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A Guide to Hardwood Finishes

Hardwood floor finishes are essential in protecting your floor from day to day wear and tear.  Finishes also gives your hardwood floor its color and lasting beauty.  An endless range of modern wood flooring finishes has allowed home owners to personalize their hardwood floors.

Not all wood finishes need to be applied on site.  Most manufacturers these days offer pre-finished products ready for install.  This means you can save time and mistakes by not applying the finish yourself.  Pre-finished hardwood flooring is a good option and has many benefits, including in most cases an extended factory warranty.  Weather or not you opt for a pre-finished or unfinished product; you will still need to know what types of finishes are available. 

There are two main types of hardwood finishes available:  surface finishes, and penetrating finishes.

Surface Finishes

Surface finishes are very popular with homeowners.  They are durable, and easy to maintain.  A surface generally consists of an initial stain to achieve the desired color, then a top coat of polyurethane or varnish for protection.  There are four main types of hardwood surface finishes:

Oil Based Urethane: The most common type of hardwood surface finish.  Is available in a number of types of gloss and sheens and is usually applied two or three coats.  Oil based urethane takes up to 8 hours for each coat to dry.  Good ventilation when drying is a must!

Water-Based Urethane: Unlike oil-based urethane, its water based counterpart dries much more quickly, is easy to clean up mistakes, and it doesn’t yellow over time.  A great option for those DIY applications. 

Moisture-Cured Urethane: A solvent base polyurethane that is more durable and less susceptible to moisture than any of the other surface finishes available.  It is usually used on commercial jobs, and is best left in the hands of a professional.  

Aluminum Oxide Finishes: The most modern of the surface hardwood finishes, aluminum oxide finishes is longer lasting and more durable than its predecessors.  With a 20 year limited wear warranty, aluminum oxide finishes have become increasingly popular with manufacturers of pre-finished wood flooring and builders alike. 

Penetrating Finishes

As the name suggests, penetrating finishes penetrate the wood deeper than their surface counterparts.  After the finish has had time to soak into the wood, a wax is applied to give the finish a low-gloss sheen.  Penetrating finishes require regular maintenance and reapplication of the wax periodically.  You are also limited by the types of cleaners you are able to use on the finish.  Because of this, penetrating finishes aren’t nearly as popular as surface finishes, and are better left to the professionals. 

In addition to a finish, you must also select sheen.  You can choose between a high-gloss, low-gloss, or satin finish sheen.  High gloss finishes are more likely to show scratches and thus less commonly used by homeowners.


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