wood floors wood flooring

  

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
 
FAQ Main Page
  
Grouting Compounds for Mixed Media Installations
    
The What, When, Why, Where and How of Expansion for Wood Flooring… (FAQ) a very frequently asked question)
    
Custom Hand Scraped Dyed & Stained Solid Hickory Plank Flooring
End Grain Block Flooring
     
Combining New Hardwood Flooring With an Old or Existing Wood Floor Installation
    
More Information on Old Hardwood Flooring Brushes
    
Retrofitting a Radiant System under an Existing Wood Floor
    
How to Reckon For Expansion around a Hearth or Border
    
Installing and Finishing American Cherry and the Effects of Different Fillers & Finishes on “Light Sensitive” Wood Flooring
When to Use (and NOT to Use) 1-1/4” or Shorter Flooring Cleats
   
Installing a Wood Floor On or Above Post & Beam, Pier Post Construction and Floating Foundations
   
Good Choices for Wooden Floors over Radiant Heat and at What Stage During a Remodel or New Construction Should Hardwood Flooring Be Installed
   
What Purpose Do the Grooves on the Underside of Wood Flooring Serve?
   
OSB and Comparisons of Various Underlayment and Subflooring Choices for Under Hardwood Flooring -- Thoughts & Comparisons of Underlayments, Nailing and Finishes of Conifers and Wide Plank Flooring Like Pine & Douglas Fir
   
Comparisons of Methods for Installing Hardwood Flooring (Especially Solid Woods) Directly Over Radiant Heating – Use of Mastics & Cleats as well as Some Temperature Recommendations
   
What Causes Various Wood Species to Change Color and What can be Done About It? – UV Light and Its Effects on Wood Flooring Species, Stains & Finishes
   
Filling & Finishing A ‘Barn Wood’ Fir Floor
   
The Very Best (or Toughest) Hardwood Species and the Toughest Wooden Floor Finish – Thoughts about Wear & Maintenance of Wooden Floors
   
How Long Does A Newly Finished Wooden Floor Last?
   
The Pros and Cons of Prefinished Versus Site-Finished Hardwood Flooring
   
Can (Should) I Buy Hardwood Flooring Over The Internet?
   
What Is The Best Wood Floor Over Radiant Heat?
   
How Many Coats Of Floor Finish Should Be Applied To My Floor?
Subfloor & Underlayment Requirements When Installing Wooden Flooring Parallel To Joists, Screeds or Sleepers Systems
Removing A Marker Mark on Hardwood Floor
    
CHECK BACK OFTEN FOR MORE OF OUR FAQ'S
   
 
 
A wood floor project can start out as a bit of a mystery. Here are answers to some of the questions home owners find themselves asking.
Be sure to read my comments as well as these answers to specific questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Plank Flooring and Wood Floor Finishes

July 2010

Don:

We are looking into putting red oak floors throughout our home. We have pretty much narrowed down all of the details except for the size of planks we should use. Will there be any difference in the structural stability of a 4" plank vs. a 3 1/4" plank? We have heard that the wider the board, the more chance there is of some movement down the road. So, what size is your personal preference? Is there an industry standard?

One other question I have is regarding the natural ambering that occurs with red oak. Does using a Glitsa finish help reduce the amount of ambering that occurs?

Thank you so much for your time.


Plank Types, Sizes and Application

Unless your home is situated near a body of water, deep in the woods or somewhere else where significant shifts in internal moisture can be anticipated, the difference between 3- 1/4 and 4 inch plank will probably be negligible. Where issues or concerns exist regarding plank width or moisture migration, I generally recommend the use of a rift and/or quarter sawn cut. With the advent of high quality elastomeric mastics especially formulated for wood flooring, I often recommend the use of a full spread solid wood flooring mastic as well as nailing.

Four inch plank is probably still more standard than 3-1/4 inch plank but there are lots of new products being introduced these days (especially from other countries) utilizing the 3-1/4 inch profile.

Technically, wood flooring boards 3 inches or wider are considered plank flooring. In the past, domestic manufacturing of most plank wood flooring was fairly standardized with plank sizes graduated precisely at one inch increments from 3 to 12 or more but more commonly 3 to 8. Conifers and reclaimed materials varied from this somewhat informal flooring standard due, I believe, primarily to price and value. Half or quarter inch intervals were common, if not even more standard for these products.

Wood Flooring the Environmental Choice

While soft wood lumber intended for flooring competed head-to-head with that intended for the general building supply industry, hardwood lumber sold to the flooring industry was (and still is) a by product or “fall down” from the dimensional hardwood industry. Hardwood lumber graded as ‘gifted in character’ (that is abundant in knots, holes, wane, burls or other qualities generally perceived as “defects”) was sold to “fall down” manufacturers as a by product of the dimensional hardwood lumber manufacturing process. 

Wood flooring manufactures are (for the most part) at the bottom of this list. Even pallet manufacturers need boards 4 inches or wider. Not wood flooring manufacturers. A pallet manufacturer also needs boards 3 to 3-1/2 feet or longer; but not a wood flooring manufacturer. So the hardwood lumber sold to most flooring mills is heavily picked over, and generally not as appealing to other manufacturers. That lumber, typically graded 2 Common, won’t sell at premium prices. That’s what’s sold to the wood flooring mills. 

The flooring mills used to turn their “fall down” into firewood for their kiln furnaces or given to anyone willing to remove it from the premises at no charge. These days, firewood and sawdust are made into panels, wood pellets or sold as smoker fodder.

An Important Note: As of this writing, supplies of hardwood lumber have dwindled to their lowest level in many years due to the permanent closure of many hardwood lumber plants. All domestic species are in short supply, but White oak in particular. This does not mean there is a shortage in our hardwood tree population or that there has been an over demand for the product. Far to the contrary, our country’s hardwood tree population is at the highest level it has been in over 200 years. Since hardwood flooring is developed primarily as a by product from associated hardwood industries, the severely limited number of hardwood lumber companies currently has caused a temporary overtaxing of the entire supply system. Although the demand for hardwood flooring has dropped along with that for other hardwood products, it has not experienced the same level of diminished demand as have other hardwood industries. We have been told to expect hardwood flooring prices to continue to grow at unprecedented rates and to anticipate shortages for various hardwood flooring products for some time to come.

Antique and Reclaimed Flooring

Antique or reclaimed lumber normally requires re-sawing to make it more useable. Historically, its been marketed to by-product manufacturers, like the wood flooring industry, that could make better use of boards that were shorter and more narrow than that required by other hardwood or softwood manufacturers. Standard ‘commodity’ flooring mills never seriously attempted re-milling and selling antique or reclaimed lumber as flooring. That required far too much handling and care than they were willing or able to put forth. So, small “boutique” flooring mills began popping up in the late 70s and 80s as a “green” source for old growth lumber products. Initially, this was due to the limited price point that “old” lumber drew on the open market. These days the costs for old lumber have grown and its availability dwindled to the point that “antique” and “reclaimed” lumber now sells at premium prices. 

Pretty much from day one, plank wood flooring milled from old beams, boards or reclaimed logs was milled utilizing the “live sawing” method. This is normally considered to be the most “green” milling process where the maximum possible yield from every piece of raw material is forthcoming. Then, a “mill run” or “wholesale” grading process is often implemented. This means basically that every single piece of material sawn from the log, board or beam is included in the flooring lot. So ¼, ½, and ¾ even 3/8, 5/8, and 7/8 intervals were often added to the normally even numbered plank widths with antique reclaimed flooring boards.

Variable vs. Random Width Plank

All those different widths with uneven intervals created math havoc with the resellers of antique reclaimed planking who wanted to sell the installers plank flooring in equal lineal feet. Their standardized tables that spelled out the precise square footage requirements of each width for a “variable” width plank floor didn’t allow for so many different and uneven combinations of widths. So they attempted to sell the plank flooring by the “random” width rather than the more classic “variable” width. 

A “variable” width plank floor creates more of a standardized pattern to the floor installation’s appearance since it contains the same number of rows of each width. A “random” width plank floor’s installation must be completely arbitrary since the square footage and therefore lineal footage of each available width will vary. The appearance of a “random” width floor installation can be somewhat disordered to some people. It’s interesting to note that many plank installations dating back centuries contained “random” width planks. Since they utilized whatever was available to them at the time, their flooring rows represented such. On occasion, some rows were even begun with one width, then divided mid row into two planks of exactly ½ that width to finish the row.

To help mills and resellers sell their increasing cumbersome variable plank widths in the classic “variable” width format, I created a computer program called WIDTH to take care of all the math for them regardless of the number of sizes or widths. I have to confess that program is in dire need of a facelift. I wrote it in C and Assembler languages and it needs updating to run with all the bells and whistles on today’s Graphic User Interfaces. But for anyone willing to run it on a DOS platform, it still does a great job.

Some History of Floor Finishes

When Glitsa and Synteko (the two most domestically popular acid-curing floor finishes) were first introduced into this country, 40 years ago or more, they were highly touted as non-yellowing floor finishes. But that was in comparison to the major floor finishes on the market at the time...primarily oil-modified urethanes. When it was first introduced, oil-modified urethane was seen as a great advancement over the more commonly used floor finishing products at that time, varnishes, penetrating oils and waxes. 

The oil-modified urethanes, of those days, yellowed considerably with age and sunlight as did virtually all the other oils, sealers, varnishes and waxes in use, but they could be counted upon to cure faster and provide a more durable surface film than their predecessors. Essentially, what an oil-modified urethane (or polyurethane as they were called in our industry) did for floor finish films was to provide polymers that would help the oils they were combined with cross link better for tougher finish films and do it much faster than the oils could alone. 

State-of-the-Art Floor Finishes

Today’s state-of-the-art floor finishes are by and large waterborne products. The acid curing and moisture curing urethanes so popular for the past 25 or 30 years are being rapidly replaced by harder wearing, less toxic, waterborne coatings. Interestingly enough, many of the old style oils and waxes are enjoying renewed popularity. They offer a depth of color and ease of repair that none of the newer urethane products can boast. The hard wax oils, highly touted as more “green”, predominately from Europe, are variations of these penetrating oils with (in some cases) less toxic solvents. Keep in mind, just because it’s better for “the environment” doesn’t mean it is cleaner or less toxic for the user. A great example of this is Tung Oil. Tung Oil is considered food grade once it has dried, but it’s an accumulative toxin to the humans applying it in liquid form. I’ve had several good woodworking friends, bowl makers, turners, carvers and fine woodworking artists who’ve had to seek alternate trades after reaching toxic shock levels working with Tung Oil. 

Most single component waterborne floor finishes are acrylics, urethanes or a combination of the two. Which is best depends on which manufacturer’s rep you happen to be speaking with at the time. The resins or binders utilized in all the various products are made by only a few different companies throughout the world. So except for the amount and type of resin, the end products don’t vary a great deal. Resins are almost always the most expensive part of a floor finish’s formula. So, the tougher, better resins and the percentage of same will cause the coating to cost more. Therefore, a good rule of thumb, is all things being equal, the more expensive the finish the better its quality.

Durability Rumors

You may have heard from some of the “Old Timers” that waterborne floor finishes are no good. Well, I’m an “Old Timer” and let me say this, the top-of-the-line coatings like Danish Finish and Danish ProSport have very little in common with the water-soluble coatings that came out 30 years or so ago. Those finishes were relatively expensive and difficult to use. Today’s water borne finishes are much easier to use and can be made relatively inexpensively. That makes them prime candidates for the DIY market. Go into virtually any hardware store, DIY center or box store and you’ll find a wide variety of inexpensive waterborne finishes lining the store shelves in the flooring department. Beware of the claims these products make. They have little in common with the top quality water borne floor finishes available to the professional, except that they are water soluble.

The really top-of-the-line wood floor finishes (the professional grade types of products) are NOT cheap...whether they’re waterborne or oil based. A good rule of thumb is, the cheaper the ingredients the cheaper the product. Professional grade, single component, Danish Finish and its two component industrial strength big brother, Danish ProSport, are significantly more expensive than their box store cousins. They are marketed to professional floor finishers and discerning do-it-yourselfers. These extremely high quality products have virtually no yellowing characteristics and contain exceptionally strong UV inhibitors to boot. 

Where to Buy Top Quality Floor Finishes

It’s like what I told my son recently when he was in the market for a drill. He knew that I liked my Milwaukee drill, the one I’d owned for over 30 years. He said he could get a Milwaukee drill at his local box store for $20 to $30 but definitely for under $50. Why should he pay the $150 to $200 he was quoted for a Milwaukee drill at a construction supply house? My response to him was this. If you’re going to use the drill just once or twice a year and for short periods of time, buy a cheap one. You’ll go through a number of cheap drills over the years but you’ll probably come out even in the end. But, if you intend to use it regularly, want to keep it your whole life, or if you’ve got some serious work in mind for it, you’ll want to buy a professional grade drill motor and they don’t come on $20 or $30 drills.

It’s the same with most construction supplies or products. Professional grade items just don’t sell well in box stores. So if you want a good professional grade floor finish…one that will stand up to everyday wear and tear…you’ll need a top quality product. Whether you’re in the market for a good polyurethane, penetrating oil or water borne floor finish…expect to pay for quality. Professionals know that. Their reputations are on the line every time they put a product down on a client’s hardwood floor. Serious professional wood floor finishers insist on top-of-the line floor finishes…like the Danish Finish and Danish ProSport.

For professional grade polyurethanes and similar products we recommend and sell Lenmar Products. I have found them to be made of the finest quality ingredients and meet the exacting requirements of our demanding hardwood floor finishing clientele.

All acid-curing finishes (like Glitsa and Synteko) are considered professional grade. They contain so many toxic compounds and flammable solvents that the manufacturers generally restrict their sale to professionals only. That is how we enforce their sale in our wholesale supply division as well.

