8 Essential Tools for Laminate Flooring Installation
Installing laminate flooring is definitely a DIY project that will save you money, but you'll need specific tools for a successful installation.
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Laminate Flooring Tools
Laminate flooring has been popular in Europe for decades, and it first appeared in North America in the early 1990s. That’s when Pergo sent me samples of this new-to-North America flooring. Since then, I’ve installed thousands of square feet of laminate flooring.
Why has laminate flooring has become so popular over the last 20 years? Because it’s tough, requires no onsite sanding or finishing, and it’s some of the easiest flooring to install anywhere.
You can install laminate flooring yourself. Here are the tools you need for the job.
This is my tool of choice for cutting pieces of laminate to length. A jigsaw is a hand-held power tool with a straight, narrow blade that moves back and forth. Jigsaws are mostly for cutting wood products, and laminate flooring is close enough to count as wood.
Why do I recommend a jigsaw here instead of a chop saw? Safety, lack of airborne dust and low noise are the main reasons. Chop saws produce a smoother cut than jigsaws, but that level of refinement doesn’t matter here because all cuts on laminate flooring happen at the ends of boards where they will be hidden by baseboard molding. When choosing laminate flooring tools, there’s no pay-off for putting up with the loud and dusty operation of a chop saw. Besides, you need a special chop saw blade to cut laminate properly. The surface layer is so tough that it dulls ordinary carbide blades after just a few cuts.
“Persuading” pieces of laminate flooring to come together properly is part of the installation process, and this is where a rubber mallet can help. Used in conjunction with a tapping block (more on this in a minute), mallet blows are what bring pieces of laminate together end-to-end. An ordinary steel hammer can be used instead of a rubber mallet, but rubber makes the installation quieter.
The ends and edges of all laminate flooring have interlocking tongue-and-groove profiles that would get crushed and ruined if you hit them directly with a mallet or hammer. This is where a tapping block comes in. Shaped to conform to the tongue and groove profile on the ends of laminate flooring, the block sits tight against the laminate. Then you tap the block with your rubber mallet to move a piece of flooring tight against the end of its neighbor. Commercially made tapping blocks are sold as tools, but you can also use a piece of scrap off-cut from one of the ends of a piece of laminate.
Pulling pieces of laminate together tightly, end-to-end, is a standard part of every laminate flooring installation. The thing is, you can’t use a mallet and tapping block on the ends of pieces of laminate where they meet a wall because there’s no room to swing your mallet. To solve this problem, you need a simple hook-shaped implement called a pull bar. Bent on one end to engage the end of the laminate, and bent on the other end to allow a mallet or hammer to strike and drive the tool, a pull bar is an essential tool for a successful laminate installation.
Tape Measure and Pencil
Most pieces of laminate flooring need no cutting at all, but end pieces and pieces that have to fit around corners and obstacles must be measured and marked for cutting. Nothing fancy is needed, however, just an ordinary tape measure and something to mark with. If installing a dark laminate, consider using a fine white paint marker so you can see the lines better than with a pencil.
This multi-purpose carpenter’s tool provides an accurate reference for 90- and 45-degree angles. Plus the blade can be extended, retracted and locked to function as a depth gauge and marking guide. The most common use for a combination square during laminate installation is to mark square cutting lines on the ends of pieces of flooring you’ll be trimming where they meet walls.
This general-purpose layout tool measures angles and allows them to be transferred to a workpiece for cutting. Carpenters and cabinetmakers use sliding T-bevels all the time for many tasks. For a laminate flooring installation, you’ll need a sliding T-bevel if some of the cuts you’ll need to make are not 90 degree cuts. If all the cuts you’ll make will be square, then a combination square (described previously) is the tool you need.
Hand-Held Drill and Spade Bit
If you’ve got to fit laminate flooring around pipes that come up through the floor, a 12-, 18- or 20-volt drill and spade bit are essential. This drill and bit combination lets you bore large, clean holes in those pieces of laminate that need to surround a pipe.
When it comes time to bore holes in your laminate, do the work with the piece of flooring sitting on scrap 1-1/2-in. thick lumber. This allows you to put lots of pressure on the bit, while also supporting the underside of the laminate so the material doesn’t tear out where the bit exits the flooring on the bottom face.
Note: You won’t need a drill and spade bit for every laminate installation — only if you need to work around pipes coming up through the floor.