Wood floor finishes

Specifying finishes for wood floors

By Alec Stacey technical manager Bona

AN effective specification for wood floor treatment in commercial areas and busy homes should be based on several factors. How does the client want the floor to look? What are the anticipated levels of traffic? Will there be downtime opportunities for maintenance?

Other considerations then often become apparent, particularly in food service areas, such as slip resistance values or resistance to particular chemicals. Only by having a clear understanding of how the floor will be used in any given situation can we arrive at a final, suitable, specification.

Getting it wrong can have a significant impact. The floor may seem fine initially but weeks or months later, when problems become apparent, the floor may have to be re-sanded and re-treated. This will always be an unpopular process, but when the lost revenue from a closed business is also a factor, costs can spiral out of control.

So, what are our choices? There are three types of surface treatment: lacquer (varnish), penetrating oil and hardwax oil. Today’s modern formulations mean some of these can now be used in combination to enhance surface characteristics and performance. Each type of treatment can offer a wide range of effects with regard to colour and sheen.

There’s also the possibility of staining the floor a radically different colour prior to the treatment. When we then consider the level of durability that can be produced some stark differences emerge. Traditional, penetrating oils don’t produce a protective coating on the timber. Instead the oil oxidises and hardens in the top layer of the timber.

This absence of a coating produces the very matt appearance which still remains popular, but does leave the timber surface sensitive to scratches, damage and the leeching out of oil due to wet maintenance. With regular cleaning and introduction of further oil periodically, the surface becomes more liquid resistant and a lovely patina is achieved. One of the best properties of this treatment is the ease at which localised repairs can be made. If an area becomes worn, damaged or discoloured, the surface can usually be rectified simply by buffing in more oil and the excess removed. This advantage allows large floors located in public buildings, such as airports, to remain in service with minimal disruption.

However, a thorough approach to maintenance is required in these environments to maintain the saturation of oil in the timber.

Hardwax oils have the advantage of producing a coating of wax on the timber surface. This produces a surface which is sealed and water repellent. With the surface sealed the oil doesn’t become removed owing to cleaning and the surface doesn’t need to be as saturated with oil. The coating also gives some wear resistance, albeit limited owing to the thickness.
From a typical two coat application of hardwax oil on to bare wood, one would expect to achieve a thickness between 15-20 microns. If we compare this with the coating that would result from a typical lacquer treatment of one coating of primer and two topcoats, a thickness of between 70-90 microns should be achieved (to give some idea of scale, a typical plastic carrier bag is about 100 microns).

Obviously, with a greater thickness of a tougher material (polyurethane as opposed to wax), lacquers represent the most durable surface that can be produced. With this durability, maintenance – while still important – is more straightforward and in busy environments can be carried out at a lower frequency when compared with the other treatments.

Maintenance will determine the long-term success of a varnish treatment though. With the correct use of maintenance products and with further coats of varnish applied before the floor wears back to bare wood, it should be possible to avoid a full-scale refurbishment in the future.

Choices for domestic environments
While there will normally be less demand for durability in domestic environments, many of the issues that affect the surface treatments on commercial floors also impact on domestic floors.

In a typical home there are several areas where floor treatments can show problems over time. Kitchen floors tend to receive high trafficking and repeated wear in localised areas – in front of the cooker and in front of the sink.

Also, there will be splashes from water, cooking oil and other contaminants from food preparation. Perhaps the greatest single influence on wood floors – commercial and domestic – is the presence of abrasive grit and dirt which damages the surface when trafficked underfoot or beneath chairs and tables.

Where traditional oil is used, the surface will be more susceptible to the impact of trafficking owing to the exposed wood texture. This can result in the surface retaining dirt and needing a more effective cleaning regime.

When oiled surfaces are cleaned using standard detergents, some of the oil that occupies the top layer of the wood will be drawn out. When repeated this can result in the wood surface becoming more absorbent and susceptible to liquid spills and contamination.

