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Flooring Tools & Equipment: what needs to be used when?

by Tania Wannenburg
Tools and equipment Jnl 3 16

Tools & equipment needed for a successful flooring installation.

Each floor type has its own unique necessities when it comes to tools and equipment. To ensure a successful installation the right tools need to be used in the manner for which it was intended; not only to prohibit delays in schedule, but to also prevent any unforeseen costs which could creep in. Here we identify the various tools needed for each floorcovering when removing that particular floor type, as well as the tools and equipment necessary for the new floor installation and maintenance.

CARPETS AND CARPET TILES

1.    Removal
Removing broadloom or carpet tiles is very similar, with a wide variety of tools that can be used depending on the size of the area involved.

•    Smaller carpet removal jobs carried out manually
Removing carpets manually can be time consuming, but due to cost or the size of the area, it can be the ideal solution. To carry this out efficiently, specific tools will be required, which include a carpet knife, hook knife, metal clamps, hammer, moulding bar, channel locks or pliers, floor scraper, broom and dustpan.

Carpet knives are used to cut up the old carpet so that it can be easily removed from the job site. A double-sized razor knife is available to facilitate cutting through the rough, hard carpet backing. In turn a hook knife can be used to pry up the edges of the carpet, remove staples and scrape small debris from the floor, while metal clamps are designed specifically to grab old carpet when pulling it up, which is particularly useful when removing a glued-down carpet.

A hammer will be needed to knock down staples and remove tack strip while a moulding bar is used to remove moulding on the edges of the carpet. It can also be used to pull staples out of the floor. Channel locks or pliers are especially helpful when removing staples from the old flooring. Floor scrapers are beneficial when it comes to scraping old carpet, glue and objects off the floors. A large scraper with a minimum 150mm blade and long handle is preferred, although a small one with a short handle will suffice when working in a smaller space and larger scrapers aren’t needed.

It is imperative to have a broom, dustpan and vacuum cleaner on site, as they clean up any remaining bits and pieces on the floor after the main removal process has been completed.

•    Removal of carpet on larger areas
Walk-behind or ride-on scrapers are used extensively in the USA and Europe for the removal of carpet over large areas, however, this is not the case locally, where even the largest of removal projects are still carried out manually using hand tools. Apart from the availability of local labour, the imported costs of these machines are also prohibitive. As such many of the tools used for smaller areas are also ideal for larger carpet areas.

2.    Installation
Specialist tools required for the installation of carpet include knee knickers; tack strips; stair tools and carpet stretchers, sometimes referred to as power stretchers. A knee-knicker performs a carpet-stretching function that the larger power stretcher can’t, and vice versa. Furthermore, carpet stretchers aren’t just for installing new carpets. If the carpet is old, wrinkled and ‘bubbled-up,’ a power stretcher can often smooth down and revive the carpet to expand its life by several months and even years.

A knee-knicker is a tool used for installing carpets on stairs and small areas including closets, and can also be used to position carpets in larger areas. In a normal four-corner room, a knee-knicker takes up the excess sag from the carpet in the centre of the room. An installer will use a knee-knicker to pull the carpet toward the edge of the room and then hook it onto a tack strip.

A tack strip is comprised of a long piece of wood with multiple carpet tacks protruding upwards from it and is nailed around the edges of the room. The carpet is then stretched over the tacks so that they catch in its backing material and hold it in place. After being trimmed of excess, the edge is tucked between the strip and the baseboard, usually with a putty knife, or a similar stair tool. After using the carpet stretcher, the installer will go back down each wall again with the knee knicker.

A power stretcher helps to keep the carpeting smooth and wrinkle-free in the future. Where it is necessary to connect two pieces of carpet together, a seam iron is used.

3.    Maintenance
Regular/daily vacuuming is the most important component of carpet maintenance. A twin-motor vacuum cleaner (in which one motor creates suction and the other drives a bristle-type brush) will give the best results. However, although twin-motor vacuum cleaners are more efficient than suction-only cleaners, they are unsuitable for some tufted and needlepunch carpets (which include directional-pile tiles) and wool-rich loop-piles. In these instances an appropriate suction-only cleaner should be used.