Comparisons of “Swedish” to Waterborne “Danish” Finishes

A one-on-one comparison of Glitsa or any other acid curing finish to a top-of-the-line waterborne product is not entirely feasible. There are a great many differences in addition to the obvious toxicity issue. Originally, acid curing products became popular not just because they didn’t yellow as much as their predecessors but also because they could be utilized as both sealer and finish. Many of the older floor and wood finishes needed a pore or grain filler along with a separate sealer in order to leave a consistent film face on the wood. Without this smooth film face, the surface would not look as beautiful and would wear prematurely.

Ironically, part of the acid curing floor finishes popularity came about because they left the floor’s surface less smooth. There were some who liked their hardwood floor’s surface finished without grain or pore filling and without staining. It was called a “Natural” finish. It required an extra coating (for a minimum of 3 total coats) of Swedish (acid curing) Finish to protect properly but was a look that could not be achieved in any other way.

To this day, that “Natural” look is still unique with hardwood flooring…particularly with red oak. The acid in the acid-curing finish reacts with the tannins in the oak (particularly “red oak”) causing it to turn a rather bold reddish brown when coated. Other solvent-based coatings will usually have a similar but somewhat more subdued effect on that wood. The same is true of American and Brazilian Cherries. These cherries will darken, intensifying their reddish hue over time, usually progressing to a brownish hue depending on the strength of sunlight striking them. 

Appearance remains one of the single biggest differentiating factors between the “Natural” (no stain) finish application of a top quality product like Danish Finish or Danish ProSport water based finish and a Glitsa, Synteko or other acid-curing finish.

Still, in the final tally, waterborne coatings are gradually overcoming this last big hurdle. In high rise, multifamily homes or commercial venues with other tenants in place, a waterborne coating must usually be used due to toxins, odors, and flammability. Where durability is paramount, the Danish Finish or Danish ProSport can’t be bested. The difference between a top quality waterborne coating (particularly one like the Danish ProSport) and an acid curing finish like Glitsa or Synteko is like comparing apples to oranges. The waterbornes cure faster and will take so much abuse and still look beautiful, that there is really no comparison. The top-of-the-line waterbornes are more clear, have minimal if any yellowing and contain extremely strong UV inhibitors. 

For a do-it-yourselfer, there is just no reason to settle for anything less than quality top-of-the-line waterbornes like the Danish Finish and Danish Prosport. The Danish Finishes, unlike most professional grade products, are extremely easy to apply. Getting a professional grade coating with either product has never been easier with any product, much less a professional one.

Stain Applications

If you plan to stain your floor, you'll probably end up utilizing a solvent-based product. In my opinion, there still is no substitute for solvent-based stains when doing wood floor finishing. This could change soon as many manufacturers are working hard to solve this problem. 

In the mean time, if you planning to use an acid curing finish like Glitsa, Synteko or one of the other lesser known brands available, expect to see some slight yellowing of the stain color initially (particularly pastels) and even more over time. Part of this is due to the finish, part to the stain and part is due to the tannins, oils and resins in the wood.

In you plan to use an oil modified (polyurethane) finish, you should expect even more yellowing both initially and over time. One extra point regarding the use of polyurethanes. As a general rule, it will take 3 coats of acid cure or waterborne urethane to get the same film thickness build as two coats of polyurethane floor finish.

If you plan to use a waterborne urethane over a solvent-based stain, you’ll need to allow a little more dry time for your stain. This is especially true for highly pigmented stain colors, especially pastels or whites. But, expect to reap big dividends from the clarity of the finish film, its resistance to fading and color changes over time or with sunlight and loads of extra durability from foot traffic. 

If you plan to use a penetrating oil (tinted or not) or one of the hard wax oils, expect considerably more dry time and curing time. I find lots of folks presold on these products from an environmental standpoint without realizing the whole story. When they find out that not only are these products not as “green” as the waterborne urethanes but also require substantially more TLC and maintenance, they hastily move away from them in favor of a more user friendly, environmentally friendly and user friendly choice.

Strictly speaking, the truest...clearest coating that you can apply to a floor is a top-of-the-line waterborne urethane...and, it is the toughest of the site-applied floor coatings available today.

In the end, there really is no WRONG choice…only one that is better for you and your application. 

Hopefully this helps you. Please feel free to ask other questions.

Thanks,

Don
Don Bollinger don@woodfloorco.com Wood Floor Products, Inc. (206) 622-6996

Matching Height Changes on Radient Slabs

June 23, 2010
I am contemplating a radiant slab on grade with 2-4" Styrofoam underneath. With two layers of 1/2" plywood for the floating method---how can you get the two flooring materials-- 1/2+ 1/2+ flooring height to match up with 1/2" slate directly on the slab? Thanks

There are many different ways to overcome height variations between finished flooring materials when working on top of a slab (radiant or not). If a uniform height throughout your floor is your goal. You can add a thicker mortar mix everywhere you intend to use slate. Do this on top of the slab in a thickness equal to that of thickness difference between the underlayment and finished hardwood and that of the slate. Another way is to float two layers of concrete hardboard in the slate areas similarly to that of the two layers of plywood that go under the hardwood flooring. The simplest method is to reduce the finished height of the hardwood flooring down to that of the slate buy using "reducers" made for this application. Keep in mind however that standard hardwood reducers only reduce ¾ inches or less and will vary by width which will usually be somewhere between 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 inches. If you need or want a more gradual pitch at your reducer site(s), for instance as in commercial venues where most codes call for a 12 to 1 ratio or pitch, you can reduce the finished height of the hardwood flooring areas to the slate areas over a wider span. A custom reducer can be formed out of a wide piece of hardwood that matches or complements your hardwood floor for this. So if you need to reduce a full inch, you can do this utilizing two 6-inch boards or one 12 inch board to create a 1" reducer over a span of 12 inches. My favorite method is to create a concrete reducer utilizing a concrete leveling compound adjacent to the hardwood flooring that graduates from the finished height of the hardwood floor less the slate thickness and gradually thins to the finished height of your slab. If you have enough room, you can even do this more gradually than the 12 to 1 ratio called for by commercial codes. If you reduce down even a full inch or more over 3 feet or more, you will hardly be able to tell there is a finished height different between the two flooring materials. The catch to using any of the reducer methods could be your wall treatments or cabinets, especially if they span both flooring materials. In such an instance, you will certainly need to preplan your approach. This allows you to get even more creative still. These are the things that make building, remodeling or improving a defined space fun. Let your imagination explore all the possibilities. Keep in mind that adding material thickness to both areas should improve your radiant slab's efficiency…the greater the mass, the more efficient your system.

Hope this helps.

Don Bollinger

Installing Hardwood Over Radiant Tubes in Plywood Panels

May 25, 2010
Hi Don, Thank you for your detailed and informative essay on installing wood flooring over radiant systems. I enjoyed the read a lot. I was wondering if you might be able to give me some advice concerning whether or not to seal all sides or at least back seal 4" rift & quartered white oak before installing over "warmboard?” The heating system has been in place and running since December 09' and the AC has been running for 1 week. The white oak was delivered a few days ago and I was planning on giving it 2 weeks to acclimate. Most construction on the house is complete including Sheet rocking tile and paint. Most of the millwork installation remains. The Project is a complete structural shell renovation of a 3500sf home in Queens New York. All floor, wall framing and windows are new. I have heard various opinions on back sealing and end grain sealing over radiant heat and I’m on the fence as to whether or not to do it or to skip it. One last notable issue is that we would like to install some of the flooring parallel to the tubing which would place every 4th board directly on top of a line of pexal tubing. Warmboard recommends installing flooring perpendicular to the tubing but tell me that parallel can be done. Is it simply more difficult? Sorry for sending you such a long email but hopefully you will have a few moments to give me your opinion. Sincerely, Max New York, NY

Hi Max. I hope you'll excuse my taking some extra time responding to your questions. Radiant heating systems are near and dear to me. Many years ago before it became vogue to do so, I helped design and install geothermal heating and cooling systems. We used both the heat from the sun and the ground (and from lakes or ponds if they were handy) to warm homes in cool weather. In warm weather, we collected cool air from the ground or from lakes or ponds and pumped it into the homes. Warm air was taken off the outside shell of the homes and deposited back into the ground in place of the cooler air we’d collected. In the days before expensive energy, we cut heating/cooling costs by 90 to 95% with systems that are still running efficiently today. The tenor and tone of your questions to me on wood flooring over radiant heat suggest a somewhat practiced understanding of their application. I applaud both your attitude and approach. So many architects these days seem in lockstep with the lemmings. Engineered wood flooring and plywood with plastic radiant tubes does indeed work, albeit the inverse of an efficient radiant heat transfer model. For the peak performance, efficiency and appearance in wood flooring over radiant in-floor heating, quality conscious wood flooring installers around the globe continue to express their preference for solid wood flooring (preferably rift and/or quarter sawn material as you’ve specified) installed by gluing and nailing to a multi-layered plywood system that is set to “float” over a 1-1/2” or thicker cementitious mass. Such a system, when properly acclimated and installed, should perform exceptionally well with only a minimal amount of maintenance for many years. The plywood panel systems were developed for retrofitting radiant systems into homes where the added weight of a more efficient system could not be supported. While variations of this method can perform adequately as a primary heating source, great care should be taken when comparing the efficiency these designs to those systems that enjoy significantly greater mass. As a rule, the greater the mass the more efficient the radiant system. Systems operating on the fringes of radiant efficiency can be anticipated to function marginally, not just as heat transfer devices, but in other aspects as well. For example, noteworthy variances in conductivity within the hardwood flooring’s structure will translate to major variances in heat transfer and overall system efficiency. Minor glitches can become major anomalies in the workings of the entire mechanism. Minor to major appearance changes, such as color shades and gaping, are sometimes resultant within the wood flooring. On occasion these appearance changes are striking, depending on the floor-to-tube temperature and overall heat loss within the system. Utilizing a plywood flooring system (i.e. an engineered wood flooring product) may serve to further stress an already strained radiant design. Many such systems result in a radiant design that employs an inordinately high floor temperature. Knowing this and knowing the results of a too high wood floor temperature, savvy hardwood flooring manufacturers are not guaranteeing their products installed over a radiant system that causes the surface wood flooring temperature to exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many such manufacturers are requiring temperature sensors be installed in their flooring systems in order to validate their warranties. Leaving the wood flooring until all wet work is completed is always a good strategy. And, the two week scheduled acclimation period would normally be adequate in a standard scenario after stocking the material in a “dry” structure. Structures with radiant in-floor heating however should command a longer acclimation period. While time is important for acclimation, moisture content (MC) checks are mandatory. Every good contractor, general or flooring, will own and use a moisture meter. The really good ones own several different types of meters. There are meters that measure concrete and cementitious materials and those that measure wood. There are pinned meters that leave holes in the materials being measured but they measure moisture at different depths. There are pin less meters that take only average overall readings of a material but do not leave holes in the material being measured. Regardless of the type meter the contractor uses, multiple moisture checks should be made of the subflooring, surrounding wood materials and the flooring to be installed. Wainscoting, trim and base molding should also be measured and acclimated prior to installing on or near a radiant heated floor. These materials, along with the wood flooring, should be stickered in stacks no higher than two feet off the radiant floor with the heat on. Stacks should be arranged to accommodate a good air flow under, between and within the bundles of material. When the MC of the subflooring and the flooring to be installed is within 2% MC of each other, it’s time to install. Sealing the backs and ends of the wood slats or planks as you propose can substantially reduce the ingress and egress of moisture within individual planks. For any questionable installation, I strongly recommend that a moisture resistant (but not moisture impervious) product be applied to backs (or bottoms) as well as to the ends if flooring is not to be glued to the substrate. There are even some hardwood flooring manufactures who use packaging tape applied to the bottoms of their planking to help resist a rapid ingress of moisture. Our company began sealing the bottoms and ends of wood flooring boards years ago when we were required to install hardwood in homes or structures left unheated for months on end, or when we were required to install flooring on houseboats, cantilevered structures or buildings built on pier poles. This extra sealing procedure is mostly redundant when gluing and nailing except for the board ends. As long as the sealant used is resistant and not impervious to moisture migration, it can’t hurt. Impervious sealants are perfect, right up to and until they fail. If boards expand and rupture the impervious seal, the impervious bond begins to work against rather than for protection of the wood. With today’s forest product colleges leaning toward “fast drying” procedures over previously recommended slow air drying prior to artificially drying in kilns, internal stresses can be built up within the wood’s structure causing “artificial” movement or movement without apparent significant changes in moisture content. But that’s another story. Finally, I never recommend installing strip or plank flooring parallel to seams of any kind. At the very least, these seams can cause the flooring boards directly above them to move differently than those throughout the remainder of the structure. At worst, the boards directly above the seams can flex or move up and down with live loads. Gluing and nailing can help reduce these problems as well as improve the overall “feel” of wood flooring when installed over a radiant plywood panel system. Unfortunately, I’ve found that radiant plywood panel manufactures are somewhat divided on their allowance of glue-down flooring, let alone their allowance of gluing and nailing. In conclusion, radiant systems are changing constantly, but the laws of physics remain the same. Like my old pappy used to say…you can teach an old dog new tricks but you’ll play hob teaching him to do tricks that don’t work.

Hope this helps.

Don Bollinger

Grouting Compounds for Mixed Media Installations

Jan 21, 2010
Hi Don,

I read your webpage and I was wondering if you might be able to help with me a grout issue.

I am working with wood, glass, and marble in mosaics. The biggest issue I have is the natural expansion and contraction of the wood. Clear silicone is great for adhering glass, but I'd prefer not use that as a "grout" for the mosaics. Main reason is that it's toxic and will not be easy to clean off the glass or marble unless the installer enjoys very tedious work (I like tedious...mosaics obviously, but installers don't).

I've been in the mosaic field for 15 years and no one has been able to figure out a reasonable solution to this issue. Hence, no one is making wood, glass, and marble mosaics. I found a grout specific to wood, but it is not a good product...it stained black walnut to an ash gray and weeks later it was coming out of the joints.

I've attached a picture so you can get an idea of what I am dealing with.

If you have time and wouldn't mind helping me with this issue, I would much appreciate it. If not, no problem.

