Canadian Woodworking

Click floor tricks

Author: Steve Maxwell
Photos: Steve Maxwell
Published: August September 2009

Take a look at these six woodworkers’ secrets for a great flooring installation.

Click flooring has taken off in popularity since it was intro­duced about a decade ago because it’s fast and easy to install. Interlocking edges of neighboring boards snap together, forming a continuous, floating floor that just about anyone can install. Although the click concept is usually found on laminate floor­ing products, that’s starting to change. It’s now appearing on prefinished solid wood, prefinished engineered wood and even bamboo flooring. But regardless of exactly what material you choose, there are important things you need to under­stand to get the best possible click floor installation. The six critical points you’ll discover here work alongside standard manufacturer instructions to create a great floor.

Abrasion test
If you can't find the AC numbers you can conduct your own tests with a random orbit sander.

Tackle the trim
 Use a thin kerf flush-cut saw registered on a piece of the laminate to cut the door trim perfectly.

Don't bust your chops
 Laminate materials are hard on saw blades so use a jigsaw and save your expensive blades.

A closer look
 reveals multiple layers that keep the floor from moving with the seasons.

Ask About AC Rating

Laminates are the largest part of the click flooring sector, but the durability of different products varies tremendous­ly. To determine exactly how tough a particular laminate is, you need more than fancy advertisements and a friendly salesperson. You really need numbers, and this is where something called the abrasion class (AC) rating can help.

Click flooring with an AC rating of 2, for instance, is for light residential use only. Anything more challenging than an elderly couple with no pets and this stuff will scratch and wear out. AC-5 is on the other end of the durability spectrum. It stands up just fine even in commercial ap­plications involving lots of foot traffic and gritty street shoes. AC ratings are not often shown on product packaging, but it’s an in­dustry-wide system that you should be able to find if you ask. An AC rating of 3 is generally considered the minimum accept­able for typical residential installations.

Can’t find an AC rating for the floor­ing you’re interested in? Buy a bundle, assemble it temporarily on your floor and see how it stands up in your household. Create your own informal abrasion class testing by putting a random orbit sander to the samples and watch what happens.

Make Your Floor Flat

Any kind of click floor depends on a very flat subfloor to perform prop­erly. In fact, it’s essential. Since these floors aren’t attached to anything under­neath, gaps beneath the flooring will feel spongy underfoot. It’s also possible that bumps or hollows may even prevent the click edging from interlocking properly.
So how flat is flat enough? The maxi­mum height difference between two high points and a low spot between them is 3/16″ over a 10-foot span. Cut a straight piece of wood this long, and then slide it around your subfloor with a ruler in hand to check.

Undercut Trim

One of the reasons click floors are so easy to install is the way they go down directly on top of most other existing floors. But this also means you’ll need to trim door casings so the new flooring slips underneath.
Lay a piece of the click floor that you’re using tight against the door trim, where it meets the floor. Next, take a flexible, fine-tooth Japanese flush-cut saw and rest it on top of the click floor as a guide. Carefully saw the trim off from this position. Your new floor will fit perfectly underneath the old trim.

Crosscut With a Jigsaw

Although you may naturally reach for your mitre saw when it comes to cutting pieces of click flooring to length, there are two reasons this is not a good idea. The first is dust. Each cut you take with the mitre saw is going to send a plume of fine, troublesome dust blasting out the back of the machine and all over everything else in your house. And even if dust doesn’t bother you, rapid dulling of your mitre saw blade probably will. The protective coating on laminate floors is particular­ly abrasive, and it’ll dull a good carbide crosscut blade in less than a dozen cuts. And if all this isn’t enough, the preci­sion offered by a mitre saw is completely pointless when it comes to installing click floors anyway. Most of your cuts have to happen on the ends of boards where they meet walls, in order to preserve the facto­ry-milled, tongue and groove ends. These cuts will be hidden under baseboard and quarter round, so any kind of square, jig­saw cut will do fine.

Glue End-of-board Joints

Although click flooring is quite solidly connected to neighboring boards along its length, that’s not necessarily true where boards meet each other on their ends. The ordinary, non-click tongue and groove joints on the ends of floor boards can (and sometimes do) slide apart in time under foot traffic. Although it’s easy enough to tap them back together again before the baseboard goes down in your room, it’s not nearly so simple when the edges of the flooring are hid­den under quarter round.

This is why it makes sense to apply a tiny drop of glue to secure end joints as the boards go down and get tapped to­gether end-to-end. It just takes a second to guarantee that gaps never open up.

Secure Flooring at Top of Stairs

If the ends of your click floor end up at the top of the staircase, there are two tricks you need to know about. The first is to temporarily screw a straight length of wood to the subfloor, along the edge where the stair nose will go later. (As a woodworker, you’ll be able to make a much nicer nosing for this location than any of the ready-made stuff offered by click flooring manufacturers off the shelf). This piece of scrap wood protects the edges of the laminate where they’ll meet the nosing, while also providing a straight edge against which you can butt the ends of your click flooring as they go down. Unlike most cuts on a click floor instal­lation, the few here are critical, so you’ll need to make a nice neat job of them.

Since click flooring installations are free-floating, and any movement of the finished floor where it meets the stair nosing would create an ugly gap, it makes sense to glue the ends of these boards down to the subfloor with small blobs of construction adhesive. The flooring still remains free to expand and contract along the rest of its length; it’s just that you need to be certain the flooring won’t pull back from the edge of the stair nosing as time goes on.

Click flooring is revolutionizing the do-it-yourself world, and that’s an especially good thing for woodworkers who like to venture out and make good things happen beyond the shop.

Where You Can Put It

Click flooring is now made from a number of different materials, but most are suitable for installation in nonstandard locations. Laminates are now water resistant enough for safe installation in dry basements, bath­rooms and laundry rooms. Most click flooring is also warranted for installation above hy­dronic and electric radiant in-floor heating systems.


Hydronic: the name for the use of water as the heat-transfer medium in heating and cooling systems

1 comment

  1. Thanks – timely article. I will be installing some vinyl click flooring in a month or so. We choose vinyl because it is water proof rather than water resistant as laminate is and it is going in a basement on a cement floor. The cement floor will need some work to fill in some cracks and make sure it is flat enough. In consideration of where it is going, we will be using a thicker vinyl product that comes with a underlay/ backing attached to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Other articles to explore
Username: Password: