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Types of Wood Floor Finishes

The Wood Ave ~ FLOOR CARE

Wood Floor Finishes
Wood Floor Finishes create lasting beauty and requires minimal care with today's modern technology in wood floor finish products. The right finish protects wood flooring from wear, dirt and moisture while giving the wood an attractive color and sheen. Today most wood floors are finished with a stain and a top coat. Technology has provided a wide selection of wood flooring finishes, each with its own distinct benefits and appearances.



Surface Wood Floor Finishes

Surface finishes are very popular today because they are durable, water-resistant and require minimal maintenance. Surface finishes are blends of synthetic resins. These finishes most often referred to as urethanes or polyurethane's remain on the surface of the wood and form a protective coating. They are generally available in high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin and matte. Any one of the surface finishes are appropriate for the kitchen.

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Types of Wood Floor Finishes

  1. Oil-modified urethane is generally the most common surface finish and is easy to apply. It is a petroleum base with a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film forming ingredients that produces a durable surface that is moisture-resistant. It is a solvent-base polyurethane that dries in about eight hours. This type of finish ambers with age. and comes in different sheen levels.

  2. Moisture-cured urethane is a solvent-base polyurethane that is more durable and more moisture resistant than other surface finishes. Moisture-cure urethane comes in non-yellowing and in ambering types and is generally available in satin or gloss. These finishes are extremely difficult to apply, have a strong odor and are best left to the professional.
    Curing of this type of finish is by absorbing minute quantities of moisture vapor from the air, which causes them to dry and harden. The curing process is very dependant on relative humidity.

  3. Water-based urethane is a water-borne urethane with a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film forming ingredients that produces a durable surface that is moisture-resistant. These finishes are clear and non-yellowing and are different sheen levels. They have a milder odor than oil-modified finishes have and they dry in about two to three hours. Water-based urethanes are generally more expensive.

  4. Converstion-Varnish Sealers-(Swedish Finishes)- A two-component acid-curing, alcohol-based sealers. Because of their origin (country), conversion varnish sealers are often referred to as Swedish finishes.

  5. Penetrating Sealers - These sealers are spread on the floor and allowed to penetrate and are solvent based. The excess sealer is removed with rags or buffed in with synthetic or steel wool pads. This type of finish often have a color and can be used to stain and seal the wood floor. Penetrating Oil Sealers are made from tung or linseed oil, with additives improve drying and hardness.

  6. Paste Wax- The oldest, and in some ways the best. Wax is the easiest to apply, least expensive, fastest drying, easiest to repair, and with proper care will survive forever. Wax over a penetrating stain, and the system is in the wood so you wear the wood, not the finish. Wax is spread in thin coats for a surface protection after the stain and/or sealer is applied, then buffed to the desired sheen.

  7. Varnish- Vinyl-alkyd varnishes have superseded natural varnish made from vegetable oils. This product was commonly used before urethane finishes where introduced.

  8. Lacquer - The flammability and incompatibility of this floor finish is NOT a recommended by many manufacturers. This finish should avoided.

  9. Shellac - This product (natural shellac) contains wax and is not widely used for top coating in today's wood flooring market. Dewaxed shellac is becoming used more and more for a wood floor sealer.
  • NOTE: Inspection of wood floor finishes should be made from a standing position (five feet up and two feet away) with normal lighting. Light glare from windows, added lighting (flood lights) magnify any irregularities in the floor surface and should NOT determine acceptability of the finish.

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Properties of Wood Floor Finishes

Products Respitory Protection Number of Cost Drying Time Color Sheen Oder Flammability
Oli-modified Urethane Required 2-3 Slow Amber Satin to Gloss Moderate Combustible
Water-borne Urethane Required 2-4 Fast Clear to Amber Satin to Gloss Milod Non-combustible
Moisture Cured Urethane Required 2-3 Slow to Fast (depends on humidity) Clear to Dark Amber Satin to Gloss Strong Combustible to Flammable
Conversion Varnish Required 2-3 Fast Clear to Slight Amber Satin to Gloss Very Strong Combustible
Wax Optional 1-3 Fast Slight Amber Wax Luster Mild Combustible

Commonly used wood floor finishes:

Prefinished Hardwood Flooring (Wood floors that have been factory finished before they are installed)

  1. Acrylic Impregnated – Acrylic monomers are injected into the cell structure of the wood to give increased hardness and then finished with a wear layer over the wood.

  2. Acrylic-urethane – Has a slightly different chemical make up than polyurethane, but with similar benefits.

  3. Aluminum Oxide – particles added to the polyurethane finish to increase the abrasion resistance of the wear layer. This has become extremely popular on the better grades of hardwood floors.

  4. Ceramic – Advanced finish technology that allows the use of space-age ceramics to increase the abrasion resistance of the wear layer.

