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How to Install Carpet Tack Strips

If you’ve ever installed carpet, you are likely familiar with tack strips. If not, you may have never seen one. Carpet tack strips are long, narrow strips of plywood populated with dozens of small tacks that hold the edges of carpet in place after it is stretched.

These tack strips have been around for as long as carpet, and serve to keep the carpet taut and without wrinkles. Today we will discuss what types of carpet tack strips are available, what they do, and how to install them.

What Are Carpet Tack Strips?

Carpet tack strips are traditionally made from ¼” plywood, about an inch wide. Plywood is often the material of choice because these strips are long and narrow, which would likely snap in two if made from one piece of natural wood. The plywood construction crosses the grain with each ply, making the material more flexible while retaining its strength. 

Carpet tack strips normally come in two versions; one for wooden subfloors, and one for concrete pads. The primary difference between the two is the fastener used to secure it to the floor. Carpet tack strips designed for use with a wooden subfloor will usually include #6 ring shank nails, or something similar.

Carpet tack strips designed for concrete will replace the #6 nails with masonry nails. These nails are a heavier gauge and can withstand the impact of a large hammer without bending.

Why Do I Need Carpet Tack Strips?

To install most carpets, the carpet material must be stretched before securing it to the floor. This is because almost all carpet materials will stretch over time and cause puckers and wrinkles unless they are stretched taut.

Carpet is generally cut slightly larger than the room it will be installed in, and these carpet tack strips secure the carpet on one side while the carpet is stretched towards the opposing wall. Without the use of tack strips or a similar product, stretching the carpet would require visible connections to the floor, such as nails or staples. These tack strips are completely hidden, easy to install, and are even reusable.

What Tools Do I Need to Install Carpet Tack Strips?

In most applications, installing carpet tack strips requires only simple hand tools, such as a utility knife, measuring tape, and hammer. Other tools can also be used for speed, such as powered saws (for trimming the strips to length), chalk lines (for keeping the strips straight), and nail guns. Most professional carpet installers opt for hand tools as the use of power tools can take more time to set up than they save. 

Can I Install Carpet Tacks Strips Myself?

Yes. Carpet tack strips are simple and can be installed by a novice. However, installing carpet tack strips does require consistency and attention to detail. This is especially true when carpeting more complex areas, like stairs. Installing carpet tack strips is a simple procedure, but certain precautions should be taken during installation.

Carpet tack strips, whether being used for a wooden subfloor or concrete, contain dozens of short, sharp tacks. As such, they should be placed out of the path of floor traffic, as stepping on a carpet tack strip can cause severe injury. Safety gear, such as eye protection and gloves should also be used, as even gentle handling of the strips can result in injury to the hands.

How Do I Install Carpet Tack Strips?

Here we will discuss the step-by-step process of installing carpet tack strips. Here’s a list of tools needed to complete the project, but others are also available:

  • Hammer (typically a larger one will be needed for concrete tack strips)
  • Measuring Tape
  • Spacer
  • Utility knife or hand saw

Step 1. Measure the Room

The first step in installing carpet tack strips is to decide how many will be needed for the project. Carpet tack strips are typically sold in lengths of about three to six feet and will be required around the entire perimeter of the room. For example, if the room is 10’ x 10’, the room will need about ten 4’ long strips. This equals 2 ½ strips per wall, multiplied by four walls, for a total of 10 strips. 

Sometimes rooms are irregularly shaped and/or may have more than four walls. In these situations, instead of taking average measurements from one wall to the opposing wall, each wall is measured separately.

Simply pick a starting point along any wall and measure the distance until the wall turns a corner. This would indicate the first measurement. Continue around the room, taking individual measurements of each straight section of wall. After returning to the starting point, simply add these measurements together and divide it by the length of the tack strip. For example, if the total is 46’ and you are using 4’ tack strips, you will need 12 strips for the room.  

Step 2. Lay Out the Lines (Optional)

If you are installing carpet tack strips for the first time, it may be advantageous to draw a line on the floor to indicate where the strips will go. Professional carpet installers often skip this step, as their experience allows them to keep the tack strips straight by sight. 

This can be done any number of ways, but the fastest is often to use a chalk line or straight piece of lumber as a guide. Chalk lines are the easiest, because they are long enough to span an entire room, whereas lumber will likely be too short for a large room. 

Carpet tack strips are usually installed ¼” – ½” from the wall, so if using a chalk line, 

simply measure this distance from one end of the wall section to the other and snap a line. This will indicate the location of the edge of the tack strip. 

Step 3. Drive In the Fasteners

The last step is to secure the tack strips to the floor. To begin, it is vitally important to identify the correct edge of the tack strip. If you look closely, you can see that the tacks protruding from the strip are not perpendicular to the strip, but lean slightly towards one edge. This slight leaning of the tacks is what allows the carpet to stay securely attached to the strip when the carpet is stretched. Installing tack strips backward is quite common, so most manufacturers label them to note which edge should face the wall.

Once you have ensured that the tack strip is facing the correct direction, lay the strip along the line on the floor and drive in the fastener closest to one end. Then pivot the strip until the other end is on the line and drive in the rest of the fasteners.

Next, take another tack strip and place it along the line, end to end with the previous strip, allowing for a ¼” of space between the ends and repeat. When you reach a wall that will require the tack strip to be cut, simply use a utility knife or saw and trim the strip accordingly.

Be careful however not to contact the tacks if using a powered saw, as the tacks can fly off and cause serious injury. Once the strips have been secured to the floor, the room is ready for carpet.

What Are the Alternatives to Carpet Tack Strips?

There are other methods of securing carpet to the floor. These include tape, adhesives, and staples. Each method has limitations when compared to the strength of a tack strip, but will often work well in the right context. For example, throw rugs and runner carpets are often secured using tape, because these carpets are not usually stretched. Many professional carpet installers will employ adhesives or staples when carpeting stairs, because sometimes the spaces are too small for a tack strip. These methods often work well, but if the carpet is to be stretched (as most carpet is), using a carpet tack strip will be the best option. 

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