Thank you,

Katherine



Katherine, I’m sure you’re well aware yours is an age-old issue for artists, builders, architects and anyone who’s attempted to put two or more things together to form a whole for more years than history can record.

I’m a big believer in using the simplest method that will get the job done. I like “dry setting” stone for example because it’s the most forgiving (when done right) in all but the most troublesome situations. Still, it won’t work in every instance and is a difficult skill to master (at least for some).

It could work in your situation depending on the application. It would not work, of course, if the item were to get moved around a lot. I’ve utilized the dry set method on tables for example, with more than a modicum of success. The ancient stone setters used sand as a grout almost exclusively. When elastomeric properties are needed within the grout material itself, “bark” was often utilized. Probably the best known of which is cork. Finely ground bark or cork can be used in a loose mixture like silica sand or bound together to form sheets, strips or rolls to fill a variety of hole or gaps sizes. 

The picture you sent me did not come through well, but of what I could tell, the gap you are attempting to fill is quite sizeable. Standard wood filling compounds will not work well in “large” gaps. They are made to take a stain and finish like raw wood and hopefully “disappear” or at least blend well with the piece or pieces they’re filling. Where you have large or expansive gaps to fill, the grout (if you must use one), can greatly benefit the overall system when made of a contrasting color, texture or pattern to what’s being filled.

We frequently use ground cork to make a flexible grout for wooden “rounds” or end grain block installations where the gaps are often quite large. Where wear is paramount and flexibility less so, we’ll resort to a highly plasticized mixture of cementitious grout and poly binder. We find such grouting materials can take foot traffic well and work better in many indoor installations where moisture can get trapped (such as entryways) and not easily pass through (as with most exterior applications).

Our company manufactures a variety of wood fillers, several of which are quite elastomeric. Two of our products, EZ Trowel FloorFill and Patch-It, contain 3 times or more resin than standard wood floor fillers. This greatly enhances their elastomeric properties. These products not only work well in standard wood flooring situations but also in highly resilient wood floors (e.g. sports floors) where standard wood floor fillers will simply pop out during active use. 

There are occasions where we will mix wood, metal, stone and glass materials together to form a highly stylized or artistic floor. The grouting mixtures in these installations vary, but we often find a highly plasticized cementitious grouting compound the most advantageous all around.

Of course the tighter the pieces joined together, the less the issue of rejecting the grout (assuming a stable or immovable substrate). If pitch and yaw presents a significant problem with grout ejection (e.g. a yacht, houseboat, pier pole or similar construction), an elastomeric binder is a must. That’s one of the principle rationales behind dry setting and how exterior dry set systems have lasted for so many centuries. It facilitates the pass through of rainwater preventing (or at least reducing) freeze/thaw dilapidation and lends itself so readily to repair.

There are also many indoor wooden floors, as well as floors constructed of both wood and stone that rely on dry setting compounds which have endured exceptionally well for centuries. That’s my acid test for longevity…actual useful life.

Even dirt has been used with both stone and wood for countless centuries. I recently came across a near 200-year-old installation near my home of beautiful wooden marquetry set in bone dry dirt. I found no indication whatsoever of deterioration within the structure. Now that kind of fortitude truly impresses me.

Hope this helps,

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996


The What, When, Why, Where and How of Expansion for Wood Flooring… (FAQ) a very frequently asked question)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Don,

I watched your video from 1990 where you put a hardwood floor in your house. I loved it. It was paced very well, detailed and informative yet not so slow moving that it put you to sleep like some how-to videos. I had to think just enough to stay into it. 

My big question.....when do you cut wood to fit tight and when do you leave a gap? What is the point of a half inch gap on one side of the room when you have the boards on the other side jammed up tight against a fireplace? What about the ends of the boards? Is there a gap at the end of their length? It seems like you fit the board pretty tight lengthwise at the top of your stairs. 

I have to install glue down engineered wood here in my house. It’s plywood with a veneer top. I just want some clear guidelines on how to deal with my fireplace and what to do when the boards run parallel to the track for my sliding closet door. I can't have a gap there. How can I leave a half inch? Am I retarded? Why does this seem contradictory? Leave a gap or not? 

I know you are probably busy but if you have a sec to set me straight. I sure would appreciate it. That old husky dog sure was beautiful I'm sure he or she is gone by now. From the video, you seem like you might be laid back enough to answer this email. 

Thanks for the great video.

Scott

Don,

I hope I'm not pushing my luck but to expand on the expansion gap question....

what if I change the flooring direction 90 degrees to set a dining area apart from a living room area? How will that effect the expansion gap placement? Is that even possible? Maybe I should call you. A three minute talk would probably eliminate a lot of typing.

Scott


You're right Scott, I’m just laid back enough to at least attempt to answer SOME of the many questions I get by email. I have always tried to be responsive to my readers and viewers over the years, particularly the last 20 since writing the Hardwood Floors book and doing those two videos/DVDs. Unfortunately, I may not be as quick to respond to some questions as some would like. 

It’s especially rewarding for me to hear from folks who never knew a thing about wood floors, then through some assistance my book or videos/DVSs provided them, did their own floors and loved the way they turned out. I’m both surprised and delighted by the number of individuals from all over the world who’ve spoken to me at wood flooring conventions or schools I’ve helped teach and told me how I’ve helped them learn some portion of the trade. The best stories are the ones where learning the trade has made a huge difference in their lives. No amount of royalties could ever compare to such stories. 

Many thanks to each and every one of you…thanks to all of you, I’ve both learned and taught countless facets of the hardwood flooring trade. A great master once told me, the best teachers always learn at least as much as they teach. I try to start each day with that emblazoned on my mind. Every one of us is both student and teacher. If we lose site of that, we’ve have surely lost our way. 

Whenever I endeavor to write parts and pieces of what I’ve learned of my trade, I always paid solemn homage to the confidence placed in me by potential readers. Be assured, all facts, figures, descriptions and analysis will always be the absolute and honest truth as I know it to the best of my knowledge and abilities. Does this mean that I am always right? Of course not. But please know that I will always strive at all times to be as accurate as humanly possible. Upon discovery that I am wrong or as new information becomes available, I will immediately update my account with the most accurate version obtainable.

A lot of what you ask Scott is covered in FAQ on my two websites http:///www.theoakfloors and http://www.woodfloorco.com and on my blog on hardwood floors http://woodfloors-woodfloorpro.blogspot.com/.

For those who might be wondering, Kodiak, the Malamute you see in my two videos filmed in 1989 passed in 1999. Since his passing, he’s had two lines of successors. Currently we have both a male and female Malamute -- Kenai (female) and Aluke MacKenzie (male). Recent pictures of them can be found in my blogs.

I am putting together an interactive website http:///www.woodfloorpro.com for wood flooring professionals. It has been rough going trying to get all the stuff that needs doing in HTML code or whatever. Believe it or not, I learned computer programming and built my first computer in my early teens…when everything was done in binary code! 

I’ve never tried to sell a program but have written several that hardwood flooring professionals use even today. The most popular program I’ve written for the hardwood flooring industry is the “Width Program”. That program calculates the number of square feet needed of each width for a variable width plank floor having the same number of rows in each width. It calculates waste et al. Problem is…I wrote it in C and C++ and have not updated it (yet) for today’s CPUs. I was developing sound routines (free lance) back then on several Beta formats for company’s no longer in business…like Wordperfect. So much has changed since I learned and worked in binary code, Pascal, C & C++. I guess I really am an old dinosaur…with computer programming anyway.

As many readers may know, I helped develop most of the hardwood flooring schools for the various wood flooring associations as well as many other groups. Like a number of other wood flooring contractors, I donated my time and expenses out of love for my trade and the pure enjoyment received from passing on what I knew. Alas, I’m no longer able to fly around the country as I once did. Severe health issues related to my Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, coupled with depleted personal finances have at last taken their toll. Now I must be content with writing and sharing online what I hope is still of some use to those in the trade and those wanting to learn all or some part of it.

Now finally to your questions Scott…

Rather than repeat myself, I’ll attempt to address those issues not already covered in my other Q & A columns or in “Bollinger on Wood Floors” on my two websites.

There are several reasons for an expansion gap left around the room in any hardwood floor installation. The primary reason is to allow the floor to buckle in the event the floor is ever flooded. I explain more about the other reasons for an expansion space in “Expansion Space for a Hearth Border” in my Q&A or FAQ.

As I explained in my book, the rule of thumb for the expansion space with hardwood flooring is 1/16” of expansion space for every running foot across grain. Therefore a 16 X 20 foot room (assuming the flooring is running the long dimension of the room) would require a 1” expansion space. Since this can be divided in half, you can allow ½” at the walls lines. A ½” to ¾” expansion space is commonly called for with most residential installations but it is not uncommon to find 3 or 4 inch expansion gaps around a especially large solid wood flooring installations. 

This expansion gap is especially important along the wall lines running the floor’s long dimension. NOTE: In most instances flooring joists will be installed running the “short” dimension and with a single layer ¾” thick for your subfloor and with 16” on center joists, the flooring should be run perpendicular to joists. In most instances, this will mean running the flooring down the longest room dimensions. Most flooring does not require an expansion space for the ends of boards since most wood species expand negligibly down their lengths.

When you have perimeters or intermediary walls or other solid intrusions into rooms, you must allow expansion space around them as well. When you have intrusions that are bordered or where flooring must be laid “flush” against them such as around hearths, perimeter borders or as you specified in your instance, at a closet door slider, you have to hope that you have allowed enough expansion space at adjacent wall lines or other intrusions opposite these. If this is not possible (e.g. a completely bordered room or where you have flush fit intrusions opposite one another, you must make other accommodations. This is important for the well being or appearance of your floor in these spots long term. This issue is often neglected or overlooked by novice installers and sometimes even practiced professionals. This can be helped by adding additional spacing between board rows and/or by using quarter sawn or a mix of rift cut and quarter sawn material. 

A commonly utilized gap for expansion for wooden floors used to be between the sill plate and the terminal point at doorways. These were covered by raised thresholds to outside doors or those that straddled interior doors in the past. Now days, most construction does not accommodate raised interior thresholds and often does not allow for a gap a the terminal point of wooden floors as exterior doorways. In such cases, or around a hearth or border, a pliable or flexible seam can be installed as outlined in my FAQ section “Flexible Fillers for Expansion Gaps” in Bollinger on Wood Floors. 

Solid tongued and grooved blind nailed wood flooring tends to move more in the direction of the tongues (if it is installed exclusively by blind nailing). This can allow the installer to make use of a double tongued board or “king board” in the center of the room or installation then lay the flooring in both directions away from this center board. This is commonly done in gymnasiums and other large wood flooring installations. Not only does this help with the expansion requirement but also keeps installation teams busy on both sides of the king board who frequently race with one another to expedite the work and reduce tedium with the work regimen. Even so, these large installations generally require planting “spacers” ever so often between rows to create gaps between boards. These spacers are removed shortly after installation so that the flooring can “settle-in” soon after it’s nailed into place. 

I recall when I was teaching for the American Hardwood Export Council in Hong Kong some years ago. I had the opportunity of observing the practices of Chinese wood flooring installers in the “New Territories”. They were nailing down solid prefinished flooring that had not been fully acclimated to the high humidity of the area. They were putting “large” spacers between every row of 2-1/4” flooring. They removed these spacers within a few hours of them being placed. The next morning the “large” gaps between each row of flooring left by the spacers had been fully engulfed leaving a “tight looking” installation. Often, several days or weeks later this flooring was not only tight to the wall lines, having fully-filled the significant expansion space left at all wall lines and wall intrusions, but in many instances it had swollen so much the entire flooring system had cupped.

Again, the primary reason for the expansion gap is to allow enough space so that the flooring (if flooded) can expand into the expansion space sufficiently for it to buckle up off the substrate. In the event of a flood, if there is not enough room for buckling to occur, the flooring will push into the walls or whatever’s restraining it. I have seen exterior walls pushed off the rim joists causing irreparable damage to the structure (not just the flooring).

Engineered flooring (like plywood and other types of materials with the wood grain alternated or transposed) reduces the effect of expansion and contraction, effectively cutting it in half in many cases. Still, there remains a considerable requirement for an expansion allowance. Installing patterned flooring and/or running the flooring in opposing directions can significantly reduce the expansion requirement in certain installation – but not entirely, especially with “large” commercial or some residential installations as many so-called wood flooring “experts” oftentimes indicate.

I like using quarter sawn or a mix of rift cut and quarter sawn material for installations that need to help mitigate or ease this requirement for expansion space. Examples are bordered floors, floors over radiant heating systems, large installations or installations where large shifts in relative humidity are likely to persist. Another method for helping mitigate movement from moisture is by gluing as well as nailing boards to the substrate or underlayment. The right glue must be utilized, one that is meant for use with solid wood flooring. This glue then not only helps retain boards as moisture impregnates them, it helps prevent moisture from impregnating them in the first place by isolating their undersides from liquids or vapors.

So, in recapping our discussion of why and how to allow for expansion, let me reiterate. Leave gaps whenever and wherever possible. Historically, homes and other structures accommodated expansion spaces at all doors and walls in addition to the gap at wall lines. Generally, in the days of lath and plaster, the bottom of each wall line had a nailing board for trim and molding. This board was held up enough to allow the flooring to expand underneath it. In addition, the trim package in those days typically called for several pieces of floor molding (up to 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches in most cases). Use quarter sawn or rift cut flooring material when available. Change the flooring direction when you’re able to do so. Place spacers between flooring rows when the situation calls for it. Glue and nail if you’re concerned about migrating moisture.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Custom Hand Scraped Dyed & Stained Solid Hickory Plank Flooring

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 
For centuries, anything made from wood (including flooring) had to be shaped by hand. Smoothing or final cutting of the face was accomplished by one or another of the hand tools specially designed for this purpose such as an adz, knife, plane or scraper. The blades or cutting edges of these surfacing tools were often sharpened to razor-like keenness then a burr or rolled edge applied in many cases to the business end (or edge) to improve cutting efficiency.

