Installing the Border

I’m not writing this post! Everett Barnard at Virtuoso Hardwoods wrote a blog post about laying the border, and it seemed dumb for me to try and put it in my own words, so he graciously allowed me to include his description of the process! It’s been so fun to watch this process (from afar and through pictures – we’re still being socially distant).

These days the easiest and most reliable way to install a floor with a border is to build the field first with the boards running past the border line, then cut nice straight lines with a track saw to build the border off of. If you set the border first and build the field afterwards, not only will you have to angle match every single board, but you’ll have to cut every single row to the perfect length. It can certainly be done this way, but it’s very tedious and difficult to pull off perfectly.

Before the advent of track saws, we would just nail down a straight board then run a normal circular saw along it with the blade set to the depth of the thickness of the flooring. It worked but it took more time and was a little risky. Track saws have a spring loaded plunge cut feature and ride on a straight track that has anti-slip foam strips on the bottom. All you have to do is place the track’s edge on your lines and it stays put.

The process is pretty simple, layout the lines for the border so you don’t place any nails where the track saw cut will run. Snap a line in the center of the field for the first row, then build the floor from the center going both directions. Once the cuts are made you can typically install the border then close in against the wall like a normal installation.


The problem with that approach in this case is that this particular design was susceptible to moving around if you pry too hard on it. If you remember the final scene from the video on the last post, I taped the pieces together while they were contained within a frame that was set to the exact width that the border is supposed to be. So the question is how do I replicate that on site?

The plan we came up with was to rip some pieces of plywood to the exact width of the border, then close in the floor to the wall with these pieces of plywood in place- but without gluing or nailing them. This way we could wedge the flooring off the wall like we normally would, then the next day after the glue had set up for the pieces on either side of the plywood, we could (hopefully) remove the pieces of plywood and have a perfect channel in which to place the taped up border pieces. It sounds like a good plan but who knows if it will work- maybe the boards on either side will move ever so slightly when the plywood gets pulled out, making it just a little bit too narrow. Every dimension of this design depends on the lengths and widths of everything around it. This includes the overall width, so if it ends up being too narrow it could be disastrous. Imagine having to trim a tiny little bit off of every one of those pieces, pure nightmare fuel.


In the end I decided that it was worth the risk and we went forward with it. The next day the plywood pulled out very easily. I placed the tape measure on the opening just to see what the width was and it was perfect for most of it, at one of the ends of that stretch it was a little narrow. However when I tried to fit one of the sections of border into it it slid in with little persuasion. It was now time to finally install this thing and see the long awaited payoff. Ah but not so fast- I needed to make sure I started it in the right spot so that it looked good at the corners. If you take your time and make sure the corners are symmetrical, it makes it look like the ribbons continue through the corners behind the corner blocks. It’s all in the details.

Once I knew where to start it it was finally time. Though the original design was nailed, I didn’t want to put a bunch of nail holes in this border. Filler usually doesn’t age well, even if you use a product that mixes with wood dust. Instead I decided to just do a full trowel glue down of just the border. Silane based adhesives have plenty of open time just in case there’s a problem getting the border in, but overall it went very smoothly. After all the main stretches of border were installed I moved on to the corner blocks, and then to the border pieces that get cut to fit the corner frames. Rather than spend time setting up the jig for that, I just did it piece by piece since there were only 3 corners.

The only intricate work left at that point was to cut in the frame for the hearth and the vent.

Here’s the Hearth :

And here’s the vent!

Here is a video of the process!

Gabe Barnard and Everett Barnard do amazing work. It’s so fun to have them be a part of this process!



  1. This is going to be so gorgeous when it is all finished, it already is actually. You were so lucky to find these guys. I have a couple of questions. In the video it looks like paper was put down between the sub floor and floor, why was that? Why was a “frame” put around the heat vent? I think it would look great either way.

    1. It’s a silicone infused underlayment, the modern equivalent to wax paper they used to use under these floors. It’s just a moisture retarder. As for the vent, for some reason they always put frames around the supplies in these old floors, but never around the air returns. And since the existing floor had frames around the original vents, it was a must that the new ones had them too.

  2. Very neat! What a skill to have. I’m so glad you found a team that specializes in this and is so artful at how they do it. What species of wood is the molding and what species of wood are you using for the floor?

      1. I can’t wait to see it finished. You will stand in a room that’s adjacent to it and just stare at the floors for a long time… 🙂

  3. True artist. Beyond belief. My husband is a hobby carpenter and was in awe of this work. Beautiful!

  4. I’m glad you found this amazing artisan/expert to install this floor and border. It looks very mathematical and intricate, by no means a task for DIY.

    It’s splendid!

  5. Everett Barnard (and his team) of Virtuoso Hardwoods is truly a virtuoso. He writes well too (blog). It takes a skillful craftsman to install the complex design and an artist to create symmetry at the corners. Everett is both highly skilled and artistic. Marvelous result.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: