The Various Finishes of Hardwood Floors The Various Finishes of Hardwood Floors

Refinishing a battered, dull or worn hardwood floor is one of the most dramatic ways to bring new life to an old home. The end result is a room that is enhanced by the natural beauty of wood and that has a fresh clean look. The appearance of cleanliness in any room starts with the floor. When it comes down to selecting the proper finish for a hardwood floor, there are a few basic things to consider.

1. Appearance. As with any wood finish, there are different sheens available for hardwood floors. Satin and semi-gloss are the two most popular. If the room is meant to have a softer aesthetic, then satin is probably the best way to go. There will be minimal shine off the floor from overhead lights and the natural beauty of the wood grain is allowed to speak for itself. A semi-gloss finish is exactly what its name indicates. While it does deliver a slightly clearer reflection than satin, it still serves to mask imperfections that may be in the floor.

Imperfections, then, are one of the reasons why most professionals try to stay away from a high gloss finish. Though it is available, it dries with a very reflective surface that will open the door to two possible problems. The first is that it will reflect any damage or gouges that exist in the floor prior to its application. The shadows that are cast from imperfections are most clearly seen under a high-gloss finish. The second possible problem arises when the floor is damaged or gouged after the finish is applied. The damaged area will be very apparent, and it is not possible to repair it well without refinishing the entire surface of the floor. There is no touching up.

2. Durability. There are many different manufacturers of hardwood floor finish. Most will provide a finish in each of the three previously mentioned sheens, and each have a varying degree of durability. Give some careful thought to the amount of traffic that your floor will see and the type of abuse it will take. Do you have active children who will be racing cars on the floor? Do you have pets with nails? Are the dining room chairs going to be in constant motion over the surface? When it comes to choosing the product with the best durability, the old adage is true: You get what you pay for. In a high traffic area, it is worth it to splurge on the best product available. This will save the expense of having to redo the job on a regular basis.

3. Timeline for finishing the floor. Until recently, an oil based finish was the only realistic option. It was the only product that would dry hard enough to provide any real protection for the floor. The problem is that most oil based finishes take 8-12 hours to be dry to the touch. However, the technology used to develop water based acrylic finishes has improved dramatically over the past 10 years. There are now water based finishes that are mixed with a hardening catalyst immediately before application. These finishes dry as hard as their oil based counterparts, and - here's the bonus - they dry in about one hour. If time is of the essence, and your floor requires one coat of sealer and then three top coats of finish, an oil based job can take up to four days to complete. A high quality water-based finish can cut that time at least in half, thus returning your life to normal much quicker. The high quality water based finishes are expensive, but cutting a few days off of the time that it takes you to be able to use your house might make the extra expense well worth it.

As with any home-improvement project, there is no single right answer to a question of which product to use. Each situation requires a careful analysis of all the factors involved. In the case of flooring finishes, make sure you think about appearance, durability, and your timeline, and you should have no problem making the best selection possible for your project.

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Brian Simkins is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He enjoys using his 14 years of home improvement experience to educate and equip new home owners.

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