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How to Build a Tile Inlay Frame

The experts demonstrate how to build a hardwood frame that will surround a tile inlay that creates the perfect transition to the surrounding wood floor.

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Step 1: Secure the Roofing Felt

Roll out 15-lb. asphalt roofing felt onto the subfloor and secure it with staples. Overlap the felt while moving across the floor. Make sure all of the subfloor gets covered during this process.

roll out asphalt roofing felt onto subfloor

Step 2: Measure the Tiles

In this example, the tiled area will measure roughly 80" x 100". Whole tiles can be used without making any cuts. However, tiles may need cutting to fit properly, or tiles of a different size can be used.

Step 3: Drop a Plumb Line

If there's a lighting fixture above the inlay area, drop a plumb line through the it. Twist the end of the plumb line together to allow it to drop directly under the center of the light, which also indicated the center of the tile inlay.

drop a plumb line from light fixture

Step 4: Mark the Location Onto the Subfloor

Once the plumb is perfectly positioned, mark its location onto the subfloor surface. Measure half of the width of the tile area from the center point to determine one side and mark the position. Strike a chalk line on those marks.

mark plumb ocation onto subfloor

Step 5: Measure the Length of the Tiled Space

Measure half the total distance from the center point toward the end. Use a framing square to check the line, then snap a second chalk line to mark the position. Measure from the chalk lines in both directions and strike remaining two chalk lines to designate the tile inlay area.

measure length of tiled space

Step 6: Check Corners

Double-check corners to make sure all are square. In this example, an area has been created that will accommodate four tiles in one direction and five in the other while accommodating 1/8" grout joints.

Step 7: Secure the Boards

Cut the boards that will make the corners of the tile inlay frame at 45-degree angles. Set the boards on the chalk line and secure them to the floor using a trim nailer and 8 penny-finish nails. Direct the nails both into the face of the boards, then into the tongue at an angle.

secure the boards

Step 8: Set the Entire Border

Continue setting the hardwood boards along the chalk lines until the entire border is set in place.

set the entire border

Step 9: Work the Short Section of the Wall

Set a board along the outside edge of the frame to act as a guide while working down the short section of the wall.

Note: The following instructions might not be the same for your room. In this example, the tile inlay won't be directly centered in the work area, so there will be longer and shorter areas in which the hardwood will be installed around the frame.

work short section of wall

Step 10: Cut the Boards

Measure, then use a miter saw to cut the hardwood lengths to size. On the first board, insert a spline to act as a "tongue" to which the next board can be attached.

Step 11: Nail the Boards

Start placing the boards and nail them in place using the floor nailer. Once the end of the first run has been reached, install boards down the long side of the border and begin working toward the outside wall (in this example, this might vary in your room).

Step 12: Install Notched Boards

Lay out boards as you move along to help speed the process. Cut boards to fit around vents or other electrical or architectural features, then install notched boards (Image 1). Proceed with full boards beyond this area, and nail boards with a trim nailer (Image 2).

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