  5. Polyurethane – A clear, tough and durable finish that is applied as a wear layer.

  6. UV-cured – these floors are finished at the factory and the polyurethane finish are cured with Ultra Violet lights instead of using heat.

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Job Site- Refinishing - A job-site finish means you start with an unfinished wood floor and than the wood floor is sanded, stained, and/or finished at the job-site. If you want a custom stained wood floor, or a wood floor to match existing trim than a job-site finishing is to proper route to take. NOTE; The type of wood floor species you have may determine the type of wood floor finish that works best! Consult your wood floor professional FIRST !

  1. Moisture Cured Urethane – A similar chemical make up as solvent based urethanes but, as the name suggest, this finish needs the humidity (moisture ) in the air to cure.

  2. Solvent Based Urethane – Oil components are used as part of the chemical make up of the polyurethane finish. Dry time for most needs at least 24 hours before recoating and/or light foot traffic.

  3. Water Based Urethane (latex) – Water is used as part of the chemical make up of the polyurethane finish. Dry times in 2-6 hours for most.


Water-base Urethane Oil-modified Urethane Swedish Conversion Varnish Moisture-cure Urethane Seal & Wax or Oil finish
Durability very good Durability very good Durability Excellent Durability Excellent Durability very good
Mild Odor Moderate Odor Strong Odor Strong Odor Mild Odor
Clear in color Amber in color Clear to slight amber Clear to amber Amber in color
Easy to recoat Easy to recoat Recoatable Recoatable Renewable by customer
Fast drying Slow drying Fast drying dries quickly with humidity Dry time varies
Non flammable Combustible Combustible Flammable Combustible
Commonly available Can water spot      

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Commonly used wood floor finishes:
Here are some simple steps to help you determine if the finish is a wax finish, shellac or varnish finish or a surface finish. If the floor was installed, or last serviced, before the mid '60s, you should assume the finish used was varnish or shellac. To determine this, scratch the surface with a coin or other sharp object in a corner or other inconspicuous space. If the finish flakes, it is probably shellac or varnish. Shellac and varnish are rarely used anymore and require full sanding to remove before application of a surface finish or wax finish.

Next, check the floor for wax finish. In an inconspicuous area, corner or behind a door, apply two(2) drops of water. If, within ten minutes, white spots appear under the drops of water, the floor has a wax finish. To remove the white spots, gently rub the spots with #000 steel wool dampened with wax.

If the finish does not flake from scratching with a coin and white spots do not appear from the drops of water, the floor has a surface finish and should be maintained accordingly.



Other Finishes, Paints, Stains, & Tints

Acid Curing Gym Finishes Urethane-High Solids
Adhesion Promoters Penetrating Oil Urethane-Moisture Cured
Conversion Varnish Sealer Urethane-Oil Modified
Curable Sealers-Topcoats Stain-Oil Based Urethane-UV-Cured
Finish Removers Stain-Water Based Urethane-Latex-Water Based
Game Line Paints Tints Wax


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Things you SHOULD NOT expect from a wood floor finish!

  1. A table top finish. Each piece of oak flooring sands differently depending on its grain type (plain or quartered) making it virtually impossible for a completely flat surface.

  2. Dust-free finish. Since your floor is being finished in your home it is not possible to achieve a "clean room" environment. Some dust will fall onto the freshly applied top finish.

  3. A monochromatic floor. Wood, as a natural product, varies from piece to piece. Remember it is not fabricated -- it is milled from a tree and will have grain and color variations consistent with the grade and species of flooring selected.

  4. A floor that will not indent. In spite of the term "hardwood", Oak flooring will indent under high heel traffic (especially heels in disrepair). The finish that is applied will not prevent the dents.

  5. A floor without cracks between the boards, or within the parquet pieces. Although your new floor may start tight together, as a natural product it will continue to absorb and release moisture. This natural process will cause the flooring to expand and contract from season to season -- resulting in cracks between some of the pieces in your floor. Some stain colors, such as white, will show this process more than others.

Understand that furniture, cabinetry, doors, etc., are fabricated in a factory under ideal conditions and that they contain 1-10 different pieces of wood. Their floor is fabricated in their own home and is made up of 300 to a thousand individually different pieces. And that their floor is never to be duplicated -- a truly custom floor of their own



$2.49 sq ft. $3.79 sq ft. $3.99 sq ft. $2.49 sq ft. $4.49 sq ft. $4.99 sq ft.
$3.49 sq ft. $3.95 sq ft. $4.99 sq ft. $3.49 sq ft. $4.99 sq ft. $5.99 sq ft.
$4.99 sq ft. $3.29 sq ft. $4.99 sq ft. $5.95 sq ft.    




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