Q: For securing oak strip flooring, how does hand-nailing compare to using a pneumatic tool? Is one method better than the other?
A: Howard Brickman, a wood-flooring contractor and consultant in Norwell, Mass., responds: All wood flooring was installed by hand using a hammer and nails until 1946, when the Anstett brothers perfected the manual nailing machine and started the Powernail Company in Chicago. These power nailers drove L-shaped barbed cleats using a 4-pound mallet with a rubber striking face. This innovation occurred just in time to increase wood-floor installation productivity in the post–World War II housing boom. As pneumatic nailing technology was adapted to the home-building industry in the 1970s, Bostitch developed the first practical pneumatic stapler for wood-floor installation. There are advantages and disadvantages to all the different methods of driving fasteners.
Driving individual nails with a hammer (the old-fashioned way) is a simple but time-consuming method of fastening when you’re starting and finishing a floor up against a wall, where nailing machines cannot be used. Hand-driven nails are prone to bending, but that can be minimized or eliminated by either pre-drilling or using a nail spinner (made by Vermont American).
Most professional installers use pneumatic finish nailers to face-nail boards at the start and finish of the flooring installation. The primary disadvantage of pneumatic finish nails is their reduced strength and stiffness.
Once you are about 5 inches out from the starting wall, you can begin using the more productive nailing machines. But as you approach the end wall, you again run out of space and generally cannot use the nailing machine within 8 inches of the wall.
With manual nailing machines, you supply the force necessary to drive the nails with muscle power, by swinging a heavy hammer. Pneumatic machines require much less physical prowess; however, you must carefully adjust the compressor pressure so that fasteners are driven flush with the tongue without damaging it. Pneumatic machines also require a compressor, which needs electricity with sufficient capacity to keep up with the fast-paced installation.