Handy Flooring Tools
By Matt Weber
Over the course of many years and many flooring jobs, the EHT staff has developed a list of favorite flooring tools that make the job as painless as possible. This article highlights some recommended equipment for laying down new tile, laminate or hardwoods.
Straight Edge. There’s nothing exciting about a basic straight edge, but we include it in this list because this simple tool is criminally overlooked by DIY’ers. Tile and tongue-and-groove flooring require a very level subfloor for a proper installation that prevents problems in the future. Gaps between the sub and finished floor can lead to squeaks and pops in wood, or cracks in grout joints—even worse, broken tiles. A good 4-ft. straight edge may suffice, but the longer, the better for detecting dips and high spots that must be leveled before installing a new floor.
Scrapers. Many flooring products are installed with a strong adhesive. From vinyl flooring and tile to carpet padding, when pulling up an old floor for a new installation, there is often a lot of sticky stuff to remove. A good, sharp scraper will help separate old adhesive from the subfloor. Manufacturers such as Hyde Paint Tools offer a wide assortment of scrapers in a variety of sizes and styles, such as angled blades and tools with extension handles. (www.hydetools.com)
Some manufacturers now offer scraping attachments that attach to a reciprocating saw for a powered approach to floor prep.
Knee Pads. Knee protection is another piece of equipment that is often overlooked until about ten minutes of working without it. We typically use smooth-face knee pads that wrap the legs with a hook-and-loop strap, but anything that softens the blow will work. We’ve know some pros who prefer to rest their knees on a big block of polyester foam because they don’t like anything strapped behind their knees.
A new option is wheeled knee pads that make it easy to move over smooth flooring.
Block and Pull Bar. Two staple items for installing tongue-and-groove flooring are a rubber tapping block and a pull bar. The block protects the edge of the flooring plank while you hammer together the interlocking joints. (In a pinch, you can make your own block from soft wood.) The S-shaped pull bar hooks the end of a floor board against a wall, to pull together the joint when there is no clearance for the hammer and block. Lumber Liquidators offers an installation kit for T&G flooring, which includes both a block and pull bar, plus 20 adjustable plastic spacers to provide an expansion gap around wood floors. (www.LumberLiquidators.com)
Lam-Hammer. The drawback of using a hammer and pull-bar is that it’s time-consuming to gingerly tap the lip of the bar to pull a floor joint closed, being careful not to damage the wall on the backswing. An alternative to the basic pull bar is a Lam-Hammer. This simple tool consists of a handle, a hook and a slide hammer that pulls together flooring much quicker and easier than swinging a hammer near a finished wall. For tongue-and-groove flooring, just hook the end over of the edge of the floor board and use the integrated slide hammer to tap it away from the wall, closing the joint with the preceding board. (www.lam-hammer.com)
Layout Laser. Crosshair-type flooring lasers can be a great help when laying out floor tile with dead-on accuracy. These simple-to-use lasers emit 90-degree laser lines to help set up string or chalk lines to guide the installation. Some lasers, such as the Bosch unit shown, even switch to a 45-degree mode to verify positioning of square tiles between 0 and 90 degrees. The lasers are designed for easy visibility over a wide range of flooring materials, including stone, wood and carpet. Accuracy is usually within 1/4-in. per 60 feet. (www.boschtools.com)