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DIY Hardwood Floors: Lay a Contrasting Border

Updated: Sep. 30, 2019

Exciting design possibilities with prefinished wood laminate flooring

FH09NOV_FABFLO_01-2Family Handyman
Mix and match colors of wood laminate flooring, add a few stone tiles as accents, and suddenly you've made an extraordinary wood floor for the same cost as an ordinary one.

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Wood floors are durable and easy to clean, and they never go out of style. If they garner a few oohs and aahs along the way, all the better. Here’s a recipe for taking three shades of laminated wood flooring and a few granite tiles to create your own ooh-aah floor featuring two different wood floors side by side.

Even though it looks fancy, this is a relatively straightforward project, especially if you’ve laid a wood laminate floor before. You’ll need a table saw to rip the narrow floor strips, and a miter saw for precise crosscuts. Most DIYers can complete a medium-size floor like this in a day. We’re not going to cover all the steps of a normal floor installation (there are a couple of articles elsewhere on our Web site that can help you with that). Instead, we’ll zero in on the oohaah part.

Figure A: Order of Assembly

Cut and install the different elements of the floor in the order shown here.

Get your materials and get ready

We used tongue-and-groove engineered wood flooring that was 3/8 in. thick and 3 in. wide. It was the perfect fit with our 12-in. granite tile since it was the same thickness, and four of the planks laid side by side were the same width as the tile. This made installing the border a cinch.

We chose three different shades of flooring. It comes in random lengths 5 ft. and shorter. Since you have to order full boxes, and each box contains about 25 sq. ft. of flooring, you’ll probably wind up with extra material, especially the flooring for the accent strips. (If you have a closet that needs new flooring, here’s your chance.) This type and thickness of flooring is available in a wide range of styles and prices. Just be sure the flooring you select is designed for gluedown applications. This project won’t work with floating floors or cushion-backed laminate floors.

After removing the old carpet, we installed a layer of 1/4-in. lauan plywood. It covered up the old subfloor, which was full of nail holes, glue residue and grime from previous floorings, and provided a clean, flat, fresh start for our glue-down floor.

There are five parts to the floor: field, accent strips, border and perimeter, all wood laminate, plus the tiles (see Figure A). You can adjust the size of any of them to fit your room and tastes, but as you plan, keep these tips in mind.

This is the middle, and largest, part of the floor. It will mimic the shape of your room. The shade of wood for this and the perimeter are the same, making it the dominant color; select it carefully. If your room is rectangular, you can install the planks either the long or the short way.

Accent strips
These are the floor’s “racing stripes.” We cut two 1-1/4-in.- wide accent strips from each 3-in.- wide plank. When you rip them, don’t remove the “tongue edge.” The tongue will come in handy (Photo 5).

This consists of four dark-colored planks sandwiched between the accent strips. Four 3-in. planks installed side by side are exactly the same width as the tile (12 in.), meaning we didn’t have to rip any of the border planks to width. You can use any size tile or flooring, but you may wind up having to cut either the tile or the flooring to fit.

This is the outer “frame.” You want your perimeter to be equal in width on all four sides of the room. We made ours about 17 in. wide; slightly wider than the border. If your room is slightly out of square, use the perimeter, where it will be least noticeable, to absorb the difference.

The sky’s the limit here—as long as the thickness is right. We found a huge variety of 12-in. tiles in granite, marble and ceramic, all of which had the necessary 3/8-in. thickness. We borrowed sample tiles and laid them out with our wood to pick the one we liked.

Photo 1: Establishing the Layout

Use short pieces of flooring and two tiles to lay out a sample stretch of floor. Your goal is a layout with full-width flooring boards for the field and a border and perimeter of equal width around the room.

Start square and true

Photo 2: Install guides

Screw down a straight 1×2 guide board, parallel to the wall, to indicate the edge of the field. Install two more guide boards the same distance from the walls, perpendicular to the first guide board. (Use the 3-4-5 method to square them.) These last boards must be exactly the same distance apart their entire length.

Photo 3: Glue the field down

Lay the field. You’ll probably use two or three boards butted end to end for each row; stagger the ends of boards at least 6 in. from the previous row. Be exact! Don’t force the guide boards outward or leave gaps. Use a tapping block to protect board edges as you install them.

Photo 4: Bevel the ends

Use 180-grit sandpaper and a block to create a ‘micro bevel’ along the ends of the boards. This mimics the slight bevel on the factory edges, gets rid of sharp edges and creates a more uniform look. Do this to all the cut ends and edges of every board and accent strip you install.


Use a stain pen on the bevel so that it disappears.