RESILIENT FLOORING – Sheeting and Tiles

1.    Removal
This is a labour intensive operation that requires machinery but it is rarely used for the removal of resilient sheets, even though specialised, high-quality ride-on, walk-behind or ‘push’ scrapers are available. Other tools necessary to complete the job include a flat spade, hammer, pliers, a pry bar, utility knife, gloves, goggles and knee pads. Often removal of resilient flooring results in old adhesive residues that need to be ground off the screed with grinders or sanding machines. Damage to the screed may also occur, requiring mechanical removal of damaged areas.

2.    Installation
When it comes to resilient floorcoverings, the smoothness of the subfloor is critical, which is why the quality of a self-levelling screed is paramount. Moisture levels are key, which means that a below surface probe tester should be used to measure 40% into the slab. Each component comprising the installation system may require its own specialised equipment to ensure proper installation.

Moisture barriers need to be mixed and applied according to the manufacturers’ specific instructions with their recommended tools.

Self-levelling compounds must also be mixed according to the manufacturers’ instructions and applied using their recommended tools. Consideration of working time must be taken into account and a trained installer is imperative to the success of the installation.

Adhesives need to be applied with the applicable notched trowel, the correct notch is critical to ensure proper bonding of the floorcovering. Check with the adhesive manufacturer for their recommendation. Using a mohair roller to roll out the trowel lines is often advisable.

The installation of resilient floorcoverings such as vinyl require a specialised tool kit including at least the following; a broom, vacuum, tape measure, chalk lines and powder, cutting knife and blades (hook and straight), set squares, straight edge, trowel blades and handle, bolster, factory edge trimmer, joint scriber, hand roller, electric grooving machine or p-type hand groover, welding gun, speed nozzle, spatula and slide or Motzart hand or speed trimmer, small mouse sander, flame torch and a 68kg roller. However, the installation of sheet floorcoverings such as linoleum and others is a truly specialist installation requiring the use of gas equipment for seam welding, spatulas, hooked blade knives, groovers and heavy duty rollers.

3.    Maintenance
Here a vacuum cleaner plays a paramount role. All lose dirt such as dust, grit, sand etc. must be removed, preferably by vacuuming the floor. The floor should then be cleaned using a neutral detergent, diluted as per the manufacturer’s instructions, machine scrubbed with the dirty cleaning solution being wet vacuumed off the floor afterwards. Should a wet vacuum not be available, a mop and two-bucket wringer system can also be used. Adhesives can be removed with an appropriate detergent/solution per manufacturer’s recommendations. As far as possible, aggressive solvents should be avoided as these may affect certain finishes. The floor should then be rinsed until all traces of the neutral detergent are removed, and wet vacuumed to remove all traces of water. Always ask the manufacturer for their recommend maintenance regime for your specific floor.

•    Cork Flooring

1.    Removal
This can be a tedious task and requires several tools and depending on the size of the area, specialised equipment to ensure that all the installed cork flooring and adhesive is successfully removed from the subfloor.

Common tools for the task include a hobby knife; a floor scraper; stripping knife or scraper; mechanical floor scrapers can also be rented; lump or club hammer and bolster; and a heat gun. When removing cork tiles, the first task is to lever up a corner in order to get the scraper underneath. This can be achieved by using a hobby knife to score down the join between two tiles.

A scraper can be used to lever up a corner of the cork tile. If there is a large floor area to clear, it might be worth renting a mechanical floor scraper. When removing stubborn batches of glue, a hammer and bolster or a heat gun can be used.

2.    Installation
Subfloors (whether new or existing) must be free of dirt, grease, wax, or anything else that would hinder a good adhesive bond. It will be necessary to fill in any cracks, joints, ruts, grooves, seams, or any rough surfaces in existing floors using wood fillers or levelling compounds and then sand smooth to insure uniformity. This must be done to prevent imperfections on subfloor surfaces from “telegraphing” through the cork tiles after installation

The following are tools typically used for cork floor installations:
•    Utility knife with extra blades
•    Metal straight edge
•    Cutting board
•    Chalk Line
•    Paint rollers and pan
•    Flooring roller

To apply the adhesive and a floor roller to roll each tile individually as it is installed. When cork tiles require cutting, they should be measured carefully and cut cleanly using a sharp utility knife and metal straight edge.