When I was a pup, we tried very hard to make each movement of the scraper blade such as to minimized our start and stop marks. Acceptance of these marks might be compared to the acceptance of stop or start marks from sanding machines like the drum sander or spinner (edger) in the sanding trade. We left each board’s surface smooth and even. The idea was to create a floor surface as flat and plumb as humanly possible given the limitations of our tools and our skill. Smoothness meant wear ability and durability and in the end, more pleasing to the eye.

Over the years, I’ve openly shared my knowledge and skill in the fine art of my craft with many thousands of wood flooring mechanics around the world. I’ve worked with apprentices & master craftsmen in all aspects of my trade on the job, in the classroom and through books, videos/DVDs, as well as in numerous technical trade publications and consumer articles. On a few occasions, I’ve even schooled interested students in the rare art of fabricating tools, sharpening them and applying them to the job of smooth scraping wooden flooring.

Precious few of those I’ve trained in that discipline chose to follow it in its purest form. Virtually all elected instead to apply what they’d learned from smooth scraping to develop their skills in sculpting the face of wooden flooring. Sculpting or contoured scraping is intended to replicate wear. The ever increasing demand for this authentic distressing lured them away. Contour or textured scraping is all the rage these days. Nowadays it seems almost no one knows the meaning, much less the methodology of smooth scraping a wooden plank or a wooden floor.

The tools of the trade and techniques for expertly simulating genuine wear are similar in many aspects to smooth scraping. The single biggest difference is the use of contoured scrapers and molding devices to groove and roll over the stock, lifting out patches and pockets of grain rather than level them. Some even employee mechanized cutting devices and abrasives to accelerate and balance their techniques.

Replicating worn or distressed flooring takes practice and skill as well, but more brute force is employed than with smooth scraping therefore the use of mechanized tools is often employed.
As it turns out, most manufacturers of so called “hand scraped” wooden flooring utilize machines or even sanding devices to create their “hand scraped” products thereby reducing their to market costs.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot how they “sculpt” their flooring, whether by hand or by machine. Unless they use “skilled artisans” who apply their knowledge and feel for the wood, the outcome, over time, will be the same.

Properly carving the face of a board takes experience and a feel for the texture and grain of the wood. Each piece is unique. The flow of the grain determines the best way for surfacing it. Contouring the face by “relieving” the softer “early growth” while leaving the harder “late growth” takes skill and resolve. Randomly gouging and distressing the face of a board involves brute force but precious little aptitude.

Except for a machine’s difficulty replicating a natural wear pattern, they could be employed entirely in place of hand scraping for factory distressing most styles of wooden flooring.

You might be wondering, what possible difference it could make. If it’s a whole lot less expensive with machines, why not? The real reason is with wear. The ultimate task of any floor should be to support its traffic and stand up over time with a modicum of good looks. And there’s the stinger. Most inexpensive machine made products and many of the hand distressed flooring products can look painfully shabby, even worn out after only a few years.
Why is this? Over time, all natural materials wear according to their relative toughness. With wood, it is their grain direction and type that determines this. Planks or pieces fashioned skillfully according to their grain or relative toughness will age more naturally than those randomly or mechanically distressed.

Many purchasers of hand scraped wooden flooring products do so expecting them to show wear or traffic less than smooth-faced items. Unfortunately, mechanically or randomly scraped wooden flooring usually looks severely worn far more quickly than sanded or smooth faced traditionally finished flooring. In fact, most inexpensive and some even relatively pricey hand scraped products can look damaged and dull, worn out before their time (or at least extremely unattractive prematurely) -- especially when compared to most other solid wooden flooring types.

Smooth scraped wooden floors look rather similar to smooth sanded floors when they're initially installed and finished. It takes a practiced eye and often some strong glare lighting to bring out the “shape” of pieces or planks that have been smooth scraped, particularly on sample boards. Large rooms and those with floor-to-ceiling windows or broad indirect lighting accentuate the subtle texture of smooth scraped wooden flooring. Such rooms look distinctively classic and strikingly elegant with “smooth scraped” wooden flooring.

Oil and wax is the method of choice for finishing smooth scraped or lightly textured hand scraped wooden flooring. Over time with medium foot traffic, those floors will continue to improve with age. Like an old leather couch or jacket or vintage hand loomed woolen sweater, smooth scraped wooden floors accrue in both appearance and worth in due time.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



End Grain Block Flooring

Mr. Bollinger

I am a finish carpenter in Minneapolis... work is slow, money is tight... I am wondering if it’s possible to do end grain floors from spf 2×4 cut offs.
I found your Taunton press book online and would be happy to buy it if there's a section on end grain floors. If not, do you know of any really solid resources for me on my end grain question and answer quest? I am getting frustrated with wading through all of the amateur self-congratulatory blog posts to get answers to some of my questions...
thank you for any much needed help you could give me

Sincerely
Andrew N.


Not sure what you mean by “spf” Andrew. I assume you’re referring to a conifer framing material since you say they’re 2 X 4 cutoffs. I appreciate your willingness to buy my “Hardwood Floors” book from Taunton Press. With that 25¢ to 50¢ in royalty from Taunton Press I might spring for a tip on my next Starbucks Latte. That is the next time I’m inclined to think I can afford a Starbucks Latte…which is has been some time now. Yes, things are very slow out our way as well.

All satire aside, there are not many details on how to manufacture wood flooring in my hardwood book and almost nothing at all on how to make end grain flooring from 2 X 4 scraps. Further, I can’t think of a single book or guideline on the subject to help guide you. Your concept however, is a good one. I have on numerous occasions shown flooring mills how to set up jigs and use their “fall down” for the manufacture of wood flooring, including end grain block. Wood flooring is after all the ultimate by product of hardwood materials construction. And end grain block is the end all (pun intended) by-product of by products.

End grain block for flooring (or paving for that matter) can be made from almost any wood material. There are even edge grain products that are now made from scraps of plywood materials!

There’s really no need to go into great detail on how to set up a jig or what products to use. From a woodworker’s viewpoint and certainly one familiar with wood flooring, all that should be obvious. 

What may not be so apparent is the need for near absolute precision with the thickness of each individual block relative to one another. There’s not a driving need for utter precision with the other dimensions of width and length. These can be easily packed full with a filler of one type or another. (You might want to check out some of my other Qs & As on filling compounds…what to use and when to use them.) Even “rounds” cut from small diameter trees or shrubs can be made into flooring. Rounds flooring presents one of the trickiest from a filling viewpoint. 

One of the really neat things about end grain block from scraps is that the scraps can be cut from all different sizes and shapes -- and for that matter, types -- of wood construction materials. You simply ensure each block size or shape has its own little (or big) box, so that the installer can pick and choose by size and shape to create a fabulous array of different designs and patterns of flooring from all those available.

The reason for end grain block thickness exactitude has to do with the sanding and finishing of the product. End grain can be one of the hardest and most challenging of all wood flooring materials to flatten, smooth and finish, particularly when it has not been manufactured or installed with great precision paid to the relative thickness or height of individual blocks. Failure to do so will result in a major issue of what we in the wood flooring trade refer to as “over wood”. Not only must the manufacture of block thickness be planned carefully and carried out precisely, but also the application (or setting) of the individual blocks into the mastic or sand. Otherwise, preparations for finishing or final use could quickly turn into a nightmare of the first order. On more than one occasion I’ve overheard sanders and finishers raving on and on about the problems they’ve had sanding and flattening end grain block flooring projects. They grind and grind and grind away, sometimes for days on end, before they finally get the floor flat enough for finishing or traffic.

There you have it…the ultimate by-product of by products. The really good news is that end grain block makes an incredibly tough and good looking floor in moisture prone areas. It can even be used as pavement for walkways or patios. When designed and installed properly, end grain block becomes a tough and handsome floor for an entryway, mud room, laundry, bathroom or even a patio, exposed walkway or footpath. Years ago, end grain block was the street of choice for many a discriminating horseman or carriage. To quote Mark Twain: “Roadways of stone are not fit for the foot of horse or back of man.”

The keys to designing, installing and maintaining wood block in exposed or exterior applications is acclimation and drainage, just as with exposed stone or tile, only much more so. Resistance to insects, mold growth and decay is also a major requirement. Species like white oak, mesquite, southern yellow pine and others with strong resistance to decay and pests have long been the products of choice for these types of installations.

Hope this helps you Andrew and any other readers considering such an enterprise or installation. 

More later.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Combining New Hardwood Flooring With an Old or Existing Wood Floor Installation

Hi Don,

Please can you tell me. We have original wood floors in our home, they are white oak dated 1959 when the house was built. We recently had the floors refinished and they are beautiful. We are considering knocking our kitchen wall to the hallway where the hardwood floor exists, and want to put a hardwood floor in the kitchen, we are trying to match the wood as closely as possible but don't know how to tie the 2 floors in together so they look as natural as possible. Please any help would be greatly appreciated.

Donna L
.


Donna, you indicated you were happy with the refinishing work you got from your previous wood flooring contractor. I would suggest you contact them regarding this new project. Ask them if they feel confident matching (or at least closely replicating) the flooring in the rest of your home. Don’t be surprised if they tell you they cannot guarantee an exact match with your existing wood flooring. That is precisely what our company would say. 

Hardwood flooring volumes, mill locations, milling practices, hardwood lumber and shipping systems have all changed substantially since 1959. Virtually every home got hardwood flooring until the mid 1960s. Hardwood flooring was milled and shipped from all over the eastern US (mostly from the Mississippi River east). There are hundreds of different oak species that grow in the US (not just red and white oak as many people think). Each oak species has its own individual characteristics, some of which accounts for all the different shades or hues that can be imparted when coated with one of the many different sealers and finishes available to floor finishers these days. 

The degree and type of traffic your original floor endured can also make it difficult to match. Heavy traffic or unprotected wear as well as many types of water damage will often not sand out completely. Sunlight or strong UV light can unalterably bleach or yellow some species, while low lighting and time can sometimes unalterably darken others.

One of the most noticeable differences between old and new flooring boards could well be their average overall board lengths. In the 1950s wood flooring boards often ranged upward from 10 to 12 feet – sometimes reaching lengths of 14 feet or longer. Due in part to milling machinery but largely to shipping practices, average board lengths have gotten substantially shorter. Today, most long haul commodities are shipped via container (even by railroad) and must fit sideways in a cargo container lengthwise. This means the longest board must be under 7-1/2 feet. To accommodate longer lengths, specialty mills will ship their products lengthwise. This creates a lot of unused space and complicates handling. Either way, it causes such products to be harder to find and more expensive.

When our company takes on a project like yours (and we do quite often), we always insist on a good deal of flexibility with regard to quantity, color and grading of the flooring utilized to match to an existing floor. The first thing we do when matching to an existing floor is tear out a few boards from the existing. This will help us determine the grade, species and color of the original material and as it turns out is necessary for properly lacing into the existing flooring

Just knowing the original grade, species and color of the original floor does not guarantee a perfect match. But it is a good starting point. Then we must compare the sanded face of the original flooring boards to that currently available in a matching size. 

Even this doesn’t always mean we will exactly match the new to the original flooring. We like to insist on going further by sanding sections of the original flooring prior to lacing in new material. Thus we can obtain a side-by-side comparison of new to existing by color, texture and grading. 

For the most discriminating customers who persist on the closest possible match or where the new and the existing flooring come together at a focal point in unforgiving lighting, there is no substitute for painstakingly mixing and blending. Here the old and new are carefully and meticulously mixed together, then sanded flush to one another and finished with the proposed stain and/or finish. This is a technique our company uses for stain color determination on critical color harmonizing and is the only way blended areas can be fully acknowledged as the best possible match.

When all is said and done, the methodology utilized in lacing or tying two areas together will ultimately decide how good a job is done making the two floors one. This is as much art as a science – probably more so. Unfortunately, some of the biggest obstacles are out of the hands of the flooring restoration contractor. If the original floor was poorly installed, that is crooked to prevailing wall lines or allowed to migrate this way and that as the original installer completed the job, it can be an absolute bear to tie a new floor into it. One of the most difficult, if not nearly impossible tasks in the wood flooring trade is to make a new floor look good when tying it into a poorly installed existing one. 

Quite often we find we must tell a client that it is better to pull a whole section of flooring or even the entire floor rather than lace into it in order to make the completed floor visibly appealing. Additionally, the time and labor involved in lacing can quickly expand a project’s budget. Blending several floors together is some of the most demanding work in the trade. It requires a conscientious contractor with many years of experience to pull it off.

I have an especially strong and personal appreciation for the art of lacing hardwood floors these days. The hardwood flooring that I installed in my home for the book “Hardwood Floors”, that I wrote more than 20 years ago, tied together the original wood flooring installed in the house’s bedrooms in the 1950s. When my wife and I remodeled our kitchen last year we decided to knock out the wall separating our kitchen from our dining room and living room. This required combining the wood floors from three areas to create one very spacious and open living space. The final product would put on display the junction of three sections old to new. 

Due to the floor’s direct southern exposure and the sun’s strong reflection off our pond, bleaching was in strong evidence with our old floor’s patina. We recognized this bleaching would never match our new flooring and would require replacement. This meant removing over 60% of our living room floor and an extensive lace-in project. Further, due to changes in grading rules over the years, I saw the need to move up a full grade from the original #1 Common to Select and Better grade to effectively pull off the best blend.

My wife and I couldn’t be happier the way the rooms all work together as one. We couldn’t have done it without a near perfect flooring match. Best of all, even I cannot locate the seams of old and new flooring unless I get down on all fours – a position no one should be in when inspecting their wood floors.

I hope you find this information valuable. Please feel free to contact our office if you have further questions.

Thanks,

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



More Information on Old Hardwood Flooring Brushes

Hi!

I was wondering if anyone knew where to get one of those 12" natural bristle brushes the Don used in one of his training videos? It looks like a pool table brush. I can't seem to find it anywhere, and it looks like lambs wool applicator is the only option I have. I'd rather use the technique that Don illustrated.

