How to Install Random Width Hardwood Flooring

Kevin McDermott

Standard hardwood flooring comes in planks that are of a uniform width, then they're installed in courses side-by-side across the floor. A variation of this method is to lay boards of widths that vary between the courses. This lends a rustic, random look to the floor.

Although it's meant to convey country simplicity, the process of laying varying width flooring is actually somewhat complicated, because you have to carefully coordinate and make sure you don't run out of a given width before you're done with the course.

  1. Cover the subfloor in felt underlayment, rolling it out in overlapping courses. Staple it down.

  2. Arrange your floorboards in stacks, separated by different widths, so you can see at a glance during the installation process how much of each width is left. (Note: Random-width flooring is often sold in bundles that are already separated by width.)

  3. Snap a starting line for the first course of flooring along the side of the room where you want to start (generally along the longest wall in the room). Set the line half an inch out from the wall.

  4. Pick a board of medium width for the first course. Lay it on the line, at one end, with grooved side toward the wall. Secure it by shooting nails through the top with a floor nailer, putting them every foot along both edges of the board.

  5. Set additional boards from the same stack (of the same width) end to end off the first one, spanning the whole starting line. Fit the boards together by the tongue & groove fittings at the ends, nailing each of them down in the same manner as the first one. Use your miter saw to cut the last board as needed to fit at the end.

  6. Choose a different width for your next course. Set the boards of the second course alongside the first, linking them tightly by their tongue & groove edges. Secure the boards of the second and later courses by shooting in the nails through the sides of the boards, just above the tongue, at an inward angle, so the heads will be hidden by the next course. Arrange the boards so they don’t line up at the ends between the two courses, but are “staggered.”

  7. Continue laying the floor course by course, choosing a different width of boards for each course. Assess your stacks as you work, so you’re drawing somewhat evenly from them and not in danger of running out of one width before others. Stand back and look at the floor after every two or three courses to make sure you’re keeping a random design with the different widths and not inadvertently creating a set pattern. (Example: Wide, medium, thin, wide, medium, thin would be a set pattern. It should look more random.)

  8. Work your way across the room course by course. As you start to deplete the floorboards, be careful not to start a course with one given width of board unless there are enough boards left in the stack to finish the course. Continue staggering the ends of the boards as you lay them.

  9. Use a table saw to length-cut the boards of the last course, so they fit against the ending wall with a half-inch space left there. Floor trim will hide the space.