Tongue and Groove Flooring – What Is the Floor about?

Dylan Johnson

tongue and groove flooring

The tongue and groove flooring isn’t a new thing in the flooring industry. In fact, such installation mechanism has been around for several years.

This method refers to how the two boards (usually floorboards, but not always) can be held together while improving flexibility at the same time.

Such a floor has its own benefits, but let’s dig deeper into the facts, shall we?

What Is It?

Tongue and groove floor refers to wood floor which is easily installed which is great for DIYers and home owners who want to do the whole thing by themselves.

So, the floorboards have the protruding parts (called as tongue) as well as concave parts (known as groove) which allow them to fit together perfectly.

Imagine it like puzzle pieces where each part can fit each other well. Each board (with its four sides) has its own grooves and tongues.

The tongue and groove term is often used together with wood floorboards, wainscot, sheet paneling, and other materials where solid and tight seam is needed especially between gaps or separate pieces.

One tongue should firmly fit into the adjoining board’s groove. The idea is to control and manage the vertical movement (between the adjoining boards).

What about horizontal movement?

Well, it is still okay within a small degree.

In fact, it is desirable because wood floor tends to contract and expand.

Do you know that the first hardwood flooring with tongue and groove mechanism was launched in 1885?

It’s because side matcher was finally invented. Side matcher refers to a machine that is able to turn (wooden) planks to floorboards.

Read Also: Glue Down Vinyl Plank Flooring and Floating Vinyl Floor Comparisons

The Advantages Tongue and Groove Flooring

Naturally, the tongue and groove flooring has its own advantages.

What are they?

  • They promote tight seams with very minimum use of glue and nail. The boards can go together without or with very small amount of glue, nail, or any type of adhesive
  • The floor can be water tight as long as you have proper coating on it. But this should be applied after the site-finished not within pre-finished stage.

The Disadvantages Tongue and Groove Flooring

Despite all the great benefits, nothing can be 100% perfect and it also applies to this tongue and groove flooring.

What are the possible downsides?

  • Fitting the tongue to the grooves can be a challenge. This is especially difficult when the boards have been swollen because of humidity
  • The tongues are quite fragile. They are easily broken, unless you have special care applied to it
  • It would be difficult to dissemble the already joined floorboards. In fact, it is usually quite impossible. You can take apart the floor, but significant break will likely happen.

Tongue and Groove and Later, Lock and Fold

The basic tongue and groove flooringmechanism is basically the straight tongue which slides into the straight groove horizontally.

In order not to move, flooring staples or nails are typically driven into the boards’ tongues. The fasteners would be directly attached to the subfloor.

Then, laminate flooring producers start developing new ways to join the boards. And floating floors are coming into existence it comes with almost similar but yet a bit different techniques.

The floating floor isn’t attached to the subfloor. They attach to themselves only, connecting one board to another.

The luxury vinyl floor uses this innovation, improving the quality and easiness of such floor.

At the beginning, installer would use glue to join the tongues to the grooves, but then another easier method was developed.

Lock and fold is the new mechanism where tongues can be fitted to the grooves without fasteners or adhesive.

Although lock and fold mechanism is almost similar to tongue and groove, there is a slight implementation.

You see, in lock and fold mechanism, you need to angle one board to the (adjoining) board before and then you need to fold it downward.

This is the difference part from traditional tongue and groove because the horizontal and vertical movement remains in check.

Although there is small space for microscopic (horizontal) movement, it is different from the classic (and traditional) tongue and groove.

Proper Preparation

Here are some helpful tips when dealing with this type of flooring installation. 

  • Make sure the space is empty. Make sure that everything goes away, including knick-knacks, pictures, shelves, and other stuff. Plan the access to the room as well as other areas. If you want the floor to be properly installed and the finish layers to dry, you will have to wait in another area. That’s why planning out is crucial.
  • Consider underlayment. You can always install the floor without underlayment, but it would be noisy and squeaky. It doesn’t hurt to use underlayment one of the best is the red rosin paper. If the subfloor has moisture issue, you may want to use the asphalt paper. Use a staple gun or a hammer tacker so the material will be secured to your subfloor.
  • Pay attention to back priming. If you install the floor in areas exposed to moisture (such as bathroom or kitchen), you may want to have an extra treatment for each board’s back side. Roll or brush a urethane coat, which will seal the material. It will also allow uniform dry.

Read Also: Kahrs Flooring Reviews

The Proper Tools

There are also some basic and yet crucial tools for the installation

  • Nails. Unlike the old days where carpenters used hard and small cut nails, you only need to use special flooring nailers. If you don’t have one, you can rent them. Don’t forget to have the so-called finish nailer. But consult the floor supplier or the floor dealer about which fastener would be appropriate for the floor.
  • Cutting. You need quick, accurate, and clean cuts for this type of floor. That’s why a good and reliable miter saw is the most ideal one. Again, if you aren’t sure about this, consult your dealer or supplier.

If you aren’t sure about doing the installation on your own, it’s better to hire a professional service.

But you can always manage everything on your own, provided that you have done a thorough research first and you really understand everything.

In short, you can manage your own tongue and groove flooring installation but make sure that you are being careful about it.

Dylan Johnson
As a flooring enthusiast, I love everything about it - from the way it looks to the way it feels underfoot. Nothing beats a well-crafted floor that adds character to any space.