The Tongue and Groove

First, get your mind out of the gutter. Otherwise, the rest of this post will get awkward.

Installing hardwood flooring (correctly) is a SLOW job. There’s a lot more involved than meets the eye. It’s playing chess and there’s a lot of machining to do.

The box of wood flooring says “Assorted Sizes”. If true, that would have saved me about 50% of my time, but it’s not. Each box is full of 48” pieces, except for one 36 inch board and one 12 inch board. Those three sizes are not adequate for creating a random joint pattern on the floor, so I have to cut boards to random sizes. My bandsaw only has a 14 inch throat, so I am hand cutting random sizes larger than that and trimming them up on the bandsaw. But each board has a tongue on one side and a groove on the other, and I don’t want to waste wood, so when I cut off a grooved edge to use the tongue side to start a row, I have to figure out where I can end a row with the grooved cutoff. Also, I look at every single board and pick out specific boards to cut, picking boards that look good but might have a flaw somewhere in the middle. I also have to make sure that I don’t cut a board too short. It looks stupid to have 1 or 2 or 3 inch boards finishing out the row. I know, since this was done two dozen times on the old floor.

Then it gets difficult when I’m laying boards perpendicular to a threshold board, such as the 48 inch long board going into the living room from the foyer, and the footer at the bottom of the stairs. I want each board’s groove to go into the threshold board’s tongue side, but again, I have 3 standard sizes. So, to randomize the layout, I cut random sizes and keep the tongue side of the board, then I stand up the board on its teeny tiny edge and try to keep the board perfectly in line with the blade as I push it against the bandsaw, making 3, 4, or 5 cuts (depending on the bandsaw blade wandering and the steadiness of my hand) to hog out the new groove (see what I mean about being awkward?). I finish the groove with a tiny chisel, then I bevel the top side of the cut to match the bevel around the perimeter of the rest of the board, then stain the new beveled edge with a super secret black coating (Sharpie) to maintain a uniform look. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

There are a lot of crap boards in the box. Way more than I would have anticipated. Actually, some boxes have near perfect boards, and some boxes are almost pure crap. Some boards just don’t have a pleasing grain pattern or have an unusual streak or something, but a lot of them have ugly splotchy spots where the stain didn’t take. It’s not a big deal, since the hardwood flooring is going under the new cabinets.  However, sometimes one of the two shorter boards looks bad, so that takes away a finished short board and adds more machining time to my schedule. I bought spares, but not too many. I’m a bit concerned about it, actually.

So them’s be how you put in a new floor, and I assume that kind of attention to detail doesn’t come with a standard $2.99/sq ft installation cost. I know where every corner can be cut, both because I can imagine that it takes less time to cut off a tongue than cut in a new groove, and because I ripped out my old flooring. My builders didn’t take 2 seconds more than they needed to completing anything in the house. Today, however, I spend 12 hours installing four boards. 4. F-o-u-r. Actually, I machined a fifth. I should give myself more credit.