Staples vs. Cleats: What about L-Cleats and T-Cleats?

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When you’re on the market for a new floor nailer, there are many decisions to make. First, you’ve got to decide which brand you want to go with. From Primatech to Powernail to  Bostitch and beyond. From there, a single manufacturer can offer dozens of different fastener models.

So you decide between a manual or pneumatic floor nailer, but that might not even be the end of your decision-making process.

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Manual floor fasteners always use cleat nails, but pneumatic models come with two options: you can get either a stapler or a nailer. So if you want a pneumatic nailer, you have one more decision to make: you have to choose between models that use either L-cleats or T-cleats.

We’ve weighed in before on the famous staples vs. cleats debate, but we didn’t touch on the difference between L-cleats and T-cleats.

Pneumatic nailers are an increasingly popular choice for contractors. So today, we’re going to focus on just the final part of this decision-making process. How do you figure out which type of floor fastener to use when it comes to staples, L-cleats, or T-cleats?

Cleats allow flexibility and security.

Both L-cleats and T-cleats feature ribs that run about ⅔ of the way down the nail shank. This provides the cleat with a superior grip that securely fastens the floor to the subfloor. The remainder of the nail is smooth, which allows the floor to fluctuate with temperature and humidity changes without splitting out the tongues. If you’re already a staunch cleat fan, browse our selection of cleats.

When to use L-cleats vs. T-cleats?

There’s no mechanical difference between L-cleats and T-cleats except for the fact that, as the names suggest, the heads are a different shape. Whether you’ll need to use L-cleats or T-cleats depends on the nailer model that you have. Cleats are generally safe to use with any type of flooring, and they’re especially effective at fastening delicate flooring like engineered varieties and exotic species without splitting them out when the appropriate gauge is chosen.

Certain cleat nailer models are specifically designed for use with thin, engineered hardwood flooring, like the Primatech Q-550 18-gauge cleat nailer, which can be used to install 3/8” to 3/4” tongue-and-groove flooring.

With staples, you get what you pay for.

Staples are made from steel, just like cleats. But because a staple is much easier to manufacture due to its simple design, a box of 5,000 costs only about half as much as a box of 5,000 cleats. Compared to cleats, staples provide a stronger initial grip. Sounds great, right? There’s a catch, though––staples are much more likely to cause problems than cleats.

There’s a high chance of staples splitting out the tongues of the wood, especially when you’re working with engineered flooring composed of a plywood base. This is because the staple’s large crown and the surface area contacts the nail pocket.

Besides making the floors more susceptible to damage, using staples to install flooring also creates a bigger risk of squeaky floors during the winter when the floorboards fluctuate in response to humidity drops.

When to use staples vs. cleats?

If you’re working with solid, domestic ¾” hardwood floors, staples can be a safe bet. So you might be able to use staples to install ¾” oak, but you probably won’t have luck using staples with much else. Always check the flooring manufacturer’s instructions to see whether they recommend you use either staples or cleats. Some flooring manufacturers even recommend specific brands and models of nailers to use with their products.

The Philly Floor Store stocks manual and pneumatic floor nailers from different vendors, as well as staples and cleats. Browse our extensive floor fastener inventory to find whatever it is you need.

2 thoughts on “Staples vs. Cleats: What about L-Cleats and T-Cleats?

  1. John Bales

    I did not find the answer to my question in this article.
    A friend offered to sell me leftover L-cleats for use in a T-cleat floor nailer I picked up at a yard sale.
    I am having trouble finding any online information about whether I can use his L-cleats in the T-nailer.

    1. City Floor Supply Post author

      Not usually. It depends on the model but typically, you’ll need to use manufacturer-approved T-cleats in a T-nailer.


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