Thanks! 

Nick from Iowa


Nick, the natural bristle brush I used in the Videos/DVDs year ago is a "Glitsa" brush, once available through the Glitsa floor finish folks. I don’t know if they are still having them made or not. Glitsa American was recently purchased by Rudd Paint Company and changes have been underway ever since.

There are similar “floor” brushes made by other manufacturers of floor finish, like Synteko (another manufacturer of the acid-curing floor finish often referred to as "Swedish Finish").

The actual manufacturer of the Glitsa brush is Richards Brush Company. Our wholesale supply company (Wood Floor Products, Inc. http://www.woodfloorco.com ) was situated adjacent to Richards Brush Company for more than 20 years. We had them manufacture brushes to our specifications just like Glitsa did. Unfortunately, Richard’s Brush Company is no longer in business.

Many wood flooring professionals now prefer using a synthetic bristle brush mounted in a plastic (rather than wooden) handle. These brushes were originally designed for applying water-borne coatings, but a new design by one manufacturer features a solvent-resistant plastic that works equally well with nearly every type floor finish. It does however have one major drawback. It is EXTREMELY expensive.

The new synthetic brushes look a lot like the "Glitsa brush" in many respects and they appear to handle similarly. They’re of similar size and shape -- just made of different materials. The pros like them because they "hold" the floor finish in the bristles better than the natural bristle brushes -- or so I'm told. I still prefer a natural bristle brush.

And you thought ALL the dinosaurs were dead.

I hope this helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

 

Retrofitting a Radiant System under an Existing Wood Floor


Don,

I just brought a 100 year Old Victorian wood home. The basement/cellar is some concrete mostly dirt. The basement has no insulation all you can see is the back side of the wood flooring. My question is, can I put radiant heating in the basement without a problem?

Thanks,
Alan Jones


Wow!

Your question reminds me of the 94-year-old man who goes into the doctor and asks if he is too old for ED surgery. The doctor tells him, he doesn’t know. He’s never heard of a surgery for that. Besides, isn’t he a little too old to be worrying about such things? The older gentleman says, “Well maybe so. Doc. That’s what my wife says, but some of my lady friends are warm to the idea.” I guess, we’re never too old to ask for what we really want.

Retrofitting homes with in-floor radiant heating systems has become all the rage these days in many parts of the country. Forty years ago I helped design and build geothermal heating/cooling systems. It feels not unlike the dark ages to me now as I look back on it. Still, I can’t believe how many radiant heating people seem bent on reinventing the wheel. Capturing and utilizing God’s energy (sun, wind, gravity, heat and cold) are certainly not new. Mankind’s been doing it for as long as he’s been walking upright – and probably even before that to a matter of degree. Four legged animals learn to hide out in a cave as much to preserve their body heat or cool down in the summer as get out of the weather.

Our old company used to collect the suns energy off roofs and cycle it to heat sinks under the homes, back in the days when it was legal to fully enclose crawl spaces. Those systems were extremely efficient and required near zero maintenance. One of the many reasons sod structures worked so well for our early settlers stemmed from their advantageous use of near constant ground temperatures. 

What I’m leading up to here is the inevitable requirement to insulate your proposed radiant system from what is already an efficient temperature moderating scheme fully functioning on all cylinders. It doesn’t require from you any upkeep, input or outlay. My recommendation to you is to find someone who has the expertise and mechanical capabilities to turn your home into an even more energy efficient domicile. This can be done with radiant heat or a half dozen other types of systems. I just hate to see you run roughshod over what you already have in place.

Now, to the meat of your question…what will happen?

First of all, radiant heat is quite dry. Its effects, unless mitigated, will suck the moisture out of all the existing wood in your home…especially your floor. You’ll likely get some pretty impressive gaps between boards (even if you bring the system on slowly over time – which I would strongly recommend).

Secondly, soil doesn’t pick up and hold moisture like concrete does. Concrete, as I have said many times in many articles, acts like a man made aquifer. It consists largely of limestone, sand and aggregates. It not only picks up and transmits moisture readily; it wants to hold on to it. Soil, in particular sandy soil, readily sheds moisture. This is why stone tiles and wooden blocks function so long and so well even when set outside in dry beds of soil or sand. They readily pass on the moisture they pickup and don’t hold on to it like concrete, stone or clay.

There’s no reason why installing a radiant heating system under your existing floor won’t work. You’ll probably want to install a high value insulator under it as I stated earlier. I would also recommend one that traps moisture migration as well.

Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

 

How to Reckon For Expansion around a Hearth or Border

Hi Don,

My name is Gerry and I live in upstate New York. I bought your book and CD to learn to install hardwood floors. The materials have provided a wealth of knowledge and have provided me with the confidence to attempt my first install. I do , however, have one question I hope you won't mind answering for me. I have to install around a marble hearth and I'm not clear how to handle the expansion joint for the decorative frame I want to put in. I want to use the 5" oak as you did in the book, I'm not clear if the rabbet(page 64) served as the expansion joint or not. The picture seems to show the piece butting tight to the hearth, if so, how did you allow for expansion. I have read other articles that recommend using T mold to overlap the two materials but I don't care for the look. I know you must get hundreds of these emails but if you could take a minute or two to straighten me out I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks for your time,
Gerry


Gerry, 

I used 2-1/4" oak not 5" in the installation in my book/videos. Five inch oak planking allows less than half the "wiggle room" than does 2-1/4" strip. There is a board seam every 2-1/4 inches across grain with strip flooring compared to a seam every 5" with 5-inch planking material.

A rule of thumb I've given out over the years is to allow 1/16" of expansion space for every running foot across grain. In other words, a room that is 16 X 20 feet with the flooring running the long dimension should be expected to need an inch of expansion space overall under “normal” conditions. Leaving a 1/2" expansion space along each wall should normally suffice.

This rule is not absolute. Installations with wide planking (such as the one you described) will require more expansion -- approximately twice as much per running foot. Variations in relative humidity inside the space most often dictate the moisture content changes within the flooring boards. Spaces that experience minor shifts or changes in moisture levels will require less expansion space. Those that get more, will need more..

Inserting “spacers” every few rows (or even between every row in extreme cases) is a common practice in some areas where more expansion space might be required overall or where exceptionally large flooring systems are installed without wall lines (e.g. commercial venues, sports floors, etc.) to allow for more movement within the flooring system. I’ve often used this method in conjunction with quarter cut material when enclosing a flooring unit with a border or inlay surround. This is particularly desirable when the border or surround is composed of a soft stone like marble. Soft stone can fracture quite easily even with the minute expansion of a solid wood flooring system

Inserting an expansion gap (and filling it with a T molding) around your hearth may be the safe play, particularly if the floor that surrounds it is of considerable size. This is further compounded by your use of wide planking. Still, you might want to consider a flexible grout system as described in one of my “Bollinger on Floors” articles and published on my websites.

I hope this helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Installing and Finishing American Cherry and the Effects of Different Fillers & Finishes on “Light Sensitive” Wood Flooring


Hello Don,

We are the happy owners of your book and both videos. We find them very informative and helpful. Thank you very much.

I do however have a few questions that I hope you can help with.

We are in the process of installing unfinished American Cherry flooring in our house on the 1st floor, approx 1,000 sq ft. We are planning on using water based finish (clear).

1. Do we need to seal our floors prior to applying waterbase finish? In your video you mention that you like Swedish finishes (Bona Kemi’s I assume). Their manuals call for applying sealer prior to finish, but I wasn't clear on that after watching the video. Can you please share your thoughts/opinions?

2. Another question is about filler. (the one that you mix with the floor dust). Is it waterbased also? What are the manufacturers of these products that you would recommend to buy?? What brand names?

3. In the video it looks like you are able to Sand over your ebony/metal inlay (accent around fireplace). We did something similar with darker wood and aluminum, but I'm afraid if we sand over it this will scuff/scratch metal surface. Any advice you can give us?

4. we are having no luck finding a place that would rent continuous belt sanders, any advise? We are on the East Coast - PA.

Thank you very much in advance for your help.

Katrina


Thanks for the kind words Katrina. It’s especially gratifying that my book and videos (now DVDs) have been on the market for nearly 20 years and are still enjoying an appreciative audience.

American Black Cherry is a beautiful choice for a wood floor. Although somewhat soft in comparison to many of our other indigenous hardwoods, I often compare American Cherry’s use for furniture or flooring to that of copper used in cooking pots and pans. Copper is soft in comparison to other harder metals used for cooking, but its uniformity in the convection and transfer of heat is legendary.

So even though Cherry dents quite easily (like copper) it seems to “roll with the punch” so to speak. Unlike harder woods (or metals in the case of copper), dents in Cherry don’t tend to leave a jagged edge – they’re more gently rounded due in large part to Cherry’s more supple texture. Over time, a heavily trafficked floor made from American Cherry floor will often impart a more “mellow worn” appearance in comparison to many harder wood species used for flooring that can often look just “heavily worn”.

One thing about American Cherry though, it will grow much redder and darker over time, particularly when sealed with an oil-based product, like a Swedish Finish. 

Here is an easy experiment you can try for yourself to see just how drastic this effect can be. Sand or plane the faces of two American Cherry pieces. Lay one piece over the other forming an X or cross and leave them exposed to direct sunlight for a few hours. When you lift the top piece off the bottom one, the contrast between the exposed areas and that area left covered by the top piece will likely startle you in its dissimilarity. I know it did the first time I tried it. Remember, this same effect will take place with you floor as well.

When you use a waterborne product as a sealer, you will mask and modify much of this reddening and darkening effect. The initial “darkening” you typically get when sealing a species like American Cherry with a oil-based product will become more “faded” or “muted”. Many wood finishers compare the initial look of sealing American Cherry with a waterborne product as “faded” – similar to the look you can get with long term direct sunlight exposure with some woods. The overall effect is a more of a light brown or beige look. I often refer to it as “fawn” since the resulting color is so reminiscent of the buff shade of a newborn deer. Interestingly enough, whether you seal with an oil-based product or a water-based one, American Cherry will continue to darken over time – not fade.

The toxic compounds found in Swedish Finishes have caused us to increasing recommend one of the high quality waterborne coatings. Early waterborne finishes were not very tough. In the past 5 to 10 years we have seen the development of waterborne floor finishes that are far more durable than any previous floor coatings – including the Swedish Finishes. We import and market a complete line of these high quality waterborne products from Denmark. We sell them to trade professionals and discriminating do-it-yourselfers. They are not only kind to the environment, but unlike many so-called environmental products, these are gentle to the user as well. 

One of the more shocking finds from the research for my book was that many waterborne coatings manufacturers were using “water-soluble” yet toxic compounds with their products. Since these products in low dosages are generally considered kind to the environment their makers could promote them as environmentally sensitive or “green”. Unfortunately, many of them contain compounds that can be severely detrimental to the health of the users. One of the more potentially injurious yet widely utilized, according to a number of polymer chemists I conferred with, is called (Polyfunctional Aziridine). Although not an officially registered carcinogen, its affects are accumulative on the human body. Many of the chemists I spoke with indicated they had rather leave their trade than be forced to continue to work around such compounds. What was even more alarming was that because it is an additive and represents such a small percentage of the overall product, it is routinely unlisted in the hazardous compounds section of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Oddly enough, it is still sold by many waterborne floor finish companies. I feel so strongly about it that I won’t allow my crew to use it and refuse to sell it. I found a company in Denmark that had developed floor coatings that were equal or superior in every way without the use of such products. Since these products originated in Denmark, we called them “DANISH FINISHES”. You can buy these and other floor finishing products directly from us. 

CLICK ON THE LINK FOR THIS "PRODUCT"

As for fillers, we normally do not recommend utilizing a filler on extremely light sensitive wood species that won’t change color over time along with the wood flooring. The lacquer-based product you saw in my video is highly flammable and I generally do not recommend it to do-it-yourselfers. Still, it is one of the few fillers you can mix with Cherry dust that will change color over time like the flooring boards around it. We sell a pigmented water-based Jatoba grain filler that reasonably replicates American Cherry. It’s thin enough to be mixed with Cherry dust and contains enough polymers to bind nicely with the wood dust and the surrounding wood edges. The problem with using it is that the color is based on the basic hue of oil-based “finished” Jatoba. You would have to mix enough Cherry dust to simulate the surrounding wood color with whatever sealer you plan to use. The good news is that it will change hues over time similarly to the wood you’re filling. 

CLICK ON THE LINK FOR THIS "PRODUCT"

If you decide you want to try using the Jatoba (Brazilian Cherry) Grain Filler as your crack and hole filler, I would suggest you test it first for color balance to the flooring and sealer you’re using. You would do this by adding varying amounts of Cherry dust to the Jatoba Grain Filler. Gouge a few holes in some scrape pieces of flooring and fill them with your various mixes. Allow the filler to dry, then coat over the filled and surrounding areas with the sealer you plan to use. Adjust your mix according to color correctness and that’s it.

You can generally ignore the tiny scratches left behind in the metal when sanding it – assuming they are #100 grit or finer. Most finishes can use the texture in the metal for added adhesion and as a general rule these fine scratches end up giving the metal a “flatter” or more “matte” appearance. As it turns out, this generally goes better with the overall look of the surrounding wood than a “shiny” or “glossy” look.

Good luck finding a continuous belt machine. Most standard rental stores won’t carry them. Belt machines are hard to keep well tuned and often rental shops find them too high maintenance for a profitable operation.. You might look into the “sleeve” machines. These work similarly to a continuous belt except they use a continuous round sleeve that slips on and off the rotating drum of the sander.

I hope you have a wonderful experience doing your own floor. Many folks have found it a very rewarding process. Please feel free to give us call if we can be of service to you on your project. 

