how to extreme

Installing a Hardwood Border and Feature

Construction How-To, Flooring Installation, Floors, Hardwood February 11, 2013 Sonia

By Rob Robillard


Hardwoods floors offer an unrivaled sense of quality that survives home building trends and decorating fads. Hardwood flooring includes many species of wood and finishes, ranging from traditional classics such as oak and ash to contemporary styles like maple and the unusual patterns of exotic hardwoods like Brazilian Tigerwood or African Sapele.

If your personal style is more cozy and rustic, you might want to consider hickory or cherry hardwoods. Add a hardwood border and feature strip to any hardwood flooring installation and you’re talking high-end curb appeal. A border usually consists of 8 to 12 inches of similar flooring material running along the wall. A feature strip is an accent that highlights and shows off the decorative borders as well as enhances the hardwood flooring installation.


Why Use a Border and Feature Strip?

Adding a border and feature strip to your next hardwood floor installation is a great way to show off your artistic side and create a floor that either follows a classic design or showcases your artistic flair.

When I see a border and feature strip installed in a hardwood floor I immediately think “high-end and quality.”

Border and feature strips are becoming more popular these days and are mostly seen or associated with expensive homes and remodels. Borders are typically done in the same material as the rest of the floor or “field”. A border frames the “field” of the flooring much like a picture frame, enclosing the ends of the rows with flooring that runs perpendicular to the rows, so the rows do not terminate into a wall.

In Hardwood floors, a border frames the “field” of the flooring much like a picture frame, enclosing the ends of the rows with flooring that runs perpendicular. A feature strip is a course of flooring made from a different material that accentuates the border.

A feature strip, which can highlight the border, is usually darker and can be made from many different materials, shades or sizes. Walnut and mahogany seem to be the most popular in my neck of the woods, probably because they’re offered in many shades. (This project shows Santos Mahogany.)

The feature strip connects to the flooring with a tongue-and-groove joint.

For this project the feature strip was made from a dark Santos Mahogany.

When considering installing a feature strip in your hardwood floor, the best time to do it is when the floor is being installed. The cost of installing a feature strip is mostly labor since the amount of materials used is minimal.

People often ask where a feature strip should be placed. That’s a personal choice but many if not most features strips run along the borders of walls, typically 6 to 12 inches off the wall but not so far that it disappears under the outer perimeter of an area rug.

One rule of thumb that I follow is to use one strip in smaller areas and double strips in actual rooms or larger spaces. Typically I use standard width boards for blind-nailing purposes. Thinner strips can also be used by milling down strip flooring and installing face nails.

Adding a border is usually a separate labor charge, and the feature strip can add anywhere from $1.50 to $10.00 per lineal foot depending on the material cost.


Designing a Border and Feature Strip

When deciding on a border and feature strip, make sure to research and choose a material with a density similar to your flooring so it will wear evenly. If you choose different density materials you may be unhappy in a few years when they wear at different rates.

Layout is also important. The border and feature strip planning and measuring must be done before a single board is laid. One small mistake can grow exponentially into an installation disaster later.

Use a combination of 3-4-5 triangle measurements, large squares and parallel measurements to determine the layout of your border and feature strip.

There is an old carpentry rule that a small error in the foundation can compound itself and become a big error by the time you build the roof. This is also true for hardwood flooring.

Be sure to allow a minimum expansion gap of 3/4 inch around all vertical obstructions.


Color, Shade and Joints

Hardwood flooring comes in boxes and often you might receive different cuts or “lots” of wood from a flooring manufacturer. Take the time to open and install the flooring from several cartons at the same time to ensure a good mix of color and shade.

The flooring was fastened over a moisture barrier using a heavy-duty flooring stapler.

Eight to 12” out from the wall is a good place to end the border and start your feature strip.

Stagger the joints of floor boards at least 4 to 6” between adjacent rows.

The ends of the intersecting rows of the border use a consistent and overlapping pattern in the corners, not unlike a herringbone pattern.