3.    Maintenance
A damp cloth is sufficient to clean and wipe floors, however, excessive water usage must be avoided. As with other flooring types, vacuuming cork floors regularly is also recommended. Flooring waxes must not be used on cork floors with polyurethane surfaces.

•    Rubber Flooring

1.    Removal
To remove rubber tiles, a putty knife will be needed as well as pliers; protective gloves; soapy water; adhesive removing solvents; a rag and respirator. A putty knife can be used to detach the tile from the underlayment of the subfloor. When a portion of the tile is removed, it should be pulled-up carefully with a pair of pliers while loosening the leftover adhesive with the knife or grinding may be required if there is excessive residue.

It’s important to remember when working with solvents, protective gloves must be worn and a respirator must be used.

The putty knife can be used to scrape away large chunks of adhesive and the solvent for the hard-to-scrape adhesives. Any residue after this process should be thoroughly vacuumed up.

2.    Installation
The subfloor needs to be free of all dust, dirt, grease or other foreign material as well as moisture. Dirt can be swept off the floor using a broom, or a vacuum. Cracks should also be filled with a concrete mix in order to smooth it out and prevent bumps or air gaps from forming in the rubber flooring. The following tools are required when installing rubber flooring:
•    Broom
•    Carpenter’s square
•    Chalk line
•    Knee Pads
•    Masking or painters tape
•    Measuring tape
•    Metal straightedge
•    Utility knife with extra blades
•    Vacuum
•    V-Notched Trowel

The sheets are cut to the required lengths using a utility knife and the adhesive is applied using a ‘V’-notched trowel as per adhesive manufacturers’ specification. A notched trowel is used to “comb” adhesives and setting materials onto various surfaces. “Square” or “V” shaped notches are used to notch the trowel. Ideally, a V-notched trowel should be used for combing adhesives and setting materials onto vertical surfaces. A trowel’s notch comes in a selection of different depths and it is advisable to use a notch depth that is two-thirds of the tile’s depth you are going to tile with. This ensures the correct amount of adhesive is always applied.

3.    Maintenance
After a rubber floor is installed, it should not be cleaned for at least 72 hours. This will give the adhesive holding the sheets or tiles in place enough time to get a firm, set hold. The most common maintenance issue with a rubber floor is dirt and small debris, which can be trekked into a space by shoes and boots, or blown in through windows and air ducts. To minimise this effect, walk-off mats can be placed at the entrance and exit of every room. Unfortunately, these small specks can be quite abrasive, and if not removed they can wear down the finish of the floor over time.

LUXURY VINYL TILES (LVTs)

1.    Removal
In order to soften the glue, a heat gun will have to be used, along with a scraper in order to get underneath the tile or plank and lift it off the adhesive.

2.    Installation
LVTs will follow the profile of the existing floor, which is why any seams, low spots and large gaps need to be filled with a floor patch. Most floors aren’t perfect, therefore it is advised to find high and low spots with a straight edge. High spots can be sanded down with a belt sander using a 40- or 60-grit belt or even better a proper grinding machine to achieve a level surface. Due to defects in the sub-floor being so visible, most installations are done on a sub-floor prepared with a self-levelling compound.

The subfloor has to be sound, dry, and free of powder and flaking. It also needs to be free of solvent, wax, grease, oil, paint and any other sealing compounds. Large cracks and expansion joints should be filled and trowelled smooth. Expansion joins need special treatment as movement will occur, and should not be hampered. An engineer or architect should be consulted on how this is to be done.

There is no reason to pull off door trims, unless the new floor is going to be significantly lower and longer casings need to be installed or the door has to be re-hanged. The casing will have to be trimmed if the new floor will be higher using an oscillating tool.