Owing to this property, oil finishes in these areas will require increased levels of maintenance which should include the re-application of oil. Kitchens normally exit to a garden or driveway which means that abrasive material will be trafficked in to the floor. Remember, without a durable coating on the floor’s surface, any scratches will damage and scratch the wood, so it’s essential to use good quality matting of a suitable size.

Lacquer treatments are always going to perform better within kitchens and entrance areas, however, the thickness of the coating, derived from the number of coats applied, is also an important factor when it comes to protecting the surface.

Maintenance is more straightforward and easier with a ‘sealed’ surface, although abrasive particles can still scratch and dull the surface in the more heavily trafficked areas. This can be mitigated by periodic application of a polyurethane maintainer (which will allow further coats of lacquer to be applied without aggressive sanding) or a polish.

Wooden stair treads also represent a challenge for floor treatments due to ‘scuffing’. One generally finds the first three or four treads become worn but then little wear is evident on the treads nearer the top. This is again owing to abrasive material on footwear.

To prevent this, stair treads should receive as robust a specification as kitchens and entrance halls, with an extra coat of lacquer applied. A typical specification would be a primer coat on the bare wood followed by three topcoat applications.

Upstairs in a domestic property, durability becomes less of an issue as footwear tends to be cleaner with much less abrasive material present. Floors treated with oil will have much lower maintenance demands compared to those in the kitchen and entrance areas, although bathrooms may benefit from finishes with low moisture permeability or even anti-slip properties, which can be introduced with some specific lacquer treatments.

Inspiration – no need to replace when you can renovate instead!

For floors in homes, Bona recently introduced its ‘Inspiration’ concept. Designed to inspire homeowners about the aesthetic and sustainability benefits of renovating rather than replacing a wood floor, the concept is based around five new floor styles created by the internationally recognised trend analyst, Cay Bond.

The new, customised looks range from natural brights to liquorice black and will also help architects, designers and their clients avoid the limitations of new, pre-finished wood floors.

Bona’s network of certified contractors will take care of the dust-free sanding and renovation work, and have been trained to use Bona’s latest brushing and finishing techniques to create some fabulous and unique looks.

Clients can retain their existing floor but still give a room or their whole home a completely new look and feel. From a sustainability perspective it makes sense too – the old floor has already been manufactured and transported. Many homeowners simply aren’t aware of what can be done with an existing wooden floor and how styles and colours can be totally transformed. Supporting marketing materials, including a coffee table quality printed brochure, using high quality interior photography, have been created to show them how renovated wood floors can explode with new beauty and character.

Cay Bond has more than 30 years’ experience of trends within fashion, design and interiors. She said: ‘I think the value of the floor is underestimated. Despite being a major part of our interior environment, floors get very little attention.

‘With a cleverly restored floor, a room and a home can change drastically. Personality and culture can be expressed through the choice of flooring. With various inspirational styles, we want to showcase the possibilities and creative solutions for the right ambience. Nowadays, people apply their personality to their home and interior style. A home showcases your personal identity more than anything else. The floor has an incredibly important role to play in this.’

Bona’s product manager, Patrik Mellnert, added, ‘We’ve developed a concept which can create just the right style and effect on a wood floor using our products and techniques. With the right treatment, you can preserve the soul of the floor while producing a whole new look.’
The Bona Inspiration concept includes a palette encompassing a range of interior design styles in which the wooden floors play an important role. Each style comprises various looks for the floor which can be achieved by using a combination of Bona’s sanding and brushing methods, lacquers, oils and paints.

The five styles, Nordic Shimmer, Garden Atmosphere, Malibu Dreams, Touch of Grace and New Modern, include everything from dark, rustic floors to floors with a pale, lacquered finish.
There is further visual information to inspire homeowners at bona.com. Professional specifiers can also visit the professional section of the website to see which products and techniques should be used to achieve the individual looks – and to locate a local Bona certified contractor.

Samples and inspirational brochures will also be available from Bona on request for architects, designers and flooring contractors to leave with their clients.

Bona is a RIBA certified CPD provider and offers a seminar on the specification of finishes for wood floors.

01908 525150