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Finishing Hardwood Floors

November 14th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Finishing hardwood floors can be confusing because there are so many products and styles to choose from. There aren’t too many holistic wood floor finishes yet, but there are non-toxic wood floor finish products that are better for the environment than others. Finishing wood floors needs care taken for the best results. Wax wood finishes were the approach used originally as a way of protecting wood, but now you can choose between wood floor stain finishes that penetrate and water and oil based wood floor finishes.

You’ve decided to install hardwood flooring in your home which you know, will add warmth and elegance, as well as increase your home’s value. The next decision you have to make is whether you are leaving the wood unfinished or to put a finishing and protecting seal on it.

Unfinished hardwood flooring is an excellent choice when it comes to hardwood flooring and some of the benefits include:
* Unique finish
* Natural characteristics show

Some of the disadvantages of choosing unfinished hardwood flooring, versus prefinished, include:
* Long installation time
* Health risk due to finishing dust and fumes
* Initial off gassing

Unfinished hardwood flooring, although time consuming to install and finish, is the most rewarding when it comes to hardwood flooring. There are two main reasons that finishes are applied to hardwood flooring are:
1. to protect the wood from damage
2. to accentuate the wood?s natural color and beauty.

There are also two wood floor finishes that are most commonly used:
1. penetrating sealer wood floor finishes
2. surface wood floor finishes.

Applied correctly, either of these finishes will give a satisfactory result.

When finishing hardwood flooring, penetrating sealers are the most commonly used wood floor finishes for residential flooring. As the name suggests, these sealers penetrate into the wood pores. Since sealers are thinned varnishes, they produce a low gloss or satin finish. One coat is of these wood floor finishes is enough but two and three coats will give even better protection. Sealers can be bought as slow drying or fast drying. Fast drying sealers are more difficult to use; brush marks and splotchy finishes can be a problem, consequently these finishes are recommended for expert use only. Slow drying sealers can be used by anyone and produce a high quality finish.

Surface wood floor finishes are easy to apply and include polyurethane, urethane, aluminum oxide finishes, epoxy, wax, varnish, lacquer, and shellac. Polyurethane wood floor finishes are the most popular and have a high resistance to moisture, stains and spills, and wear and tear. Polyurethane wood floor finishes can be purchased as a high gloss or matte finish, and are either moisture cured or oil modified.

Urethane finishes come in two styles; Swedish finish (or acid cure) and water-based. Acid cure urethane is non-yellowing but has a strong odor, but should be applied by an experienced and skilled professional. Water-based urethane is also non-yellowing, dries quickly, and the mild odors go away quickly after the urethane dries in a few hours.

Aluminum oxide finishes are the latest in wood floor finishes. They offer durability and are longer lasting than traditional finishes. The finish is durable enough that it carries a 20 years warranty, but so far is available on prefinished wood floors only.

Epoxy sealant is a strong and durable flooring finish made of polymers. Hiring a skilled professional to apply this finish is advisable because it takes proper mixing and application for optimal success.

Wax is probably the oldest, and possible easiest to apply, wood floor finish. Wax over a penetrating stain gives you a beautiful finish, but you wear the wood rather than the finish, so more effort is required to maintain this style of finish. Shellac and lacquer wood floor finishes dry very quickly but are not as resistant to moisture or spills.

Varnish tends to be a generic term for floor finishes, though at one time it was a product unto itself. It is now based on alkyd, epoxy, phenolic or polyurethane resins, and is available in both matte and glossy finishes. This flooring sealant family tends to scratch easily, showing wear especially in high traffic areas. Varnishes tend to be more difficult to maintain because it’s harder to re-coat sections without the difference between the old and new finishes being obvious.

Shellac is an alcohol-soluble, clear to orange-colored resin derived from lac, a substance secreted by insects found mostly in India. Lacquer is a synthetic coating made by dissolving nitrocellulose, or other cellulose derivatives, with plasticizers in a mixture of solvents. Shellac and lacquer wood floor finishes dry quickly enough that more than one coat can be applied in the same day and used the next day. The thinner used in these products not only makes them faster drying but also explosive. These finishes are not as resistant to moisture, spills, and daily wear as other finish types. Those drawbacks contribute to these finish types not being used much today.

Now that you know what wood floor finishes are available the next step is actually finishing your hardwood flooring and there are a number of precautions that must be adhered to in order to obtain a perfect finish.

Dirt and dust will cause a rough surface so when applying your first coat of wood floor finishes it is essential that your hardwood flooring be clean. Dirt and dust should also be removed from the cracks in your flooring before you begin. Adequate ventilation is a must to ensure that all fumes are dispersed from the room to avoid affecting the person applying it and potential explosions. Non-toxic wood floor finishes can be purchased. Airing the room also rids the room of moisture so it doesn’t have time to settle and raise the wood grain.

When is comes to wood floor finishes, penetrating sealers can be applied using a clean mop. Generous amounts of this sealer should be used, stroking with the grain. Excess sealer can be wiped away with a clean cloth. Once the first coat has been applied it needs to be buffed using No. 2 steel wool. A second coat can be applied but it is not necessary. This is one of the easiest wood floor finishes to apply.

Polyurethane can also be applied with a brush, working with the wood grain. Once the first coat has been applied and had time to dry thoroughly, buffing with steel wool is required. Your hardwood flooring will then require dusting before the application of the final coat.

Varnishes are applied using a soft brush with an even, smooth flow along the grain. It is possible to thin the first coat so it will penetrate the wood. Once applied, the first coat should be sanded using fine sandpaper. Dusting is required before applying the next coat.

Wax wood floor finishes can also be applied. Liquid buffing wax wood floor finishes and wax paste can be used, but you must ensure that the wax you choose has been designed for hardwood floors. The wax wood floor finishes should only be applied after the finish coat has thoroughly dried and should be polished using a machine buffer. Applying wax wood floor finishes will give your hardwood flooring a beautiful shine and a protective film that will prevent dirt from penetrating the finish.

Finishing hardwood floors on site allows you to create your own unique finish and can allow for better uniformity. Finishing hardwood floor on site also makes it easier to match your hardwood flooring and finish with your existing hardwood flooring. You can choose the finish that suits you, and if you want to alter the appearance of your hardwood flooring, wood floor stain finishes can be applied before sealing the wood. Wood floor stain finishes can be purchased as water-based products.

Finishing hardwood floors on site can take on average a week to complete, due to the sanding and finishing process so many people may have to vacate their homes during application. Finishing hardwood floors on site can also cause health hazards if proper safety measures aren’t adhered to. Large volumes of dust are created during the sanding process and proper ventilation is required to prevent allergies or health problems caused by dust and fume inhalation. Non-toxic wood floor finishes can also be used to minimize any allergic reactions.

Although time consuming, finishing hardwood floors on site is a very rewarding process that allows you to create the desired effect for your home. Let’s face it, when it comes to your home, you want the best — don’t you?


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