When you install laminate flooring, two of the most important things to get right are where you choose to start laying the first boards, and which tools you use to cut laminate flooring with.
There are two things I generally consider before I decide on laying the first row to start the installation. Which is the straightest wall, and which is the trickiest area to deal with?
There's a bit of a judgement call to make. Ideally, in a normal square room I start laying the floor on the longest, straightest wall if it's parallel to the direction I want the floor to run (I generally lay the floor to run in the same direction as the light coming in). Once you have two or three straight rows clicked together it's usually plain sailing after that.
However, sometimes I start to install laminate flooring at the most difficult side of the room instead.
That could be the area that has four doorways in, that are much quicker and easier to manage now at the beginning of the installation when you can still slide the floor backwards and forwards a bit than it would be at the end, when you have much less room to manoeuvre (much more detail about doorways further down the page).
If you need to know the tools I use to cut and install laminate flooring with, have a look at my laminate flooring tools list.
Those tools gets used on pretty much every floor I lay. Once you've got everything together you are ready to start laying the laminate wood floor.
Step 1: Prepare the flooring
Before you can install laminate flooring, you will need to acclimatize the boards by leaving them in the room where you are laying for at least two days.
Step 2: Prepare the room.
When I install laminate flooring on a timber floor I make sure all nail heads are punched down or screws countersunk first. Concrete sub-floors will need to be level and may need latexing or another leveling compound applied in the worst cases till the floor is flat enough. A waterproof membrane will need to be laid before you can install laminate flooring on top of the concrete oversight too.
Cut the skirting round temporarily and once it is fitted remove and put to one side for later. (If you are to install laminate flooring in a room already skirted and decorated beading will need to be cut round later to cover the expansion gap). This reduces the time you spend working on the floor after it is laid, when you’ll be more likely to damage it.
I scrape clean, sweep the floor, and keep it really tidy throughout the day. Any grit on the floor will scratch it so set the saw up at the opposite end to where you will be starting the first rows. Half way through the job, use the cardboard packaging from the flooring to cover and protect a large section of the floor already laid, then swap and set up on that side of the room for the second half.
Step 3: Prepare the linings
Unless you are laying the wood flooring continuously between two or more rooms, you need to work out at each doorway where the floor will finish and the thresholds will be. They need to be fitted so they are under the center of the door when it is closed. Cut it to length, so it fits tightly between the legs of the lining.
The threshold will have a line underneath to indicate where to stop the floor. Transfer this line onto the door frame, then get some of the underlay and a floor board. Lay the board upside down and place it on the underlay against the architrave. Using a thin, fine-cut handsaw cut the bottom of the architrave and lining off so the flooring can slide neatly underneath it and up to the line, as shown below. I use a chisel to clean it up underneath if it needs it.
As mentioned before often the easiest place to start to install laminate flooring is at the doorways, because they're trickier when you do them last. (There's more details about dealing with tricky doorways on this page.)
Step 4: Choose which direction to install
Laminate flooring should either be laid in the same direction that the light shines into the room, or if there are windows all around along the longest wall.
Step 5: Underlay
Grab the right underlay, it will either be in a roll or square tiles. If it's square tiles just lay enough to get the first few rows down, and lay the tiles in the opposite direction to which the floor boards will go down. Underlay is easy to trip over and sometimes harder to sweep dust off than the floor underneath so just put down all you need to to start. Also, stagger the underlay tiles like brickwork so that you don't just lay a grid of tiles. This helps them stay put and adds strength by spreading loads.
If you have a roll of underlay it again needs to be laid the opposite direction to the floor and you should tape the joints to stop it either from moving apart or from overlapping under the floor.
Step 6: Start laying
Laying from left to right and with the tongue facing the wall get the first boards clicked together end to end. Use 8-10mm spacers to leave an expansion gap around the perimeter. The last board will need cutting to length. To do this turn it back to front, keep it 10mm away from the wall and mark the end of the row onto it. You can use a tape instead, measure from the wall to the end of the row and subtract 10mm. Just remember that if you are fitting to a groove always measure the next board starting from the tongue end, and vice versa. Square the line over with a combination or tri-square.
A good way of setting out boards when you come up against an obstacle or corner is like in the picture below, by clicking the next row / board in temporarily. This gives you something to measure from in case the wall isn't perfectly 90° and/or is out of square as the exact shape of the board to cut is highlighted. You just need to remember to allow for the expansion gap.
Step 7: Clicking the boards together
When I first learned to install laminate flooring I would get a few boards clicked together, get to the end of a row and when fitting the last board in the first in that row would pop out!
It can get frustrating if you let it. Spend five minutes at the beginning getting the hang of clicking the tongue and groove together. With one board flat on the floor, the next should be up at around 30°. As you push the tongue into the groove wobble the board up and down as you lower it down flat and it should slide into the groove. Every type of flooring is different but once you find the right angle to hold the board as you push it in you will get the hang of it and start to pick up speed. If I'm working on my own sometimes I put full packs of flooring on the boards already laid so the joints can't lift up and pop out.
Step 8: Cutting boards
All types of man made board like mdf, plywood and laminates that contain glues and resins will take the edge off saw blades much more quickly than natural timber. I only cut laminate flooring using either a Hard point handsaw specifically designed for laminated materials or more often with a downward cutting laminate specific jigsaw blade. If you don't have downward cutting blades you'll need to mark and cut the board face down.
Once fitted use the off-cut to start the next row, unless it is less than 150mm (6") long. Continue like this and also stagger the joints so that no obvious pattern is repeated, make sure the boards always stagger by at least 150mm.
Step 9: Cutting round pipes
When you install laminate flooring unless the radiator pipes come out the wall the pipes are probably sticking out of the floor. If you don't want to go to the hassle of taking them off you will need know how to drill or cut the laminate flooring around the pipes. There are two ways to do this.
The first is to start the row at the pipe and join the ends of the boards either side of it. For this you can join the two boards end to end and put them on a scrap piece of timber. Mark the position of and drill the hole for the pipe (slightly larger to allow for expansion) and then detach them and install.
The second way is to drill the hole for the pipe and then cut a keyhole shape behind it towards the wall with a thin hack saw blade, like in the second picture. Because you cut a keyhole shape when you refit the small piece can slide closer to the pipe and close up the gaps made by the saw blade.
You will need a larger hole than the size of the pipe so you can manoeuvre the board up and down to click it in and to allow for expansion. Pipes expand and contract and will creak if you install laminate flooring boards too tightly around them. Don't worry about the expansion gap around the pipes, I just buy some neat little radiator pipe collars to clip on to cover the gap.
To get the last laminate floor board in I rip it down so it is 10mm narrower than the gap that is left. Then, I use an old chisel to lever it in off the wall like in the picture below. This can sometimes be tricky you have to wiggle the board up and down until you feel it locate. If there's a long run left I usually join all the rips together end to end and fit them as one piece, working my way along and tapping it in with the special bar.
Make sure you put a piece of scrap timber against the wall to protect it when levering especially if the walls are stud-work, otherwise you could make a nice big hole in the plasterboard.
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