This week’s mini lesson is a continuation of last week’s lesson on hardwood floors. Today, we'll cover the pros and cons of prefinished hardwood floors and site finished floors. We’ll also discuss how various wood species, wood cuts and flooring finishes can affect the appearance and durability of your hardwood floors.
Before we get to any of that, let’s talk about the Janka hardness test, this week’s pro term.
The Janka hardness test is used to determine the relative hardness of different types of domestic and exotic woods. To determine the hardness, the Janka test uses a steel bb (those small, round pellets that are shot from bb guns). The test measures the amount of force it takes to embed half of the bb into the wood. Wood species with higher ratings are harder than woods with lower ratings.
The Janka value tells us how difficult it will be to dent the surface of a wooden plank. Anyone who wants a durable hardwood floor should consider the janka value. The Janka scale ranges from less than 100 to more than 5000.
Red oak has a janka score of 1,290. Red oak and white oak are the most popular species of wood used for hardwood flooring in the United States. The janka score for red oak is considered the benchmark, or the point of reference for the standard level of hardness.
Red oak is plenty hard enough to withstand the typical household insults. Species that are harder will be even more durable, but they will also be less flexible. And species that are softer will, of course, be less durable. Let’s talk about some popular wood species used for hardwood floors that are softer than red oak. I’ll list them in order of increasing hardness:
Aspen, Poplar, mahogany, red leaf maple, walnut, and african mahogany
Some wood species that are harder than red oak are, in order of increasing hardness:
Birch, ash, white oak, hard maple, hickory, golden teak and Brazilian cherry.
There are lots of other wood species that are even harder, but they are mostly exotic, tropical woods.
So our pro term today is janka test, which is used to determine the relative hardness of different types of domestic and exotic woods.
Let’s start this week’s mini lesson by talking about the pros and cons of
prefinished and site finished floors.
PREFINISHED HARDWOOD FLOORS
Pre finished floors are sold with a factory applied stain and sealant. Here are the pros of prefinished floors.
PROS OF PREFINISHED HARDWOOD FLOORS
1. Since they are stained, sealed and ready to go, prefinished hardwood floors are faster to install than site finished floors.
2. Because prefinished floors are stained in a controlled factory environment, the stain quality and saturation are consistent.
3. There’s no down time— once prefinished floors are installed, you can walk on them immediately.
4. Most prefinished floors have no significant odor, so your house won’t have to air out like it would if floors were stained on site.
5. Less skill is required for installation of prefinished floors, so do-it-yourselfers and less skilled workers can easily install prefinished floor.
6. You get to see the exact stain color before the floors are installed, so you know exactly what you are getting.
7. Factory applied finishes are more durable than finishes applied on site. Factory finishes include powerful chemical sealers that cannot be applied on the job site. Prefinished floors usually have 7-8 coats of sealant, so floor finishes are more resistant to stains, scratches, moisture, and discoloration when compared to finishes applied on site.
CONS OF PREFINISHED HARDWOOD FLOORS
1. Prefinished hardwood floors have limited options from which to choose. You may have to compromise on the width and length of the floor boards, wood species and/or color of the floors.
2. Good quality prefinished floors are more expensive than good quality site finished floors.
3. Bevels and microbevels, which are the slightly rounded edges found on
prefinished floor boards, take away from the overall beauty of a flush, completely flat hardwood floor. Plus those bevels and microlevels leave tiny seams or crevices between floors boards which allow liquid to get to subfloors. This could potentially lead the subfloor mold and rot.
4. Specific products and colors can be discontinued, so you might not be able to purchase replacement boards if the floor gets damaged.
5. Unique design options, such as inlays and borders are not easily accomplished with prefinished hardwood floors.
6. Although the you may never need to refinish your prefinished floor, if you do, that thick, penetrating factory finish requires a deep sanding which cuts down on the number of times you will be able to refinish that floor.
Alright, moving on to site finished floors.