You’ll need to do a little head scratching to get the layout right, and the best way to scratch is to use the tiles and small pieces of the actual flooring you’ll be installing. Temporarily lay out small sections of the perimeter, accent strips and border against two opposite walls. Then lay down short sections of flooring to fill in the gap or field. Adjust the width of the perimeter so the field consists of full-width planks.

Remove your perimeter, accent strip and border sample pieces and screw a guide board to the floor as a starting point for the field (Photo 2). Install two boards perpendicular to this to act as width guides for the field. These boards must be exactly parallel so the entire floor will be straight and square.

Apply a 12-in.-wide swath of flooring adhesive using a notched trowel held 45 degrees to the floor. Spread only as much adhesive as you can cover in about 30 minutes. If the glue starts skimming over, use the flat edge of the trowel to scrape it up, then apply fresh adhesive.

Install the field flooring beginning at the first guide board, working “tongue out” (Photo 3). Immediately wipe up any adhesive on the face of the flooring.

After installing the field, let the glue set, remove the guide boards and then use a sanding block with 180-grit paper to slightly bevel the edges (Photo 4).

Note: It’s often easier to run your sanding block along the edge or end of the strip or flooring before it’s installed. Use a stain pen to stain this “micro bevel.”

Head for the border

Photo 5: Fasten the first accent pieces

Install the first accent strip perpendicular to the field boards. Use a notched trowel to butter the back of each strip with adhesive, then use a few finish nails to hold the strips in place. Keep a rag in your back pocket to immediately wipe up any adhesive that gets on the surface.

Photo 6: Fasten the next accent pieces

Set the second set of accent strips in place, allowing space for the tile and short accent strips installed in the next step. Cut and install the strips.

Photo 7: Place the tiles

Install the short accent strips. The masking tape tabs on the tiles allow you to easily remove them so you can permanently adhere them in place when the project is finished.

Photo 8: Lay the border

Install the four rows of flooring planks that create the border. The combined width of these planks needs to be identical to the width of the corner tiles.

Photo 9: Place the outer accent pieces

Install the outer accent strips, mitering the corners. Install them so the groove ‘catches’ the tongue of the last full-width border flooring board.

Use a table saw to rip the accent strips. On the strips where you leave the tongue, move the table saw fence out (to compensate for the tongue) so the exposed part of the flooring plank is 1-1/4 in. Sand a micro bevel on these cut edges as well.

Install the first accent strips tightly against the cut ends of the field (Photo 5). “Butter” the back and use a few finish nails to secure these strips in place. When you’re done, fill these holes with wood putty.

Next, install the accent strips along the other two edges (Photo 6). These strips should be long enough to accommodate the tiles on the ends plus the short accent strips installed in the next step. Leave the tiles in place, but don’t glue them down. Install the four short accent strips (Photo 7) that run along the edge of the tile. Again “butter” the backs of the strips and hold them in place with a few finish nails.

Install the four dark border boards on each side (Photo 8). For the border to be gap-free, the combined width of these boards needs to be the same width as the tiles. But since you planned way ahead, this will come out perfect, right?

The outer accent strips are last. Miter the corners and install the strips “groove in” so the groove catches the tongue of the outermost border boards (Photo 9).

Frame your masterpiece

Photo 10: Finish the perimeter

Install the perimeter pieces herringbone-style in the corners. Work in small sections and work your way around the room. Rip the outermost perimeter piece to width if necessary, leaving a 1/2-in. gap between it and the wall.

Installing the perimeter is your final step. The best method is to use a herringbone pattern in the corners, which allows you to lock the ends together using the tongues and grooves on the ends of the planks. Install one row of boards around the entire border, then work in small staggered sections around the room. Rip the outer board of the frame to width so there’s a 1/2-in. gap between it and the wall (Photo 10).

Keep furniture and heavy foot traffic off the floor for 24 hours. Install the baseboard and quarter-round moldings. Press the quarter round tightly to the floor as you install it, to eliminate gaps.

Finally, remove each tile, apply a bead of clear silicone caulk and press it firmly back into place. Then invite friends over to ooh and aah a little.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Caulk gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Framing square
  • Hammer
  • Knee pads
  • Miter saw
  • Notched trowel
  • Rags
  • Rubber mallet
  • Sanding block
  • Table saw
  • Tape measure
You’ll also need a tapping block for the flooring (sold with the flooring).

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 1/4-in. plywood underlayment (if needed)
  • 3/8-in. laminate flooring (3 colors)
  • Cardboard
  • Finish nails
  • Floor adhesive
  • Silicone caulk
  • Stain pen
  • Stone tile