When opting to install an underlayment a knife or heavy-duty scissors are necessary as well as packing tape to tape the seams. Whichever underlayment is selected, the ridges still need to be knocked down and the severe dips in the subfloor have to be filled. Thereafter, the adhesive needs to be spread on using a small notched trowel.

One of the advantages of LVTs is that they are easy to cut. It just needs to be scored with a utility knife and broken in two. When fitting cut tiles, it is always best to place factory edges together and cut edges against the wall. If a hole or curve needs to be cut, the tile should be heated with a heat gun first.

3.    Maintenance
Sweep or dust-mop LVT/Ps once per day or every few days. Sweep the dry particulate before mopping. If ordinary damp-mopping is not cleaning the floor sufficiently, a deck scrub can be used with soft, nylon bristles or with a rotary machine. A pad or brush with a low-speed rotary machine can also be utilised.

WOOD

1.    Removal
Removing glued-down wood flooring or wall panels requires basic brute force, but there are tools available that make completing the job a lot simpler. This task is frequently performed with a variety of hand tools, depending on the extent of the job required. The tools involve include hammers, chisels, leverage tools and scrapers. In some cases a saw may be required.

The wood panels involved need to be removed or separated from the base floor. For smaller jobs, the tools usually include a crowbar, a claw hammer, a hand-sized sledge hammer and a cold chisel.

For larger jobs, a small circular saw can be applied to cut seams into the wood panels to get access to the subflooring, but care must be taken because if the blade is sunk too far in it will start cutting the subflooring. Once a reasonable area has been uplifted, a full-size floor scraper can be used, preferably with a carbon blade. On particularly resistant areas a sledgehammer can be used in conjunction with the chisel. Removing the wood won’t usually leave a clean subfloor surface, which is why a scraper should be used to remove the last of the glue.

2.    Installation
Engineered wood floors and traditional solid planks can be installed as a tongue-and-groove application, or more prevalently as a floating floor using the click fixing system. Bamboo floors require the same installation and maintenance as wood floors.

The installation tools required include trowels (for the repair or smoothing of the subfloor); a hygrometer to ensure that the moisture level is acceptable; floor mitre saws (depending on the widths of the plank); jigsaw for irregular shapes; toe kick saw for removing underlayment from the area adjoining the walls; nailers and staplers; and routers for regrooving or the introduction of inlays. Elastic, self-adhesive underlays that provide a moisture barrier and the required fixing of the flooring can also be used.

Lastly, albeit not exactly a tool (although some light sanding may be required before application), but a polymer-based refinishing process for the renewal treatment of wood, laminates, resilient floorcoverings and some stone, which – according to the manufacturer – dispenses with the need for any other surface treatment to restore the flooring’s original aesthetic appeal.

3.    Maintenance
Regardless of whether traditional finishes are used or not, the floor may need some renovation after a considerable number of years, depending on the traffic it accommodates. To achieve a perfect finish, the use of quality drum or belt sanders is required.

The following tools are common to both wood and laminates installation when repairing a floor:

The relevant saws; moisture meters; a hand mitre saw; a contact sealant gun; various colour sealants of good quality; a few bags of screed will always be needed to repair floors. A vacuum cleaner is a must, so too are eye goggles; dust masks and protective covers over all high speed cutting blades. Where possible, a combination nail gun with compressor to install quarter rounds and skirtings should be used for a perfect finish.

LAMINATES

The installation or removal of a laminate floor is similar to that of wood, which means that almost the same basic tools and preparation are required. Apart from the materials that the floor will be installed on such as an underlayment, barrier sheeting, polyethylene tape, quarter-round moulding, baseboard or wall base end moulding, threshold (and other transitions), and stairnosing – depending on how the flooring is to be fitted – laminate floors are mostly provided with the ‘click’ system of joining planks together, and the preferred method is to install as a floating floor.

Tools required include a tapping block, pull bar, utility knife, hammer, carpenter’s square, router, drill and saws.

1.    Maintenance
Laminate floorcoverings are easy to keep clean by brushing, vacuum cleaning or damp cleaning on a regular basis. Planks can be replaced if damaged, but the surface must not be sanded or over-coated with other finishes.