SITE FINISHED HARDWOOD FLOORS
Site finished floors, also called unfinished floors, are wood floor boards that arrive at the job site without stain or sealant. The floors are installed in the house, then stained and sealed on site.
PROS OF SITE FINISHED HARDWOOD FLOORS
1. Site finished floors allow you to easily do special flooring designs and patterns, such as herringbone and chevron patterns, plus inlays and inset borders with contrasting colors.
2. Site finished floors give you a tremendous number of options because you can choose the specific wood species and customize the length and widths of the floor boards, the stain, the level of sheen and amount of distressing that you want.
3. Good quality site finished floors are generally less expensive than good quality prefinished floors. You can get prefinished floors that are cheaper than site finished floors, but they’re be just that — cheap. The quality of those cheaper floor is not very good.
4. Most people think that site finished floors look better than prefinished floors because site finished floors don't have those bevels and microbevels disrupting the smoothness of the floor.
5. With site finished floors, you can always get the materials that you need to make repairs.
6. Because site finished floors don’t have the beveled edges, the floors are flatter, without any gaps, so they wear better. Dirt and liquid can’t get to subfloors. For that reason, site finished hardwood floors are a much better choice for the kitchen. Even better in the kitchen are site finished engineered hardwood floors.
Pop Quiz: What’s the difference between the construction of solid hardwood and engineered hardwood? We compared solid and engineered hardwood in last week’s mini lesson, episode 34.
Well, solid hardwood floor boards are made of one solid piece wood that is usually 3/4 inch thick. Engineered hardwood floor boards are also real wood, but they are not solid all the way through. Instead, engineered wood is made of a top veneer, wood layer attached to a plywood core. That plywood core makes engineered hardwood more stable in moist, humid environments like the kitchen. Another great real wood flooring option for the kitchen is quarter sawn or rift sawn hardwood floors, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
CONS OF SITE FINISHED FLOORS
1. Much more skill is needed for installation of site finished floors. Avoid crews without experience.
2. Installation takes longer— days to weeks for site finished floors, as compared to hours or days for prefinished floors.
3. Site finished floor installation is messier and smellier. You’ll have to deal wood dust and fumes from the stain.
4. After installation and staining, there’s some downtime with site finished floors. No one can walk on the floor for one or more days while the stain dries.
Whether you decide on prefinished or site finished floors, you’ll have to decide on the basic look of the floor that you want.
What style and species of hardwood flooring you choose is highly personal, but in general …
Wood species with a more subtle grain pattern and fewer knots fit better in more contemporary or transitional interiors. So consider maple and walnut.
Wood with more variation, a prominent grain pattern and knots is better for more traditional homes. Species like oak, hickory and pine work well in rustic and traditional homes.
So, how dark should your wood floor be?
Whether you choose a light, medium or dark wood or stain is also a personal choice. Just keep in mind that extremes, like very light or very dark floors, can look trendy. Medium tone floors are classic. In addition, medium tones will hide dirt better. Very light floors will show dark marks and dirt, and very dark floors can easily show dirt that is tracked in from the outside, dust, paw prints and lighter pet hair.
Many wood species will become slightly darker or lighter over time. Maple and cherry will naturally darken as they age, while walnut tends to get a little lighter. Pine is known to get more yellow. I’ve read that lighter wood species tend to darken a bit with age, and darker woods tend get a little lighter.
Now, how about glossy versus non-glossy floors? The glossier and smoother the finish coat, the more scratches, dings and signs of wear the wood will show. If you want to hide flaws or, if you live in a home with small children or pets, you may want to steer clear of a glossy top coat, where scratches can show up as white marks.
Most hardwood floors have a surface sealant. Those sealants include urethane, polyurethane or polyacrylic. Surface-sealed floors are stain and water-damage resistant and they’re easy to care for. But, if they get scratched or dinged, that scratched sealant will show marks. Floors with a smooth, non-distressed finish also show dings and marks more readily. So…
For a more forgiving hardwood floor, choose a medium wood tone, with a distressed finish and a matte, or satin finish coat. Or consider a natural oil finish coat.