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



When to Use (and NOT to Use) 1-1/4” or Shorter Flooring Cleats


(May 29, 2008)

I have a question for Don that I was hoping he could answer for me. I purchased his book on Hardwood Floors. I am installing 3/8 tongue and groove solid Maple hardwood floor over an existing 3/8" pine hardwood floor. It has already been sanded flat and I have screwed every single board through the sub flooring down onto the joists (about 10-20 inches apart.) My question is I purchased the 50C power nailer. It will only take 1 1/4" cleats. I did not think about that being a first time installer. The guy at Lowe's says I really need 2" cleats that will go all the way through to the sub floor. I called the power nail company and they said that since I have screwed the entire floor down and set them about 1/4 inch into the wood that I should be fine to go ahead and install the new floor over the top with just the 1 1/4" cleats. Could you please tell me if it will make any difference? I am laying the new floor in the opposite direction that the original floor was laid and the sub floor runs at an angle (not straight). It is a 100 year old house that I have been restoring for the past 20 years. I don't want to tear the old floor out because its in great shape, except for the places where they cut the floor out to install the furnace and I have tile laid in the kitchen and bathroom so that when the new floor is put down they will all be level to each other. I don't want to get into trouble by not going deep enough with the cleats and I can't return the nailer or exchange it for the 2" power nailer. I would have to buy a new one. Could you please tell me what you think? Would it be ok to go ahead with the nailer I have since the entire floor is screwed down or should I just get a 2" nailer instead.

Thanks,
Michele

Spokane Washington


Michele, in a perfect world I would recommend 2” cleats so that your flooring would be attached not only to the 3/8” pine flooring but also penetrate well into the subflooring beneath it. If you were installing ¾” flooring I would recommend against the 1-1/4” cleats.

Depending on the depth of the tongue head in relation to the face plain of your flooring, most of your 1-1/4 cleats should penetrate through the 3/8” pine fully and at least ½” (possibly more) into your subflooring. Remember the cleats will be going in at about a 45-degree angle. It would be nice to penetrate the subflooring ¾” to 1”, but like the good folks at PowerNail told you, since you have screwed the pine flooring down well, there should probably be no problems.

If you are still concerned, you might increase your nailing frequency. You didn’t indicate the width of the new flooring you’re installing. Keep in mind that when you blind nail as the exclusive means for holding the flooring in place, the wider the flooring boards the fewer fasteners per running inch of board width to hold them. A normal blind nailing pattern is often described as placing a fastener (cleat) every 8 to 12 inches. Plank flooring (boards 3” or wider) should see an increased fastener frequency. Usually this means 6 to 10 inches on center fastener placement. I like a cleat frequency of 4 to 6 inches on center for most plank flooring. You can get too many fasteners. You do not want to impugn the integrity of your flooring board’s tongues with too many fasteners. When you cause the tongues to spit or crack you have obviously overdone it. Remove and replace any boards with split or fractured tongues then back off on your fastener frequency.

I hope this information helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

 

Installing a Wood Floor On or Above Post & Beam, Pier Post Construction and Floating Foundations


Dear Oak Floors of Greenbank,

The following enquiry for your company was entered by University of Toledo within HotFrog.com.

April 9, 2008

Dear Sirs,
We want to install 1000 sq. ft. of 4" wide White Oak, random length, flooring. Our house sits on 36 telephone poles, 3' above grade. The east/west 2 x 10 floor joists, 16" on center, rest on glue lams running north/south, spaced 4' on center. The 3/4" T&G OSB subfloor is glued and screwed (4" deck screws) to the joists with an 8" fastening schedule. The sub floor is insulated with 10" of Kraft faced fiberglass and 1" of Owens Corning Pink Board nailed to the floor joists on the edge closest to grade. This keeps critters, etc. out of the fiberglass. 

Will this system be okay for the above installation? 
Do we need to increase the flooring thickness with another layer of 1/2" OSB? Some installers say no, others say maybe. 
The underside of the house is almost always bone dry but sometimes has water puddles after a spring/late winter snow melt. We have thought of laying 6 mil polyethylene over the soil under the house and weighing it down with gravel. But would it be better to staple it to the bottom of the floor joists, in between the glue lam beams, thus providing a moisture barrier to anything coming up from the soil, three feet below?

We bought this house because of our asthmatic children. No mold and no mildew. 

Any reply will be truly and gratefully appreciated. We just cannot find consistent answers locally. Hope to hear from you.

Sincerely,
Randall R 
Many thanks, HotFrog Team.


April 25, 2008

Randall, over the years we have done a number of hardwood installations above pier post construction (I believe that is what you have described in your question). This can be tricky when the pier posts straddle water or are tall enough to be subjected to wave or wind action. We have many of those type structures here in the Pacific Northwest. A cross bridged or honeycombed arrangement within the superstructure is often called for to combat the aggressive motion from wave, tide or wind forces. We’ve been involved in a number of cantilevered structures as well that extent well up into the air or out over ridges or rock faces to maximize views. Once again, a webbed substructure or even a cribbed system may be needed to reduce the inevitable “on center” separations that are likely to occur over time without such an arrangement.

Many years ago I designed a free floating subfloor system consisting of two plywood layers with all over-lapping seams. The sections of plywood are glued and screwed to each other and allowed to ride freely over the substrate without fasteners of any sort. This was originally intended for structures with floating foundations and pier post construction over water. Our area boasts a number of houseboats and pier (over water) construction. It was an inexpensive solution to the inevitable lifting, separating and fracturing that would occur in hard surface flooring materials installed to platforms that did not employ a webbed superstructure. Often times even when cross bridging is utilized in pier over water construction, the pitch and yaw from wind, wave and tidal action eventually loosens the cross supports and the on center separation telegraphs through to the finished floor. 

Since my original floating subfloor design, I’ve improved and modified it to fit a variety of different needs from resilient floor systems (sports, dance, stages, etc.) to earthquake resistant high rises. In recent years I’ve tailored it to resolve many of the issues involved with solid hardwood installations over radiant in-floor heating systems and where transient water issues are highly suspect – to name just a few.

You mentioned you were going over OSB and asked if an additional layer of 1/2” OSB might be useful. Except for height considerations, I can’t think of an instance where an additional layer of a good sound and dry underlayment is not a good idea. I would also suggest you use a vapor barrier under your wood flooring. I recommend and sell a 3-ply product (2 layers of kraft paper sandwiching a layer of tar paper) called Aquabar “B”.

Just so you know, there are many varieties (qualities) of OSB panels – particularly in the USA. A number of reputable manufacturers of OSB panels recommend their plywood instead of their OSB products for subflooring under wood flooring. I have a more comprehensive document on OSB’s suitability as a subflooring or underlayment for wood flooring in my “Bollinger on Floors” column.

In my opinion, stapling 6-mil poly to the underside of your joists is a better idea than potentially creating a gravel-filled pond under your home on top of the plastic. I would make sure there is air circulation between the 6-mil and your insulation or subfloor or you may invite “sweat” from condensation.

You didn’t describe the size or shape of your home’s footprint. Without knowing the post depth and girth, soil composition, etc., your described raised area to evident weight would appear to be substantial enough to not anticipate significant pitch or yaw from exterior forces; however, I would expect it to flex more than a standard poured foundation residence.

When evaluating my opinions, advice and recommendations, it’s important to note that I am not an architect, builder, or engineer. The viewpoints I express come from my direct experience as a wood flooring installer, examiner and inspector over the past 35 plus years as opposed to what I have seen done, been told or have studied.

I hope this information will be helpful to you.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Good Choices for Wooden Floors over Radiant Heat and at What Stage During a Remodel or New Construction Should Hardwood Flooring Be Installed

 
April 3, 2008

Hi Don 

First off, I want to thank you for all the knowledge you've shared, and for all the great information you've provided to educate and set a higher standard in the flooring industry. The knowledge that I've gained from you has enabled me to yield better results, which of course means better built structures (I manage remodel projects in San Francisco, CA). It always amazes me the quality (specifically lack there of) of information that is thrown out on job sites by the "experts." Often times, their information is completely wrong, and if I didn't know better, I would assume these "experts" know what they're talking about. 

I am now experiencing a dilemma in my own home remodel, and I really need your opinion/advice (which I will of course be applying to all my jobs going forward). We are doing an extensive rebuild (it's so beyond the scope of remolding - it was a complete gut, including all new stucco, roof, expansion of the square footage, and a new hydronic radiant heat system over 3 1/4" wide, 3/4" solid strips of Australian Spotted Gum - Eucalyptus Maculata - flooring). At this point, the structure is sealed (windows, stucco installed, walls and ceilings mudded, taped and primered), and we are moving towards the finishing stages. 

On all my other jobs, without exception, the hardwood floor installations are done before the wet work is completed. By wet work I mean touch-ups to the sheet rock, painting (primer only done before floor installation, and sometimes tile work). The logic, of course, is that the walls will be pristine if done after the floor installation, since there's a high risk of "dinging" and other potential damage that can occur when the floor is being installed/finished. Thus, when the jobs are completed, everything looks great. 

However, now that I've researched how moisture affects wood flooring, with our house, I'm very concerned about the amount of moisture that will be introduced into the environment if our floors are installed **before** the wet work is finished (mainly mudding touch-up and painting; all tile work will be completed before the flooring comes in). I'm afraid the floors might cup from the moisture from the painting. I was planning on having the ceilings painted before the floors went in, thus it would eliminate about 30% of the moisture than if I painted everything after the floors were installed. 

But on the flip side, I'm afraid the flooring installers are going to ding up the walls, and when I do mudding fills and paint touch ups, it's going to look bad (especially since the walls will be sprayed and back-rolled, and whenever I've done touch ups on this type of painting, one can always see the touched up areas). 

What would you do in your own home? Once the walls are mudded and taped, every tradesperson wants to come in last, but what's the best for the flooring while allowing for the best looking walls? Dings are inevitable, and I would never expect the flooring installer (if they were to come in second to last, just before the baseboard installation) to not create the need for wall touch-ups. 

Help please! 

(I think this question/answer should be posted on your website, as I'm sure I'm not the only one wanting to know your opinion!). 

BTW, I love your article on staples versus cleats. 

Thank you so much, 

Jennifer :-) 

Jennifer Toy
Partner
San Francisco Design Company


(April 24, 2008

Jennifer, I apologize for taking so long responding to your questions. My taxi job keeps me running but it pays the bills. I oversee both a full-service wood flooring contracting business and a regional wholesale wood flooring distribution center. We specialize in offering our clients the finest quality lines of wood flooring, installation & finishing tools & supplies and other related products, all with an eco-friendly focus. We always seem to be too far ahead of ourselves and the market to make a big impact. For example, we’ve been selling reclaimed flooring for nearly 40 years now. What do know, suddenly it’s in vogue. Many of our items are made specifically for us in the USA and Europe to meet our stringent standards. I helped develop the formulas for some of them. Unfortunately, I’m afraid they’re too much like rocket science to most wood flooring contractors.

I would like to thank you for your kind words. Feed back is always helpful but it’s especially nice to hear that of a positive nature. As helpful as the world wide web has been getting information our to the masses, inaccurate or improper information can and often does get rapid dissemination and that can cause a lot of confusion – even among the “experts”.

One of my mentors once told me, “There’s no school like old school. The more things change, the more they remain the same. There is just no substitute for experience.” Basically what I got from that was that free advice is usually worth what you paid for it. If you really want to “know” how something works or doesn’t work, sooner or later you are going to have to “experience it”. Once you experience something, you may not know everything about it, but you sure know how YOU feel about it. The advice I give on wood flooring (although free) is based on my experience and that of other wood flooring professionals I know and trust. That doesn’t always make it accurate, but it is based on the REAL DEAL.

Let me start with cautioning you about the Australian Spotted Gum with your hydronic radiant system. Although a truly beautiful hardwood species, it tends to move around a lot in service. Radiant heating (particularly in-floor systems) accelerate the normal ingress and egress of moisture in wood. That said, you can do just about anything you want as long as you allow for it. 

I’ve helped design wood flooring systems that featured some of the most severely unstable wood species. We can even boast highly successful installations of solid wide plank (10+ inches) flooring below grade over hydronic radiant heating next to swimming, Jacuzzi’s or lap pools. It’s all in the design, installation and maintenance.

I too share you concerns about moisture on construction sites. The proper point for the introduction of wood flooring has been debated for many years and continues to be a sticky issue with many contractors (general and specialty, in particular flooring).

As you so aptly stated, a construction project can be a complex multifaceted mechanism seemingly with a life of its own. It’s like a wondrous melody interpreted and performed by a variety of different talented musicians, each one important – even indispensible – and each wanting and reaching for the last hurrah. The general contractor is like the conductor. There is an arrangement that must be followed, but ultimately it is up to each and every individual participant completing his or her own part of the score to make things come out exactly right – and they never do. So, the best the conductor can hope for is to take each part as it comes and take the necessary steps to complete the arrangement in the closest semblance of normalcy allowed by the participants and their actions during the interpretation of the piece.

In an ideal world, each and every craftsperson will do their job precisely as defined within the time and budget allotted and without impugning or adversely impacting other craftspeople or their work. As we all know, this just doesn’t happen. Often, when something goes wrong, the entire project can become a problem magnet – a black hole if you will. It can quickly become a runaway train gaining speed with every correction turning into an overcorrection. Soon, everything spins out of control and the project crashes. Then, with the dust settled, we find it really wasn’t that bad after all. Everyone bucks up and gets back together to finish the project, a little worse for wear but far wiser.

There is no panacea. Years ago, when I was a pup, we often began our installations of solid wood flooring when homes had only been stick framed. Often, there was little or no electricity to the structure. The roof was on and sometimes the outside walls were closed in but all the interior walls were bare open framing. Those were the days when many of us used hatchets to lay floors. The hammer side was used to hand nail boards and the hatchet side to cut off the ends or split rips to trim to the walls. Sometime later the lath and plaster went up. Talk about wet work. No worries about indoor pollution in those days. 

Today, we’re cocooning ourselves off from the great outdoors, re-breathing our own toxic gasses as well as that from construction materials, household furnishings, our clothes, mold and God knows what else. The point is, we have created a near vacuum of our living spaces all in the name of energy conservation and that spawns a whole multitude of other issues. Subtle changes in temperature and humidity now often result in visible measurable effects. 

