Perhaps one of the most contested debates in the hardwood flooring industry is whether to use cleats or staples when installing hardwood floors. Each side has staunch defenders. So what are the benefits and problem areas for each fastener?
Staples have the price advantage. Sometimes cleats can be twice as expensive as staples. Staples are also a bit more common of a product on store shelves which leads to their popularity. (At City Floor Supply, we have plenty of both in stock — click here to browse our selection.)
Not only are the staples more common, but the tools themselves are more common. Pneumatic floor staplers were the first pneumatic floor fastener used in the floor industry. The mallet actuated staplers were first on the scene, but now there are a great number of trigger operated staplers for thinner floors.
Nailers are traditionally operated with a mallet striking the tool to drive in the fastener. Since staplers are more common on store shelves, they tend to be a bit cheaper.
But which type of fastener is better to use?
How do staples stack up against cleats?
The downside to staples might seem a little counter-intuitive. Staples do their job a little too well. They keep the wood attached to the subfloor so well that the wood doesn’t have any room to expand or contract. Wood naturally changes its size due to the amount of moisture (or lack thereof) in the air.
Since staples allow for little to no movement in the floor, it can lead to split tongues on the floor boards. Split tongues will cause squeaky or loose floor boards. That leads to repair work which your customer and employees won’t be happy about.
Additionally, staples have a tendency to split the tongue of a higher density wood like maple or Brazilian cherry upon installation. Some contractors also claim that staples are more difficult to remove than cleats when ripping up old boards.
Staples aren’t inherently bad — it’s just that you have to be careful when you use them. If you’re installing a floor in an area that does not experience drastic fluctuations in the weather, or more importantly, the humidity, you can use staples. If you are installing a softer density wood like oak, it could be appropriate to use staples.
The science behind cleats
So what is it about the cleat that makes them work well?
Wood naturally wants to move. Cleats are constructed in a way to promote the movement of wood.
All cleats are constructed in a similar way. The shaft of the cleat is barbed which allows the cleat to dig into the wood fibers.
There is a small length of the cleat towards the top that is smooth. This smooth section allows the wood to expand and contract without any fear of cracking the tongue of a board.
Cleats can be used for almost all types of wood as well. Some contractors say that cleats shouldn’t be used for thin strips of pre-finished or engineered wood, however. As mentioned above, thinner gauge cleats are being sold for just that purpose. Click here to score some great deals on cleats.
What’s the answer to the age-old “staples vs. cleats” debate?
The debate between staples and cleats isn’t going away any time soon. Everybody has their preference. What’s more important that the specific fastener is whether or not you’re following proper procedure installing the floor.
Be sure that the subfloor is appropriate for the method of installation. Make sure you have the correct nailing schedule for the wood type you are installing. If you are using a pneumatic nailer or stapler, make sure the air pressure is set correctly for the particular wood.
When you follow the proper procedure for your fastener of choice, you will get the best results possible.