CERAMIC AND PORCELAIN TILES

1.    Removal
Ceramic tile uses a cement mortar instead of glue to stick to the floor, which makes it harder to remove than resilient floorcoverings but, once again, although the USA and European contractors would use air-powered spud bars or walk-behind, ride-on and self-propelled strippers and scrapers to remove the old tiles, in South Africa any stripping of tiles is often regarded as manual, labour-intensive ‘hammer and chisel’ operation, although high quality machinery is available.

2.    Installation
Generally the subfloor does not need any special treatment to accept ceramic tiles, and as such – providing it is structurally sound and not in need of repair – a cement mortar is used to fix the tiles directly to the subfloor, using a thinset trowel. Tile cutters and nippers are used to cut and trim the tiles to shape or size where needed. Grout tools are also available.

3.    Maintenance
Like any hard floorcovering, ceramic and porcelain tiles require minimal maintenance – daily sweeping or vacuuming and a regular mopping with clean water will keep them looking good for a lifetime. Because the tiles are in effect individual units, replacing them if they become damaged is a relatively easy task.

INDUSTRIAL PREPARATION

Depending on the type of job that has to be performed, the different techniques available will either complement or work individually, in order to fulfil two most important steps: the efficient removal of old floor materials and ensuring perfect adherence of the new floor coating.

As probably the most mechanised sector of the flooring industry, industrial floors use machinery that is purpose-designed to provide fast and easy implementation, particularly for projects where there is limited downtime in the premises, or that need to comply with stringent health and safety regulations, or that have special requirements based on the final usage of the premises e.g. anti-static, water- or oil-proof, non-porous and seamless floors.

1.    Surface preparation
Shot blasting machines are especially designed for the removal and preparation of most floors (industrial or commercial buildings, parking lots, swimming pools, steel etc. Scarifying is a more general-purpose technique meant for a deeper removal of material, for instance for complete floor renovation (production halls, factories, farms, parking lots) on upper floor levels or underground.

Grinding is a technique with diamond discs that does not generate any vibration and helps to simultaneously remove old coatings and level the floor, and is also used extensively in the polishing of concrete floors.

Dust collecting systems are especially designed to work indoor and outdoor, on the most uneven surfaces and in the most confined areas.

2.    Installation
Where aesthetics are not important, a trowelled concrete floor is the most common solution, often with aggregate added to provide extra strength to the surface. However, the advent of modern epoxy, polyurethane and encapsulated aggregate floors has seen this type of floorcovering being used in applications where high wear, hygiene and chemical resistance is required, through to custom-designed floors for the most prestigious of venues, in addition to which polished concrete floors are continually gaining popularity with architects and designers.

A variety of hand tools are available for the successful installation of epoxy floors, including rake trowels with teeth of different dimensions used to spread the epoxy mixture over a surface; floats with adjustable spikes for spreading a specific epoxy mixture over a surface, floats with rubber squeegee for spreading epoxy colours and epoxy sealers before using a cotton roller, plastic spike rollers to squeeze out the air from the epoxy mixture containing a greater quantity of quartz sand and to level the laid mixture, and some people recommend walking boots with spikes to wear while laying some kind of epoxy floors.

The uplifting, renovation, surface preparation, installation and maintenance of industrial flooring of all descriptions are not DIY jobs, and care should be taken to employ the services of a skilled contractor in each case.

The tools or equipment necessary to complete any job is entirely dependent on the floor type, each of which has its own set of stringent requirements. Using the right tools will save a significant amount of time and unnecessary costs and should be viewed as a needed investment to ensure any removal, installation or maintenance project is carried out successfully.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following for the information contained in this article: Finfloor SA; FloorworX; Flowcrete SA; iTe Products; Nouwens Carpets; Polyflor SA; Seamless Flooring Systems; Sika; Technical Finishes; Van Dyck Carpets; http://www.ebay.com; http://www.doityourself.com; http://flooring.about.com; http://www.doityourself.com; http://www.diydoctor.org.uk

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