The expedited drying techniques now often utilized coupled with the vice-like grip of urethane sealants and coatings hold today’s modern wood flooring to a higher standard. Old values for moisture changes and movement just don’t seam to translate to the super sensitivity observable in much of the wood flooring (particularly the prefinished varieties) seen on the market these days. 

Part of this is due to maintenance issues. The old oil and wax coats we used to use to seal and protect our wood floors have been replaced by no wax, easy-keep polymerized coatings that take a lick and a promise or a quick damp mopping to look shiny and new again – at lot like the plastics my generation once knew and loved.

These old sealers and finishes were exceptionally elastomeric and allowed the wood to breathe, naturally. As the wood moved, which it did a lot in those days, the sealer and finish moved with it. The idea was much like the original concept behind putting a tongue and groove in flooring. It allows the flooring to move and shift about as it picks up and gives off moisture, yet basically stay in place. 

Don’t get me wrong. The new fangled urethanes have been a god send, especially to us in the wood flooring business. Any hard surface (wood flooring or not) creates a much cleaner space (especially in a fairly air tight space) and comes as a refreshing change to wall-to-wall carpeting to those of us with allergies and lung issues. When folks pull up their carpets and have us refinish their floors underneath, they finally see how much dirt got through all that material. They get a real good look at what’s been hiding and breeding in their wall to wall carpeting all these years. It’s enough to gag a maggot. 

As far as damage to cabinets, walls, trim, paint or fixtures, you may want to take a long hard look at the subs you hire for wood flooring. Some are housebroken. Some, I’m sorry to say, are not. Of course one has to expect a certain amount of damaged from the installation, sanding and finishing of wood flooring. It’s a mix of rough and finish carpentry.

In all good conscience, I have to advise you (like our industry says), to get all the wet work done before introducing wood floors in a new or newly remodeled structure. Still, baring a fire, flood, or out-and-out thrashing of a structure, the greatest trauma most interior walls, woodwork or other portions of a home suffer is during the construction phase itself.

In most site finished wood flooring jobs, I normally recommend stocking the space to receive the flooring at least a few days in advance of installation. With radiant heating projects, I recommend several weeks or longer. The flooring should acclimate to the “normal lived-in” conditions of its future home until there is less than a 4% variance (2% with radiant heat) between the flooring to be installed and the subflooring or underlayment it is to go over. All wet work should be finished. All major tile and/or stone work should be done, the walls sheet rocked, taped and textured and at least the major base coats of paint applied and dried.

Sanding and finishing should be done during the final stages of construction. All the doors should be hung and the permanent lighting, heating/cooling and plumbing completed. Only things like trim, carpet, touch ups for nicks, and dings and final painting or touchup painting should be left undone.

I hope this addresses the issues you have.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

 

What Purpose Do the Grooves on the Underside of Wood Flooring Serve?

 
April 7, 2008

Hi!

This question is directed to Don Bollinger or anyone in your organization who can answer it. I'd like to know fairly quickly if possible.
I purchased your book 'Hardwood Floors: Laying, sanding and finishing" from Lee Valley in Canada. Well done, except I want to find out a bit of information I could not find in the book. Most of the strip and plank flooring in the book is pictured or drawn with channels milled into the underside of the wood, usually two or three, either in a V, semi-circle or straight cut. What purpose do they serve? Are they necessary or desirable? Do they permit air passage under the floor?
I ask because I want to turn some Douglas-fir mill off-cuts (outside of the tree, clear, quite nice really but all sap wood) into flooring by milling it myself to tongue-and-groove.
Thanks for your help.
Donna L.
California

Hi Donna. 

Thanks for the kind words.

These channels or grooves molded into the backs of most wood flooring were rarely done (traditionally) in soft woods (conifers and the like).
The purpose of these slots, at least as far as I've been told, serves several purposes. 

1) The channels or grooves act as a type of "relief for the unfinished bottom side of the flooring compared to the typically finished face side. This, I've been told over the years, will help to reduce the natural tendency of the flooring to curl upwards on the sides (what we often call cupping) as the flooring picks up moisture on the underside and swells more than the face side.

2) The channels or grooves act as a natural dead air space beneath the material to help equalize changes in vapor pressure above and below the flooring. Additionally, they can facilitate the flow of air beneath the finished floor and between the top and bottom layers of surface and subflooring as might become beneficial during the drying of water traumatized flooring.
3) These channels reduce the overall weight of the finished flooring and thereby slightly reduce the overall shipping and handling costs.

In the days when face nailed flooring was all the rage, it was too thin to cut grooves or channels in one side. Generally this type product was installed over beaded board (often see in the underside of the overhanging eves in many single family structures). This served to accomplish some of the same things.

I wouldn't worry too much about your fir flooring not have grooves or channels on the underside. Some times that type of flooring material was "center matched" (the tongues and grooves were exactly centered on the boards) so that the flooring could be installed top or bottom up. Also, Douglas Fir was commonly used on decks in years past and was exposed underneath.

Douglas Fir is not know for its stability (even quarter cut) and the sap portion of most lumber is the least stable of all. It’s my understanding that since the sap (the outermost portion of the living tree) was the last part of the plant to grow, it is the most likely to exhibit those traits as lumber (or flooring). It’s been my experience over the years that when comparing flooring boards cut from the same tree, those from the heart portion show substantially more stability in service than those boards cut from the typically lighter or whiter “sap” portions of the log.

Hope this helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



OSB and Comparisons of Various Underlayment and Subflooring Choices for Under Hardwood Flooring -- Thoughts & Comparisons of Underlayments, Nailing and Finishes of Conifers and Wide Plank Flooring Like Pine & Douglas Fir

 
Hi Don 
(April 2, 2008) -

I have been looking at your website, and it looks like you are open to answering wood floor questions via email. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!

I have purchased some Douglas Fir planks - 1" x 12"(actual .75 inch by 11.25 inch) (Surfaced 4 sides -S4S). The planks are 8 to 16ft lengths. I plan to install these in my log cabin in Chelan, Washington as a rustic-type wide plank floor, face-nailed with square edges.

The cabin has an 800 sq. ft. first floor, OSB subfloor over a crawl space, and a 450 sq. ft. loft.

Questions:

1) Should I use an underlayment between the OSB and the Douglas Fir planks. I have been researching on the internet, and have heard 3 different answers.
a) use red rosin paper
b) use felt paper
c) use nothing

2) Nails - 2 1/4 inch ring shank stainless steel? Three nails across the face spaced every 3 to 4ft?

3) Finish - I would like a penetrating type finish, possibly using Benite as a sealer prior to oil finish.
I would like to end up with, a natural as possible, look and feel to the wood, when done. What are your recommendations on finish options?

Thanks,

Wayne P.
Washington


Wayne, my biggest concerns regarding your proposed installation is the quality of the OSB you are using, the width and the cut of the plank you plan to install. There are many different qualities of OSB (particularly in the US). There are some standards that OSB or similar panels must meet here, but as a rule, at least from my experience, it’s overall suitability as a subfloor and/or underlayment under wood flooring depends entirely on its manufacturer. I have personally experienced both high and low extremes with OSB as a subflooring material for wood flooring installations.

In addition, I feel that 3/4-inch-thick plank flooring 8 inches or wider and certainly that 11 inches or wider should not be tongued and grooved as a few manufacturers do these days. Rather, I feel that nailed or screwed exceptionally wide plank flooring or decking be left square edged, as you plan to do, laminated to a similar species of multi-tiered plywood or at most, ship lapped. Wide planking has a long history of performing better in 6, 8 or even 10 quartered or thicker material. Even with quarter sawn material, considerable movement should be anticipated during its lifetime. Given the somewhat fairly arid and stable conditions it will likely encounter where you plan to install it, your floor has an excellent chance of providing a long and fruitful lifetime of service.

Douglas Fir (even quarter sawn stock) has never been considered a relatively stable species. Therefore, you should expect some obvious changes in its shape and appearance even with the modest shifts in relative humidity and consequential moisture content changes it will likely experience in the region where you plan to install it.

I almost always opt for a standard underlay of 3-ply kraft paper (two layers of kraft sandwiching a layer of tar paper) under nail down wood flooring. It helps as a vapor retarder, slip sheet and sound cushion. Two major exceptions to this are when gluing & nailing and when installing over in-floor radiant heat (due to the potential for tar odor).

Your nail type and spacing sounds sufficient, however, you wouldn’t go wrong with 3 to 4 nails per plank per joist. We sell a lot of stainless steel fasteners for flooring but primarily specify these for projects where high moisture levels are anticipated (e.g. yachts, marine or waterfront projects, Hawaiian or other island installations (that are not air conditioned), semi-exposed locations, etc.). If you expect considerable moisture contact over time it never hurts to use stainless steel fasteners. In such an event, I would suggest you provide additional spacing between the planks to allow for expansion. 

I strongly concur with your selection of a penetrating oil finish. The more “natural” elastomeric oils (e.g. linseed and isoparaffin (oil) and/or oil and wax) not only look more natural but also tend to perform better over time, especially on wide plank flooring.
Finally, I would suggest you acclimate your planking thoroughly to the prevailing relative humidity and moisture conditions at your sight before installing it. Most Douglas Fir grows in the more moist regions of the Pacific Northwest and generally is not dried lower than 10 to 12 percent moisture content. You will likely need a stable moisture content level of 6% or less in your flooring before you install it.

I hope this helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Comparisons of Methods for Installing Hardwood Flooring (Especially Solid Woods) Directly Over Radiant Heating – Use of Mastics & Cleats as well as Some Temperature Recommendations


Don, 
I would appreciate your advice. I am installing 3" x 3/4 oak flooring directly over the top of Thermal Board radiant heat. There are some areas where nailing will be difficult due to the tube spacing. What type of adhesive do you recommend to supplement these areas for a quality installation? Also, do you recommend the use of any vapor barrier over the Thermal Board prior to the wood being laid directly over it? The home is in an area with wide outside temperature variances, with sub zero in the winter and 90's in the summer. It is also less than 1/2 mile from lake so humidity differences are also a consideration. Any advice or resources would be greatly appreciated. 
Thanks
BOB 


Always check with the manufacturers of the products you're using for their recommendations and limitations regarding your proposed installation procedure. In this particular case that would include the Thermal Board manufacturer, the wood flooring manufacturer as well as the adhesive manufacturer (if you chose to use a mastic).
 
That said, I would agree with your assessment of combining a mastic and flooring cleats to install your wood floor. I would recommend full toweling Franklin's Titebond 811 Advantage with a 1/4" X 3/16" X 1/2" trowel. That should give you about 60 square feet of coverage per gallon of mastic.
 
As always, I recommend the use of flooring cleats rather than staples. Flooring cleats tend to allow solid wood flooring more freedom to expand and contract over time without unduly restraining or fully releasing the flooring at the fastener points.
 
I also recommend the use of a quarter sawn or rift sawn solid flooring material for added stability when going over in-floor radiant systems.

The use of a mastic substantially complicates the use of a vapor barrier. I rarely recommend vapor barriers over radiant heat anyway due to their susceptibility to odor off gassing from their tar or rubber content. As it turns out, the mastic I recommended is a waterproof polyurethane and as such provides excellent vapor inhibiting properties.

I almost always recommend in-floor radiant systems be turned on and left on 24/7 365. This is particularly important in you scenario. You don't have to pump out heat from the floor when the indoor temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but I would recommend not allowing the floor to drop below 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round. That means you should leave the system up and running constantly.
 
I hope this helps answer your questions.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

 

What Causes Various Wood Species to Change Color and What can be Done About It? – UV Light and Its Effects on Wood Flooring Species, Stains & Finishes

We had a maple floor put in and in just a year, the color has turned a “peachy” color. I know some color change will occur, but what finish should we have put on (we want to have them refinished) to keep them as bright and natural looking as possible?

Linda C.


Color change in wood flooring is a fact of life. Just like any other home furnishing from drapes or wall coverings to furniture or cabinets. The more direct the exposure to sunlight (even through low E glass) the greater or more pronounced the effect. Harsh southern exposure particularly if reflected (therefore magnified) off water or off a white reflective background will tend to intensify the overall effect. Over time, this will actually “bleach out” the colors in many types of materials including wood flooring. 

I installed new red oak flooring in my own home nearly 20 years ago for a book I was writing on hardwood floors. Sliding glass doors off our living room look due South out over a pond in our back yard. The effects of the sun were so pronounced over the years that they bleached the red oak almost white. During a recent remodel of our living room and kitchen we found we had sections of flooring that had undergone permanent sun damage. 

We removed an interior wall that had divided the two rooms creating one large open space. Our plan was to lace new flooring between the two existing sections of red oak to tie the rooms together. Instead we found we had to tear out large portions of over exposed flooring in both rooms in order to blend the new with the old. Areas once hidden by rugs or encased in the room’s shadows were still lively and colorful. Those places that had felt the direct rays of the sun didn’t fair so well. Spot sanding to corroborate our fears, we replaced major sections of sun-ravaged flooring previously undetected to better secrete our renovation.

It’s true that some finishes promote or allow more color change than others. Oil-based finishes (commonly called oil-modified urethanes or polyurethanes for short in the wood flooring industry) are some of the most yellowing. Their effect is the most pronounced on lighter or whiter species like maple or hickory. Waxes or products that contain wax can also give many floors an amber or yellowish hue especially over time or with moderate exposure to sunlight.

Acid-curing floor finishes, commonly called Swedish Finishes and now sometimes referred to as conversion varnishes (to sidestep increased environmental restrictions in some areas), often reacts with the tannins and resins and oils in many woods to “redden” them significantly. As artists can tell you, red is a “weak” color and fades easily to a tan or brown. This change can be quite pronounced with some species, particularly rosewoods and cherries. Cherries, for example tend to “redden” significantly when sealed with “Swedish Finish” only to darken significantly over time. 