Penetrating oil-treated floors are fairly common. A penetrating oil finish soaks into the wood grain and add some color. Oil finished floors have a natural sheen without being too glossy. They have to be re-oiled every year or so, but they are generally pretty low maintenance.
Dings and scratches are harder to detect in oil finished floors since scratches leave no white marks. If an oil finished floor is damaged, spot repairs are possible. Scratches and stains can be buffed out and that portion of the floor can be re-oiled. Spot repairs are not possible with polyurethane finished wood floors. Natural oil finishes have been used throughout Europe for a while and are used on about a third of hardwood floors there.
Finally, let’s briefly talk the different cuts of wood that you’ll have to choose from when selecting your hardwood floor.
FLOORING CUTS— PLAIN SAWN, QUARTER SAWN AND RIFT SAWN HARDWOOD FLOORS
The way wood is cut affects how stable it is and how it will look once it’s installed as flooring. The 3 main cuts are plain sawn, quarter sawn and rift sawn.
1. Plain sawn, also called flat sawn, is the most common and least expensive cut of hardwood floors today. This type of floor takes less time to produce than the other cuts and it’s widely available. Plain sawn boards are produced by cutting straight across the long axis a log. With plain sawn floor boards, the wood grain is varied, but it is often peaked, like a mountain. This is called a cathedral pattern. The plain sawn wood grain is the wood grain that most people think of when they think of wood grain.
2. Quarter sawn floor boards are more expensive that plain sawn. They are produced by first cutting the log into quarters, like you would a pie, then cutting boards from each quarter. The grain pattern of quarter sawn floors is straight, plus there are specks, streaks or flecks scattered along the linear grain. Because the grain pattern is linear and straight, quarter sawn floor boards are more stable than plain sawn floors. They resist moisture damage, warping, cupping and twisting. Quarter sawn boards take more time and effort to produce, so many lumber mills do not offer that cut, making quarter sawn floors more difficult to find.
3. Rift sawn floor boards are the most expensive and least common cut. They are often sold in combination with quarter sawn boards. Rift sawn boards are produced by cutting the log in a radial, sunburst-like pattern around the center point of the round surface of the log. This produces lots of waste, so many mills do not offer rift sawn flooring. Rifts awn boards are even more dimensionally stable than quarter sawn boards. The grain pattern is linear, straight and clean, without flecks, streaks or specks. Most rift sawn wood is used for high end custom furniture, but it’s occasionally used for flooring.
Remember, plainsawn is also called flatsawn.
Well, that’s it for this week. Hopefully, you know more about hardwood floors than you did a few minutes ago. If you know someone else who could benefit from this mini lesson, you can share this episode with them.
Alright, let’s see how you do on this week’s quiz.
1. What is test is used to determine the relative hardness of different types of domestic and exotic woods?
A. Janka test
B. Jeffers test
C. Rift test
D. Sawn test
The answer is A, the Janka test determines the relative hardness of different woods. The greater the Janka score, the harder and more durable the wood.
2. What wood species is the point of reference, or standard level of hardness, for the Janka scale in the US.
B. Red oak
The answer is B. Red oak. In the US, different wood species are compared to Red Oak. Species like mahogany and walnut are softer than red oak, and hard maple and golden teak are harder than red oak.
3. Which of the following is false?
A. Site finished floors allow for a greater level of customization—you can customize the stain color and the board lengths and width.
B. Site finished floors leave no crevices or gaps that allow liquid, crumbs and dirt to escape to the subfloors.
C. Site finished floors are easier and faster to install that prefinished floors.
D. Site finished floors are often deemed more beautiful because they are completely flat and smooth and uninterrupted by beveled and micro bevel floor boards.
The answer is C. C is false. Site finished floors take more time and skill to installed as compared to prefinished floors. Seek a crew with experience if you plan on choosing a site finished floor.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
Thank you for spending part of your day with me. Enjoy the rest of your day and come on back next week for the next episode of Build Your House Yourself University (BYHYU).