Trowel vs Glue for Engineer Hardwood Adhesive (Explained)

Installing engineered hardwood flooring can seem daunting for DIYers. One of the most important decisions is choosing the right adhesive method – trowel or glue. Both have their pros and cons. This comprehensive guide will examine trowel and glue options for engineered hardwood, outlining tips, recommendations, and things to avoid. Read on to become an adhesive expert!

Gluing down engineered hardwood delivers a smooth, seamless finish. However, the installation process must be done correctly to avoid issues like hollow spots, loose planks, and squeaking. Choosing the right adhesive method is critical. The two main options are:

  • Trowel: Spreading adhesive using a trowel with a notched edge.
  • Glue: Using liquid adhesive in a bottle applied directly to the subfloor.

Trowelable adhesives create a tighter bond with the texture left by the notched trowel. Glue adhesives are easier to spread over large areas, but may not adhere as tightly. This guide will delve into the pros and cons, helping you determine the best choice for your project.

Advantages of Using a Trowel

Trowelable adhesives offer some key benefits:

Precision Spreading

Notched trowels allow adhesive to be spread evenly at the right depth. The notches leave behind ridges of adhesive that collapse when the flooring is laid. This creates a tight mechanical bond.

Maximum Grip

The texture left by a trowel results in greater surface area for the adhesive to grip the subfloor and flooring. This creates a stronger bond and reduces hollow spots.


Trowels come in different notch configurations to suit the flooring type. You can also adjust pressure on the trowel to vary ridge height.

Long open time

Troweled adhesive remains tacky for 45-60 minutes generally, allowing time to lay flooring properly. Slow setting gives more working time.

Reduced adhesive usage

The notched edges help spread adhesive thinly and economically while still getting full coverage. Less adhesive is wasted compared to pouring liquid glue.

Moisture barrier

Some trowel-on adhesives contain moisture barriers ideal for concrete subfloors. This added protection prevents moisture damage.

Professional finish

A trowel gives greater control for a seamless finish. Hand troweling is the application method professionals use.

Disadvantages of Trowels

However, using a trowel has some downsides:

Physical effort

Applying adhesive with a trowel takes more physical work as you have to kneel and spread it manually across the floor. This can be taxing on the knees and back.

Learning curve

Achieving an even, consistent spread takes practice. Newbies may end up with uneven adhesive depths across the floor.

Limited open time

Once adhesive is spread, you have a finite window to lay flooring before the adhesive dries. Working too slowly results in adhesion problems.

Difficult for beginners

First-timers may find gauging the right trowel notch size and adhesive depth challenging. Poor technique can cause hollow spots between the flooring and subfloor.

Small area coverage

Trowels are best suited for smaller installation jobs. Spreading adhesive by trowel over large areas is tedious and time-consuming.

Advantages of Using Liquid Flooring Glue

Glue adhesive offers its own set of benefits:

Easier application

Glue adhesive can be poured straight from the bottle before spreading across the floor with a trowel or roller. No need to manually trowel adhesive onto the floor.

Quick coverage

Pouring glue adhesive is faster for covering large subfloor areas compared to hand troweling. Just make sure to spread it evenly.


Applying glue adhesive is easier for amateurs compared to gauging depth with a notched trowel. Just pour and spread.

Lower physical strain

No need for extensive kneeling and arm work to spread glue adhesive. This makes installation less demanding physically.

Extended open time

Glue adhesives typically have 60-90 minutes of open time versus 30-45 for trowel adhesives. More time to install flooring.

Can fill minor gaps

Glue adhesive has greater viscosity and “gap filling” properties. This can compensate for slight subfloor variations.

All-in-one application

Some glue adhesives allow adhesive to be poured directly onto the back of the engineered flooring planks as an all-in-one application.

Disadvantages of Using Glue

However, glue adhesive has some weaknesses to consider:

Less control

Pouring from a bottle allows less precision adhesive application compared to trowel notches controlling depth.

Lower adhesive bond

Glue adhesive does not create the same mechanical grip as the texture from a trowel notch. Bond strength may be reduced.

Hollow spots more likely

Due to less trowel ridges, glue adhesive has a higher chance of hollow spots between the flooring and subfloor.

Moisture protection lacking

Many liquid glue adhesives provide little moisture barrier. This makes the flooring more prone to moisture damage.

Messy overpour

It’s easy to accidentally pour too much glue adhesive, creating a runny messy application and adhesive drips.

Difficult stain cleanup

Excess glue adhesive that seeps into floor seams can be nearly impossible to clean up once dried. Trowel adhesive is easier to wipe up.

Less professional results

Without trowel notches controlling depth, amateurs are more likely to end up with uneven glue adhesion and messy results.

Trowel vs. Glue: How To Decide

Now that we’ve examined the pros and cons of trowel and glue adhesives, how do you decide which is best for your project? Here are some key factors to consider:

Your skill level

Beginners will find liquid glue easier while pros can achieve better results with a trowel.

Room size

For large rooms, glue adhesive will be faster and easier to apply over a trowel.

Subfloor material

On concrete, a moisture-blocking trowel adhesive is best. For plywood, glue adhesive works fine.

Flooring thickness

Thicker engineered flooring performs better with a trowel adhesive to prevent hollow spots.

Desired bond strength

Trowels form a tighter adhesive bond overall. Opt for glue if some gaps are acceptable.

Time constraints

Glue adhesive provides more working time, which is ideal for DIYers on tight schedules.


Trowels make adhesive easier to wipe up. Glue leaves a mess if overpoured.

Cost differences

Glue adhesives tend to be slightly cheaper compared to using a trowelable product.

Recommended Trowel Adhesive Products

If going the trowel route, here are some top-rated adhesive products:

Bostik Best

  • Notch options: 1/4″, 3/16″, 1/4″ x 1/4″, 3/16″ x 5/32″
  • Non-slump for sloped floors
  • Moisture barrier

Mapei Ultrabond ECO 980

  • Low VOC formula
  • Antimicrobial protection
  • Excellent ridge hold
  • 1/4″ x 3/16″ V-notch

DriTac 7700

  • Extended 140 min working time
  • Moisture resistant
  • 1/4″ x 1/4″ square notch

Polymeric QS-240

  • Quick 20 min setup time
  • Sound-dampening
  • 5/16″ V-notch

SikaBond T55

  • Strong shear strength
  • Goes on white, dries transparent
  • 1/4″ x 1/4″ notch

Recommended Liquid Flooring Glue Options

For those opting for liquid glue adhesive, these products come highly rated:

Bostik Best

  • No trowel needed
  • Apply directly to flooring planks
  • Wet lay installation
  • Low VOC

Roberts 70-190

  • 60 min open time
  • Low odor
  • Pourable formula
  • Excess wipes up easily

Franklin 811 Plus

  • 90 min working time
  • Bonds well to multiple surfaces
  • Contains antimicrobials
  • Easy water cleanup

DAP WF-7781

  • Application temperature range of 60°-95° F
  • Does not require pre-sealing floors
  • Waterproof adhesive

OSI F-565

  • Non-flammable adhesive
  • High strength formula
  • Use with roller applicator
  • Cleans with water when wet

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