You finally started tackling that kitchen remodel — new cabinets, new paint, and, best of all, new hardwood flooring. You couldn’t bear another morning thinking about removing that linoleum floor while eating your Cheerios. You’re about to lay the final piece of flooring leading into the living room.
Suddenly, a shock of terror runs down your spine — the living room has an entirely different hardwood flooring. Your hardwood flooring does not match, and you don’t know how to transition between two different wood floors. Was this all for nothing? Do you need to rip everything up and start over? Relax, I have your back.
Transitioning between two different wood floors can seem daunting, but with the right materials and techniques, you can achieve a smooth, seamless look. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the three main options for transitioning between two wood floors: T-molding, seam binders, and custom transition strips.
We’ll provide tips on choosing the right transition method based on your flooring situation, step-by-step installation instructions, and pro advice for making this project successful. With planning and effort, you can expertly blend your new and existing flooring. Let’s get started.
How to Transition Between Two Different Wood Floors With T-Molding
T-molding is a versatile transition piece ideal for joining hardwood floors of similar height. The signature T-shape allows the trim to bridge the gap between floors while covering expansion spaces. T-molding comes in various wood flooring types to match or coordinate with your flooring.
For T-molding, you’ll need a gap between the floors about 1/4 inch wider than the vertical leg of the T. This extra width gives the necessary wiggle room to properly position the trim during installation.
If you know you’ll use T-molding, be sure to leave a gap when installing the new flooring.
Make a gap with a jigsaw or oscillating multi-tool for existing tight-fitted floors. Set the blade depth just above the floor thickness.
To install T-molding:
- Thoroughly clean the gap between floors by removing dust and debris so the molding adheres well.
- Use a miter saw to cut the T-molding to the proper length. Dry-fit it first to ensure a good fit before nailing.
- Set the T-molding in place. Pre-drill and nail through the horizontal top piece into the subfloor to provide stability.
- Nail the vertical leg down into each floor surface using finish nails. Set them with a nail punch.
- Inspect for gaps and fill them with wood putty as needed for seamless transitions.
With proper installation, T-moldings can expertly blend hardwood floors together. Take care to match wood species and colors as closely as possible.
How to Transition Between Two Different Wood Floors With a Seam Binder
Seam binders, also called flooring strips or divider strips, provide a slimmer alternative to T-moldings. These flat strips simply sit on the flooring surfaces to cover the gap.
Seam binders work best when flooring heights are flush with no vertical transitions, expansion spaces are minimal, and you want an understated, nearly invisible transition.
To install a seam binder, make sure floors are smooth and debris-free. Thoroughly vacuum the gap between floors first.
Cut the binder to the proper length with a miter saw. Test-fit it to ensure accurate cuts.
Pre-drill holes for finish nails to prevent splitting the wood. Space the nails about 8 to 12 inches apart.
Position the binder centered over the gap. Nail it into the subfloor. Avoid driving nails all the way through into the flooring below.
Fill any light gaps in the transitions with wood filler for an imperceptible seam.
Consider staining the binder’s raw wood edges to match your floor’s finish.
Seam binders have a delicate appearance compared to T-moldings. Handle them gently during transport and installation. Their slim profile also lacks the strength of a T-molding, so avoid using them where floors have significant height differences.
How to Transition Between Two Different Wood Floors With a Custom Transition Strip
For wood floors with uneven heights, a custom transition strip provides an ideal solution. You can make a transition piece sized specifically for your unique flooring.
Follow these steps:
- First, carefully measure the height difference between the two floors. Transfer these measurements to a piece of wood at least four inches wider than your tallest flooring. This added width increases stability.
- Use a table saw to taper the wood from the floor height marks down to narrowly finished edges. This tapered profile lets the edges sit flush with each flooring surface.
- Cut an interlocking tongue and groove on the underside. It fits into the flooring boards below to prevent rocking.
- Stain and finish the exposed wood to blend with your existing floors. Durable polyurethane works well.
- Pre-drill holes and firmly nail the custom transition strip in place. The tapered edges should fit snugly against each floor.
You can fashion perfect transitions with some woodworking skills, even for tricky flooring scenarios. Custom options also allow for unique designs using metal, tile, stone, or other materials.
Here are some extra tips for flawless transitions between wood flooring:
- If floors differ drastically in color, match the transition piece to one floor or make it a contrasting color. The different colors can look bold and intentional.
- Check for radiant floor heating systems before installing transitions. Avoid accidentally puncturing tubes with nails or screws.
- Apply a protective finish to unfinished wood transitions to prevent scratches, splintering, and water damage over time.
- Whenever possible, nail into the subfloor rather than just the flooring. This precaution provides stability and prevents transitions from shifting later.
- Test pre-finished transitions first. Variations in stain batches can make an exact color match difficult. Don’t assume two “oak” products will match.
- Install transitions before laying down baseboards and trim. The increased access lets you easily nail and fit the transition pieces into place.
So, Is Transitioning Between Wood Floors Difficult?
Transitioning between two different wood floors may seem intimidating at first glance. But with the right materials and techniques tailored to your specific situation, you can achieve beautiful, barely noticeable transitions from room to room.
Careful planning and patient installation, along with these tips, will result in a polished, integrated look. Don’t let fears about mismatched floors derail your flooring plans. With a bit of carpentry skills, you can seamlessly blend wood species, colors, and heights. The result will appear cohesively designed from the start.
FAQs About Transitioning Between Wood Floors
Can I use caulk or putty instead of a transition strip?
I don’t recommend it. Caulk and putty eventually crack and dry out over time. Transition strips made of wood, metal, or vinyl will last much longer without repair.
What are the best transition options for radiant floor heating?
Look for low-profile transition strips, such as flooring seam binders, that allow proper heat transfer. These cause minimal disruption in the flooring above the heating tubes.
Should expansion gaps still be incorporated underneath transition strips?
Yes, leave small gaps under transitions just as you would between individual hardwood boards. Wood floors expand and contract with humidity changes. Gaps prevent buckling.
How can I match new and existing hardwood floor colors for seamless transitions?
Have the flooring store stain samples until you achieve an acceptable close color match. Even pre-finished boards can vary slightly between production batches.
What type of saw works best for accurately cutting transition strips?
A power miter saw lets you make precise angled cuts for a perfect fit every time. A jigsaw or handsaw can also work for straight cuts. Be sure to use a fine-toothed blade.