another half board on the other side. Yuck!)
So for us, the hallway made the call, but every home is different. If you have more than one focal point, take some measurements for how wide your column will be (15″ boards at 45-degree angles do not make 15″-wide columns!), and see what kind of mathematical magic you can make happen! I’ll also say that the smaller the boards you use, the less this step matters. To make my point: if I did my hallway using 2″-long boards, you wouldn’t even be able to tell where the “arrows” of the pattern were pointing or how large of a piece each edge needed. Conversely, if I was using 25″-long boards, I would only be able to fit two columns, and it would look absurd if they weren’t centered perfectly. Just take some measurements and some time, draw a couple sketches, talk it over, and go for it!
Here’s where the real thrill resides. To start laying the pattern, I busted out my chalk line, did a little trigonometry, and trisected the floor – one section for each column. Next, based on the width of your boards, snap two lines (one on each side) of the primary line. Here’s a diagram; I thoroughly apologize for my horrendous MS Paint skills…
To determine how far from your primary line the secondaries should be, use your speed square to draw a 45-degree angle from the corner of a board down to the side, making a nice right triangle on the end of your board (just like the triangles on the boards in the picture above). Now divide the height of the triangle in half and that’s the distance you should use. As you lay the boards, the end of each board should intersect two lines at a 45-degree angle, and just barely touch the third line with its corner. The best advice I can give is to lay out enough to make sure it’s how you want it, double check that it’s straight, and then install the end row to give you a firm, perfect baseline off of which to proceed. Starting the pattern is daunting, and even after doing the math a hundred times, I was still pretty stressed throughout the process. I kept measuring the distance between the end columns and the walls, and despite it looking straight, it wasn’t adding up right. Turns out it was just the walls; drywall is almost never perfectly straight.
Once you feel confident in a straight pattern, start securing the boards in place. But, I can’t overemphasize enough how important it is that the pattern is perfect. If you’re off by just a little, that error is going to propagate through your floor. The longer a pattern goes, the more messed up it will become. It’s just nasty.
To secure each board, I used a combination of traditional methods. First, I use the adhesive mentioned above. When I began, I used the adhesive almost exclusively. I wanted to preserve the face of the boards, so we put a ton of that good stuff on each board. We actually have a pretty nice routine. Typically, Hilary finds a dissimilar board, flips it over, applies the glue, then hands it to me. While she goes for the next board, I lock the one she handed me in place. I’ve tried several techniques so far, and the winner by a landslide is face nailing. But like I said, it started with mainly glue. I nailed in blocks around each board to hold them in place while the glue dried. That was a PAIN! Not only was the process time consuming, but after it was all said and done, I would have to backtrack and pull out all those blocks and all the little brads I used to hold them down. It was a awful.
So then I started blind nailing. Kind of. Traditional blind nailing uses a special nail gun that shoots a nail or staple through the base of the tongue of a board, hiding it within the groove of the next row. Since our boards aren’t tongued and grooved, I just started shooting brads at an angle into the sides of the board. It worked, but I had to use a nail punch on almost every single one, which almost always made the board slide from where I had nailed it into place. Again, just not working.
Thankfully, I got fed up with the whole thing and just shot a couple brad nails into the top of a tricky board. They just disappeared. It was incredible. On traditional hardwood flooring, the only time you face nail is along the edges where you can’t get your flooring nail gun, and even then, you usually fill in the holes with putty that matches the lumber. A nail stick out like a sore thumb in clear hardwood lumber; pallet wood is quite different. Some of our boards still have nail heads in them, some have dents, chunks missing, stamps, paint spills, etc. A couple 18-gauge brads simply disappear into the pattern. Honestly, even up close it’s VERY difficult to spot the old brad holes. And face nailing is so much more secure than the other two methods, but just in case, we still use a nice thick wave of adhesive before we punch the brads through. Here’s what I’m talking about.
Sometimes, I work by myself, so for efficiency reasons, I usually find four to six pieces, glue them all first, flip them and put them where they go, then nail them down all at once. Here’s the reason I’m sometimes forced to work solo:
I thought I was the heavy sleeper! Air compressor, vacuum cleaner, hammer and chisel, nail gun? No problem. Hehe. I’m being a little unfair though. Our schedules have been very different (soon to change!), and she wakes up WAY earlier than I do. Still a priceless picture though. And don’t you worry, I’m working on a secret post of all the “Shoemaker and the Elf” photos that I’ve taken of her! Heads up: there are plenty!
Regardless, here’s where we are as of right now. Still some work to do, but this might be as far as we make it before the wedding! After finishing all the edge pieces, getting it to the door, and replacing the trim, that is. Crunch time!
We finished the hallway, dining room, and kitchen, and are going to do the entire living room when we have time, but for now, the path to the back door will have to suffice.
I hope this post helped clear some of the obscurities! I’ll do another post to wrap up the project and share some tidbits I may have missed. Think of a CliffsNotes version of these four posts, and then add some pictures of the house actually put back together! Be excited! And feel free to ask any questions or just speak your mind. I’m sure there are plenty of aspects I have missed or topics on which I haven’t been clear enough. Just let us know!