Picking the Right Wood: How to Choose

So you want to install hardwood floors in your home.  Great choice!  Of course you call Accurate Floor Care and you ask us what's the best wood to install?  As with most design oriented things, it is largely subjective.  That being said, we can offer some information to guide your choice.

Red oak and white oak are by far the most common floors in the US.  One of the reasons for this is that they are fairly hard woods, stable (regarding movement with humidity shifts), versatile, and attractive.  All these make oak a great choice.  The trends as of late have been towards white oak as the pinkish undertones of red oak have fallen out of favor, and a wider width, 3 1/4"+.  Anything above 3 1/2" does have to be nailed and glued to avoid stretching the nails holding capacity.  In this case the normal felt paper moisture barrier will not allow a mechanical bond of the glue, so a liquid moisture barrier must be applied.  

Hickory is another choice that offers exceptional hardness (harder than red and white oak) but lacks stability.    Maple is also very hard, but not everyone loves the very light color and it is notoriously more difficult to change color also and can take color blotchy.  Walnut and pines are softer woods.  This is not to say these woods aren't good, but it may depend on your lifestyle.  If you have some big dogs, it is very likely they will show in a pine floor.

 

Janka hardness refers to how much pressure it takes to push a small metal ball into a piece of wood, so the higher the number, the harder the wood. Stability refers to how much the wood will move with the relative humidity of it's environment.  Again the lower the number, the more stable the wood.

Janka hardness refers to how much pressure it takes to push a small metal ball into a piece of wood, so the higher the number, the harder the wood.

Stability refers to how much the wood will move with the relative humidity of it's environment.  Again the lower the number, the more stable the wood.

Besides appearance, hardness, and stability, there are different grades of lumber.  The most common names for them are clear, select, number 1, and number 2.  Clear, as the name implies, will be the most clear of knots, wormholes, color variation, and grain.  Number 2 is at the opposite side of the spectrum.  Full of knotholes and color variations.  Number 2 will be considerably cheaper, but does not mean it is a lesser material.  I personally love number 2 lumber.  You can fill the knot holes with black putty or epoxy and it looks great.  With the right finish in the right home it is awesome.

Another variable is the cut of the lumber.  There are four options: quarter sawn, rift sawn, plain sawn, and live sawn.  Quarter sawn is a beautiful cut, with a lot of striping that they call flecks.  It is also much more stable than plain sawn.  Rift sawn is the most stable cut, and has a nice straight and tight grain.  Quarter sawn and rift sawn are most commonly sold together as a mix, but can be bought on their own.  You can also get a grade with these also, such as rift and quartered select or rift and quartered character (number 2).  Plain sawn is the most common cut.  Within plain sawn you will usually see a few pieces of rift and quartered that got into the mix.  Live sawn is just cutting the tree all in one direction.  In this case you get everything, some rift some quartered, some plain, and all the knots.  It is very beautiful and definitely has a lot of character.

 

How each cut is made and an example of each

How each cut is made and an example of each

I hope this is informative and answers more question than it raises.  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to give us a call.

The Importance of Sealers

I have seen some contractors bash the use of sealers on their websites. They try to sell you the idea that the contractors that are using sealers are just trying to skimp on costs by skipping the first coat of polyurethane. These contractors are simply misinformed.  Manufacturers and the National Wood Flooring Association alike both strongly recommend the use of sealers, especially when using water-based polyurethanes.  

For those who don't know, a sealer is a coat that is applied before the final step of polyurethane; it can be applied to raw wood, for a natural look, or over the stain of your choice. It is recommended to use one to two coats of sealer followed by two coats of polyurethane, as opposed to the alternative three-coat of poly method. Water-based polyurethane is actually strong enough that, when it is applied and seep into the cracks, it act as a glue and bond the boards together; this is called side bonding and, when done in large chunks, it is called panelization (see photo below).  You run into a problem when the wood shrinks, in the low humidity months, and pulls apart from itself in large chunks. Using a sealer is one way to help prevent this problem.  Another way to avoid that type of shrinkage is to run a whole home humidifier and to keep your house between 35-55% relative humidity.

Tannin bleed is an issue that occurs when water-based polyurethanes pull up the tannins in the wood and leave stains.  Sealers are a great help in preventing this problem, which can frequently occur in wood species with a large amount of naturally occurring tannins like white oak.

If you fail to follow the manufacturers process, you run the risk of suffering serious damage to your new floors, including shifting and splitting of boards and ugly stains. My advice is to do your research. Manufacturers stress the importance of sealers for a reason, and the benefits of following this protocol far outweigh the risks you run by neglecting this step in the process.

                           Panelization

                           Panelization

What is Water Popping?

     Spreading an even layer of regular old water on your floor after it is sanded and before it's stained.  I know, the first time I was introduced to the idea I thought it was strange too.  However, wood is a hygroscopic material; which is a fancy way of saying that it absorbs and releases moisture.  The same mechanism that transports water through the tree while it is alive will continue to function while that wood is now a part of your beautiful floor.  Now this moisture can come from humidity in the air (this is why you may see gaps in your floor in the low humidity winter months, but not the summer months), it can come from leaks, (pet leaks included) or from us intentionally putting water on your floor.  When we do this, the wood absorbs that water by opening up its grain.  

     This process is important because, as discussed elsewhere on this site, sanding has to be done very meticulously when stain is going to be used.  Because of this, we like to sand a little finer than if we were not going to stain the floor (we like all machines to go up to 120 grit for stain jobs).  Now that's all fine and dandy, but as you sand the wood finer you close off more and more of its grain.  If we were to just stain without water popping, the pigment in the stain would not be able to deeply penetrate the wood.  A simple thing, such as starting a new piece of sandpaper, can close the grain in a different way than when that sandpaper is towards the end of it's life, resulting in a blotchy stain job.  Water popping the floor before staining avoids all of those issues while at the same time providing a rich, deep color that people love.  We let the water dry over night and then the next day the floor is ready to be stained.  This process is unnecessary on light stain colors (golden oak and lighter), because they do not contain much pigment; therefore you don't have to worry about blotchiness.  All in all, the process of water popping adds a little work and a day on to the timeline, but it enhances the beauty and color of your finished flooring.