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Solid Hardwood Flooring – Use Staples or Cleat Nails?

Aside from what type of subfloor is proper for hardwood flooring installations, what method is probably one of the most asked questions when it comes to installing hardwood floors by the mechanical method.

Recent History

Professionals differ on what type of nailing or stapling tool can be used to install solid ¾” hardwood floors. Prior to the early 90’s manual cleat nailers were about the only choice available unless you wanted to painstakingly nail each and every board by hand. That was a job for our parents and grandparents.

Since the widespread use of pneumatic tools became more acceptable there are two choices with solid flooring. The air driven pneumatic cleat nailer or stapler (shown on the left). Nowadays these tools can easily be found at the big box stores and rented by a daily or weekly period. For all intent and purposes it is more economical to plan ahead and get most of the work done within an acceptable period of time so rental costs don’t go skyward.

Let’s say you have a straight forward 500 square foot square room and the material being used is a 3 ¼” wide plank. A seasoned professional can get the job done in an eight hour day with pneumatic tools because the tool itself does all the back breaking work. Conversely, if we were using a manual nailer an estimated amount of area completed would probably be more realistic at 300 to 350.

Who Are The Manufacturers?

Stanley Bostich wood flooring staplerMost widely used pneumatic flooring staplers or nailers are manufactured by Stanley Bostich. Others with a large presence in the industry include Powernail and Primatech.

Which Is Best?

Going from jobsite to jobsite we’ve seen more pneumatic staplers used for solid installations. The consensus is staples allows for a tighter fitting floor after installation. One disadvantage to the stapling method is removing should you accidentally miss the tongue when fastening. It happens to the best of them. You’re going along and the staple did not engage properly into the groove area and suddenly you find the staple has been nailed into the face of the board.

Removing stapled flooring is not an easy task and can sometimes cause damage to adjacent boards when they’re pulled out. On the other hand, pneumatic cleat nailers do not have the massive holding power and mistakes can be corrected much quicker and easier.

What Are The Costs?

Comparing staples and regular cleat nails, expect staples to be priced at around $ 70.00 if buying online. Each box will install close to 1,000 square feet of standard 2 1/4″ strip flooring. Nails on the other hand will price out higher. Pneumatic staplers and nailers can run anywhere between $300 for reconditioned and upwards of $ 600 for new. Last we noticed, rental centers were charging about $ 45.00 each day for rental. Doing some research we didn’t realize these tools can be rented online. Interesting! We tried out their online quote system and found seven days would cost only $89.00.


Pneumatic nailers have been used in the flooring business since the early 90’s. While staplers get the boards tighter it may be wise to gravitate to the cleat nailer in areas where high humidity can pose problems. The more movement during seasonal changes in the relative himidity provide a greater tendency to squeak because of the force at which the floor has been installed.

More information on what types of nail guns for hardwood floors and air pressure settings.