Tips for Successfully Installing Metal Inlays in Wood Floors

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Tips for successfully installing metal inlays in wood floors

At a wood flooring school, I attended, I learned how to install metal inlays, and since then, they have been a great option for customers who are a little more passionate about their floors (like I am!). We installed them in our showroom floor, and we recently fixed some that were done badly by another company using the wrong material. Here are some of the things we’ve learned when we do these jobs.

I don’t offer them to every customer

When I get in front of the customer, I like to see what makes them tick without totally overwhelming them with options. Are they really excited about their floors? Do they like bling? No bling? Metal can offer a subtle coolness to a wood floor, so if people like just a little bit of bling, that metal can add just the right amount of pizzazz. I’m really passionate about wood floors, and I think that’s contagious and helps sell these jobs.

You can use them in many ways

I have outlined fireplaces with metal, picture-framing the hearth in addition to the usual framing of the hearth with wood. We’ve also used it as a transition to separate rooms or between a room and a hallway. Metal also adds a high-end touch when you use it to outline a parquet pattern of any type. In our showroom entrance, we used it to create a small sunburst (seen on the bottom right of this page).

We stock it

I try to sell metal inlays as I’m selling the job, so we’re prepared, but in the past, I’ve definitely sold them when we were in the middle of a job and were suddenly like, “You know what would look cool?” Then we had to hold up the job while we sourced the material, and we were sanding one area but waiting to sand another area, which isn’t something I’m a fan of. Now we found a metal fabricator local to us where I bought $1,500 of this metal so we have it on hand. I like having solid brass and solid aluminum in a ¼-by-⅛-inch dimension—that gives us the ability to make the inlay either width, although generally, I prefer the ¼-inch width because I think the ⅛-inch doesn’t look like much once it’s installed.

Options for making the dado

If we are putting the metal into a floor that’s already been installed, most of the time we use the router on a track (as seen in the photo above), just like you use a track saw. If it’s going to be bent into the floor, you need to do that with the router on a swing arm or create a template you can run the router against. Of course, you want as clean of a cut as possible, so be sure to use a good (preferably new) router bit. I do four, five or six passes to get the depth I need, because trying to cut the full ¼-inch depth in one pass could create burns in the wood that will never come out.

In a pinch—if for some reason we don’t have the router or because we don’t have enough space clearance for using the router—we have used a track saw to cut the dado. Of course, the track saw blade is not thick enough to cut it in one pass, so you have to do it twice. This makes it more difficult because you have to cut each side of the line, but it’s an acceptable method.

If we still are in the process of installing the floor and the metal inlay is going to be straight, we’ll put the flooring that’s getting the metal on our table saw to cut it before it’s installed. It’s just one straight cut, and it’s so much easier to cut that dado before the wood floor is installed. We just did a job where we were outlining a rectangle of herringbone. We used the track saw on the edges of the herringbone, and then for the wood going in as the border, we cut the dado on the table saw.


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Adam Bissey