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Buying A Wood Floor? Think About The Finish

Richard Aylen on keeping up appearances

ANYONE who knows about wooden floors will tell you it’s no good opting for a high quality wood floor unless it’s teamed with a professional floor finish.
Choosing the right product for the intended use will make all the difference to the performance, maintenance, durability and look of the floor.
Modern wood flooring surface treatments come in a variety of types, the most popular being lacquer (normally polyurethane) followed by oil and hardwax finishes.
Often, what goes underneath is equally important and there are several issues to consider when selecting a suitable combination of products, to ensure that the result is hard-wearing, looks good and is cost-effective.
The first question is: Do I need a primer?: If the floor is sanded to bare wood and a water based seal will be used for the top coats, the answer is yes. A primary purpose of a primer is to stop the lacquer top coats from bonding the floor boards together. That way the floor can move naturally with the seasons and large gaps can be avoided.
As it’s the first coat applied to the bare wood, the choice of primer often determines the final colour of the floor. A primer also helps to avoid side-bonding and the effects of natural oils in the wood.
Generally, water based primers bring out lighter colours in the floor whereas organic solvent based primers tend to enhance rich, golden and brown colours. For floors made from oily, tropical timbers the correct choice of primer will avoid discolouration or adhesion problems.
When the primer has dried the floor is ready to receive the lacquer coats. Most lacquers are now water based and are much easier to live with than the ‘spirit’ based products of old. The best of them are tougher and more abrasion resistant than the old products ever were. So, how best to choose the right one?
Although I don’t think you can ever have a seal which is ‘too durable’ the toughest will usually be the most expensive with the upside of needing to recoat less often. In most cases though, it makes sense to balance durability with cost.
For lighter traffic areas (like residential), use an acrylic and polyurethane mix, single component water based seal which is low cost but durable and easy to apply. For heavier traffic areas including lighter use commercial floors it’s best to use a full polyurethane seal which doesn’t require a hardener.
These are usually available in several different sheen levels from matt to gloss. This type of lacquer is hard to beat for ease of use, durability and low cost.
For high traffic commercial areas and sports flooring, you get what you pay for.
Choosing a high quality, very durable seal can mean value for money considering the level of protection a good seal offers along with over-all maintenance costs.
A full polyurethane lacquer combined with a hardener will protect the timber for longer with less frequent need for sanding and refinishing requiring down time, which can prove costly.
Where foot traffic and daily wear is intense and the floor must be meticulously maintained, the best finishing solution is often oil. An oiled finish gives a natural matt look and can be maintained as often as is needed according to the amount of wear without undue disruption as oil is so quick drying.
Another advantage is that an oiled finish is fully repairable, meaning individual areas can be spot treated rather than re-finishing the whole floor. This type of product really comes into its own in very busy public areas such as airports.
Installations such as where water spillage is inevitable, including bars, restaurants and pubs, require specialist finishes.
Most pre-finished wooden floors retain a high level of slip resistance in dry conditions, but there are strict health & safety guidelines to ensure floors have a safe level of slip resistance in non-sporting areas where there is a risk of water spillage. Here a site-applied, slip-resistant seal is required.
Richard Aylen is technical service manager at Junckers

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at