Gluing The Last Row Of Strip Floor To Allow For Expansion And Contraction


Joseph, I have written to you before and have appreciated your response.

I have self-taught myself on installing hardwood floors, and in the last 6 months been able to build an excellent reputation. For the most part I hand nail the last rows. The 2nd last row, I use white glue in the groove to glue it the 3rd row, then face nail the last row to hold everything in place.

The problem is on my last job, the contractor complained to the salesman about the face nailing of the last row. The salesman wants me to use construction adhesive to glue the last rows in place. I am concerned that gluing the last two rows to the floor will prevent adequate expansion and contraction.

Trying to hide the nail under the baseboard is impossible here, as the contractors insist on using shinny baseboards, my average expansion gap is typically on 3/8 of an inch due to slim baseboard constraints.

Is there some suitable method, which I could use so that there are no face nails, yet the installation is sound?

Also the contractor complained that I installed T-molds where the ceramic tile and hardwood meet. I did this to allow for an expansion gap. They want be to install the wood tight to the tile. Is there any way I can do this?

Thank you,



Dear Todd

Good for you, keep up the good work, a job well done is it’s own reward.

As to gluing the second to last row, that’s fine for strip floor, but use a decent carpenters glue and be sure to keep the glue off the subfloor. I use a small strip of flooring paper to prevent the glue from binding the hardwood floor to the subfloor thus creating a dead spot in the floor.

Now as to the thin base boards the cheap builders are using (sometime made of MDF, boy is that cheap), you solution is to undercut the drywall. This will solve two problems for you. Most walls are at least sheathed with 1/2″ or thicker drywall. If you carefully score the last 3/4″ of drywall with a knife you will find that a dull chisel and vacuum cleaner will remove all the debris. Use a scrap piece of hardwood to guide your knife of course. Be really careful though not to cut through the vapor barrier.

With this gap at the bottom of the drywall (only on the width side of the hardwood boards-they only expand width wise, but you know that) you will have a neat 1/2″ expansion space even if you cut you hardwood right up to the wall plane.

Then you see you can nail 1/4″ back from the edge and the 3/8″ little thin cheap builder molding will easily cover you last and ESSENTIAL nail. You will look like a genius. And maybe you can and should raise your per foot rates. It takes a while to prep the long walls for every job doing this.

It would be really nice if the builders could leave a 3/4″ gap at the bottom of the drywall, but naw that’d be toooo easy. I never work for builders anymore, but I do get to tell them what to do once in a while. You must insist on that expansion space and just turn away jobs that allow none. Strip floor was meant to be nailed, and even the nails allow for seasonal movement of the boards.

You might just find that using a Vermont American nail spinner (my secret weapon) allows for a very close hand nailing to the wall. I’m not sure if you bought the Strip Floor article, where I do mention this invaluable little device. But here’s the URL of Lee Valley Tool just in case,180,42334

Of course you’d be using 2″ ardox (spiral) finishing nails

And now we come to your second question.

You must always have that expansion gap on the sides of the installation, but not for the ends of the boards, I do hope this is clear. When I run into a situation where the ceramic (an immovable object) has to meet the hardwood ( an unstoppable force) I always hide my gap with various molding. Because you insist on using the prefinished boards and have to complete the same day, your prefinished molding choice is limited, and may look quite cheap.

But here are some options. When you are lucky enough to have the hardwood at least 1/4 to 3/8″ above the level of the ceramic, you got an easy solution. You can buy various reducing strips of that depth to cover the much needed gap. I sometimes will start an installation just where the two floors meet to make sure there is an even gap but more importantly the straight edge of the hardwood surface is just continued by the reducer strip. Stay with me, I’m going to send you some pictures of this in another email. Boy is this getting long.

If you find that the hardwood has to butt it’s ends up to a ceramic tile bed no gap is needed. But often you will find that the edge of the ceramic is a bit rough. No problem, even if the two floor are at the same level (common enough). You then lay a “header” flooring piece up to the ceramic and then lock the rest of the floor into that piece. You do have to plan for this so that the header isn’t a wedge shape, skinny on one side fat on the other end. I will take up to a half a day planing and laying my first row so that all the transition ends look great, like they belong there. It’s an art.

The last and most vexing problem is when the ceramic and hardwood are the same level and the silly builder doesn’t like those (higher than the floor) T molds. It’s true, prefinished floor look rather amateurish (sorry) but this sort of moulding really looks bad. I have used instead a flexible calking. You can fill up most of the 1/2″ gap (for the unstoppable force of the wood) with strips of sheet cork, and the last 1/4″ depth with a silicone calk that dries flexible but somewhat glossy. You can either match the floor or the grout color of the tile. You just might have your salesman read all this (unless you want to keep me a secret) so that he can warn the builder to expect and hopefully accommodate the wood floor. It’s not rocket science but it is science. Don’t comprise your principals. You cannot demand respect but you can command it. Tell other what you expect, in oder to perform your trade well. I think that’s all except the pictures, coming sooooon…….