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Commercial Flooring News

Wood You Believe That It’s Not Really Wood?

Jim Coulson on how to spot ‘fake’ wood

I WAS looking at a wood floor in a private house the other day: not professionally, but purely out of curiosity (I’m sad like that!). And it struck me that I could not immediately tell – without getting on my hands and knees – whether it was genuinely wood or not.
It certainly had a ‘wood-like’ pattern on its surface (which is what us wood scientists refer to as ‘figure’ rather than that over-used and oft-misquoted word ‘grain’); and it had a nice, high-gloss finish: but as to whether it was ‘real’ or not, well that required a bit more effort on my part.
Photographic reproductions of printed finishes on ‘wood-effect’ flooring (and on other things for that matter, such as panels for furniture) are now getting to look so ‘real’ that it is difficult to be sure what is what at first glance.
And in a way, that is good since it is a measure of how desirable the look of real wood actually is. If people are trying more and more to get a ‘wood-like’ finish that gets ever closer to reality. It is a fact that even very expensive vinyl floorcoverings – which of course do not pretend to be made out of wood – now want to emulate a ‘wood effect’ for the discerning householder or corporate office. This is because the appearance of wood is deemed to be so warm and so attractive to the eye.
But looking at that ‘wood’ floor in the house the other day also made me think of another angle to all this. And that is the way the improved technology of wood-effect floors has changed the actual look of the real wood that is now being asked for, and which is now considered to be a highly desirable requirement.
Some 20 or 30 years ago, consumers would only accept ‘perfect’ wood, that is, with no knots, no grain deviations, or any other blemishes in it. But nowadays with the photographic prints and reproductions of wood getting ever more natural-looking it seems that really ‘perfect’ wood looks a bit too much like plastic for people to want it any more!
And so consumers nowadays are asking for less-than-perfect wood, so as to give a more ‘rustic’ or ‘natural’ appearance to their floors and furniture. But to me, the most amazing thing is that the rough-looking stuff now seems to cost quite a bit more than the defect-free stuff: which is rather a turn up for the books, since there was a time, not so very long ago, when you couldn’t give it away if it was full of knots and splits!
Before I end this article, I suppose I had better tell you how to separate ‘real’ wood from a photographic print; if you can’t actually pick it up and handle it.
First of all, wood has a ‘depth’ to it which photographs still cannot emulate, so if you can get the angle of the light right, then you should see it reflected from within the interior of the wood itself, rather than it being a ‘sheen’ on the very top layer of the flooring.
Secondly, wood has an infinite variety of possibilities in its appearance: so if the pattern ‘repeats’ in exactly the same way, from one part of the floor to another, then it must be a print.
And thirdly, if you don’t mind getting on your hands and knees and using a magnifying glass (as I frequently do!), you will actually see the ink dots which make up the printed pattern; or alternatively, you will see the wood cells themselves. That will sort it out, once and for all, whether the wood is ‘real’ or not.
Jim Coulson is Director of TFT Woodexperts, based in North Yorkshire
T: 01765 601010

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