If a stain or other type of colorant such as a dye or pigment application is utilized, these too will change in tone or color altering somewhat the overall appearance of the flooring. And of course the woods themselves will change color over time. Some will darken. Some will lighten. 

The hue or patina the floor eventually develops will depend on many factors. The species, cut, sealer, stain, dye, finish, exposure to various forms of lighting (not just sunlight) and exposure to the particles (especially heavy metal pollutants) in the air, all cause changes in color and sheen.

“Good” (which generally translates to expensive) water-borne finishes typically have strong UV inhibitors. Even without them, these products tend to leave woods lighter, clearer or more natural looking than do other commonly used products. A high quality water-based sealer will help most exotic woods retain their “recently finished” look and color much longer albeit less “bright” or as “deep” as what might be attained with certain oil-based coatings. 

When seeking the lightest most natural look with sugar or hard maple flooring cut from predominantly sap-selected lumber, you can’t beat a waterborne borne sealer/finish in my opinion. These are the best choice overall for a whiter or lighter more natural look with sugar or hard maple flooring cut from predominantly sap-selected lumber. If you’re seeking the lightest and least yellowing finish for your floor, a high quality water borne finish (like our Danish Finish or Danish ProSport Finish) would be my recommendation.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Filling & Finishing A ‘Barn Wood’ Fir Floor


Hi, I would like to know if you could help me with my barn floor that has 1/8" to 1/2" gaps between each board. We turned the barn into our house and now have questions on how we can finish the floor. It is made of Douglas fir and is "ship lapped" together.
Any information that you might have would be most appreciated.
Sincerely,

Tim M


Since you're not likely to sand out all of the old gouges, stains, etc., I would suggest sealing it with a dark penetrating sealer after sanding it down with traditional floor sanding methods. The dark color will help hide residual stains. Finishing with a traditional oil modified finish (probably 2 coats) will have more chance of adhesion than many other types of finish given the likelihood of residual stains/oils/finishes inside gouges, scratches, between boards, etc., where the sanding cannot reach.

Hope this helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

P.S. Do not fill the gaps between boards. Whatever you might use will just end up popping out later.



The Very Best (or Toughest) Hardwood Species and the Toughest Wooden Floor Finish – Thoughts about Wear & Maintenance of Wooden Floors

There is no panacea. Even stainless steel will scratch. There is no hardest, toughest or best wood species or floor finish. Some exotic species like Jatoba and Ipe are several times harder than oak yet oak is an extremely hard and makes a very durable wood floor. Still, any wood you use regardless of hardness or density needs to be sealed and finished to protect it from foot traffic and spills and to make it easy to maintain. Oak is harder than the toughest sealers and finishes on the market.

So what’s the answer? There is no one answer for everyone. Some floor finishes are better than others for different floors for different reasons. See the comparisons on floor finishes to find one that suits your needs.

A good wood floor should be able to be refinished any number of times. If a solid wood floor is installed and maintained properly it should last at least as long as the building it’s contained within. My suggestion is to not worry about scratches and normal wear and tear. It is after all a floor. When the kids are grown, it may be time to have the floors resurfaced. That’s part of the normal maintenance of a wood floor.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



How Long Does A Newly Finished Wooden Floor Last?

Everyone’s different just like every floor finish is different. I’ve seen floors we refinished well over 30 years ago that still look like we did them last week. On the other hand, I’ve seen floors we did less than a year ago that are badly worn at need attention desperately. It all depends on how many two and four legged critters run rampant on it and how well it’s maintained. If folks are allowed to tromp around in wet muddy waffle stompers with little rocks imbedded in their grooves and the floors are not cleaned of debris for days or weeks at a time – not long. But if folks remove their street shoes whenever they step on to the floor and the floor is dry mopped regularly and lightly damp mopped occasionally – almost indefinitely. Normal folks are somewhere in between these two extremes. That’s why it’s difficult to say exactly how long your new floor finish will last.

I would suggest that you occasionally have the floors screened and top coated if you had a Urethane or Swedish type finish applied. Usually this means after 3 to 5 years for most folks. If you had a wax type of product applied, you may want apply another coat of wax after 1 to 3 years. If you had a penetrating oil finish applied, you will want to clean and refresh the oil finish after 1 to 3 years or when it starts to look dull or water spotted.
Always follow the floor finish manufacturer’s recommended instructions for cleaning and refurbishing. Different types of finishes require different types of cleaners and maintenance procedures. Don’t believe all the advertisements on TV or in your local hardware or box store. Always look to a professional wood floor outlet for the best advice in looking after your floor.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



The Pros and Cons of Prefinished Versus Site-Finished Hardwood Flooring

Site finished wood flooring is the granddaddy of all wood flooring. Is it best? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on you and your circumstances. Site finished flooring allows you to site select the precise stain and finish color to match the lighting, colors, cabinets, whatever at your specific location. Your floor will be sanded or scraped to suit your specific desires. This usually calls for a smooth flat surface followed by a custom stain or finish with 2 to 4 coats of a professional grade floor finish applied in the exact sheen level you want. This doesn’t mean however that your floor is perfectly sealed against water spills (in your kitchen, bathroom or entry). Wood (solid or engineered) expands and contracts with changes in moisture from humidity or in liquid form. When these changes occur, your floor’s movement will open cracks between boards that allow spills access between boards. This is no different than prefinished wood products that are not sanded or sealed after they are installed.

One of the major differences most folks notice between site finished and prefinished wood flooring products is the slight bevel or “eased edge” down the length of each board and on some board ends. These eased edges are designed to help cushion the height or thickness variation between pieces. All prefinished products are sanded and finished flush and consistent to one another. Changes in humidity and moisture content from that at the time of milling will cause the various boards or pieces to expand or contract very slightly. This is most noticeable in solid ¾”-thick products. Since these products will not be sanded or finished after they are installed, a slight bevel helps soften the feel to the touch between boards.

On the other hand, installing a prefinished floor does away with the inevitable delays and mess associated with a site finished wood floor to say nothing of the worrisome curing times and lingering odors. Plus, if you choose a top quality prefinished product, you will rewarded with a state-of-the-art finish that is tougher than any site floor finish available.

The cost comparison between prefinished and site finish products are generally a push. You’ll pay more for the installation of a prefinished product and you’ll pay more for the product but you should save enough from not having to pay for the site finishing to more than make up for the difference. If you plan to install the floor yourself or if you live in an isolated area – a prefinished flooring is usually your best choice.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Can (Should) I Buy Hardwood Flooring Over The Internet?

Quality problems are the single biggest issue. If your flooring is poorly milled or somehow “different” than what they are used to installing your wood flooring contractor or builder may not install it or may charge you a lot more than they would have for something that is milled correctly or that they are familiar in handling. Once you’ve unboxed your flooring most companies will (justifiably) refuse to take it back – of those that are willing to take back products in the first place. Attempting to discover “problems” or “issues” with your flooring and then dealing with those issues long distance has been and continues to be the major drawback to buying wood flooring (or any expensive item) online and long distance.

The next biggest potential problem is getting what you want or what you expected. Choosing from a picture online or from a sample your online seller says is the same item you chose and what you expected comes in as problem #2 buying wood flooring online. Before you pick up or have your flooring delivered you have an excellent opportunity to examine exactly what you are about to get. That is the single biggest trump card a purchaser has when buying any item. When buying online, you surrender this card before you even have an opportunity to use it if you need it.

Finally, something that many people except the most savvy buyers overlook in their zeal to get the best deal is their selection and their powers of observation. When one is able to compare choices first hand, fewer mistakes are made than when they are compelled to choose from a distance. Very few professionals buy products (even ones with which they are very familiar) online unless they can get a very close picture and a very good deal. They want to inspect the product before they buy. If they are choosing one product over others, they want to compare each product with the others viewed first hand side by side. This still can’t be done online. Once they have a relationship fixed with a supplier, then they can buy confidently online.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



What Is The Best Wood Floor Over Radiant Heat?

You don’t have to have a floating floor or an engineered wood floor for going over radiant heat. Floating wood floors generally work okay over radiant heat but they’re not required. Engineered wood floors are generally more stable than solid wood floors. However, they are still affected by changes in humidity and are subject to the same laws of physics as solid wood floors. What many sellers engineered products don’t make clear when comparing solid products to engineered products is the relative fragile nature when flooded or when suffering a major spill or severe humidity shifts.
 
What is often not made clear when comparing engineered products to solid products is the characteristically fragile nature of engineered products compared to solid products in the presence of major moisture events such as a floods, significant spills/leaks or substantial humidity shifts. In most instances, solid products stand a significantly greater likelihood of salvage from such events than do engineered products under similar circumstances.
 
In-floor radiant systems tend to exacerbate the normal ingress and egress of moisture into and out of all woods including wood flooring. Major shifts in heat and moisture can bring about catastrophic changes in any wood adjacent to or over radiant systems. Therefore, minor changes in heat and moisture are always strongly recommended over time with such a system.
 
I always recommend a quarter sawn or a combination of quarter and rift cut for wood flooring utilized over radiant heat. This is because such cuts are substantially more stable with changes in moisture and therefore less likely to exhibit unwanted changes in appearance.
 
Narrow boards are more stable and less likely to move than wide boards with changes in moisture therefore I generally recommend boards 4 inches or less in width when going over radiant heat.
 
Choose a stable or normal wood species over an unstable or less stable product when selecting a wood species for over radiant heat.
Dark-colored woods or dark-colored stains generally appear better over time when used over radiant heated substrates.
  
Rustic floors or those with more character tend to appear better over radiant systems over time than clear or more uniform flooring products.
 
Antique or reclaimed products tend to perform better over radiant systems and floors cut from younger trees or newly lumbered products.
 
Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



How Many Coats Of Floor Finish Should Be Applied To My Floor?

It depends on the type of finish they’re using and your budget. Some oil-modified urethanes often only require 2 coats to give plenty of film build to protect your floor. Penetrating oils can be okay with 1 to 2 coats if applied correctly while 5 or 6 coats will not be enough if applied poorly. Swedish or other urethane finishes like most water borne products should have 3 or more coats in my opinion. Many contractors apply only two coats to save money. They often don’t tell their prospective customers how many coats they will apply and let their cheaper bid get them the job. Always ask what you’ll be getting for any estimate and make your contractor give you a clear answer IN WRITING before you award them the contract.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Subfloor & Underlayment Requirements When Installing Wooden Flooring Parallel To Joists, Screeds or Sleepers Systems

July 2007

I've learned a lot for Don's videos but have one question. I have three bedrooms that I'm installing hardwood flooring. In two the flooring will run perpendicular to the joist and run the length of the room. In the third the floor would run the width of the room if I install perpendicular to the joists. I'm not sure I like the look of the third room with the flooring the opposite direction of the other two. The entry to all the rooms is very close etc.

My question is, can I install the flooring parallel to the joists and if so what needs to be done to ensure a solid floor install?

Thanks in advance.

Kurt S.
Ohio


Needing to install a wood floor parallel to the joists is a common problem for esthetic or mechanical reasons, particularly when remodeling. If the structure has been added on to a number of times or the design of the foundation walls and/or the configuration of the substructure causes an alternating or inconsistent joist bay arrangement it may become necessary to run the finished flooring with or parallel to the joists in at least in one area or two, and potentially the entire floor plan.

If, due to prior height changes or other considerations, you find the existing subfloor is covered by a thickness of a 1-1/4” or more of plywood, undamaged OSB, or solid decking material atop 16” on center or better joists – you’re good to go. If not, you may need to make other arrangements, or expect the expected – tell tale alternating peaks and valleys (on center) between runs of flooring over time. Those boards installed directly over joists and running the same direction will have a tendency to exhibit obvious gaps down their lengths to adjacent boards on either side, while boards between joists will seem more closely coupled. While there is generally little to be concerned with structurally, the on center alternating gaping attracts the eye in a predictably irritating fashion. 

In new construction you can allow for an additional 1/2" or more underlayment in those areas where you know you will need to run the flooring parallel to the joists or where the finished flooring will be totally depended on the subflooring and underlayment for its soundness. When remodeling, new foundation walls will often cause joist bays to run opposite that of the prevailing ones. When possible, plan for an additional ½” or ¾” underlayment in the new area. Better yet, install an additional ½’ or thicker underlayment over both the new and the existing subflooring. For the best results, plan this additional underlayment to bridge all the seams between the new and the existing foundation lines. It’s important to remember that any time an underlayment or other overlay be laid over an existing system, that the new overlay be set diagonal or perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing panels or seams. Also make sure that the new panels overlap the seams of the existing subflooring and that no two seams land directly over one another. Insuring a distance of 6” or more between parallel seams in the overlaying panels to that in the underlying ones will provide the greatest strength to the system.

If height considerations prevent the use of an additional underlayment, bridging between joists can usually provide sufficient strength to help shore up the inevitable swale in the subflooring overtime between joists. Two by fours or two by sixes (12" to 16" on center) attached at alternating positions to the joists and flush to the underside of the subflooring will generally provide enough support for most 3/4"-thick subflooring to act as a base for installing nail down solid 3/4" hardwood flooring.

If you plan to use a 1/2" or thinner material (especially if it is a square edged product or is to be glued instead of nailed), I strongly recommend the use of a 1/2" (or thicker) 5-ply (or greater) plywood atop the existing subfloor.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996



Removing A Marker Mark on Hardwood Floor

April 5, 2007
Is there a website that you know of on how to care for hard wood floors?

One of my children accidentally marked on the floor with a marker and I do not know how to get it off....

Thank you for your help,

Diana G.
San Antonio, Texas


Diana, the first thing you need to do is determine what type of floor finish you have on your floor. The next, is to determine what type of marker was used (e.g. permanent marker, water base marker, Crayola, wax base marker, etc.), then call a local wood flooring contractor near you or email us back and we will try to help you.

If you think you have a urethane floor finish on your floor, you may want to try something on your own. I might suggest using alcohol. You could use a clear drinking alcohol like vodka as most drinking alcohols are typically diluted over 50%. You could also use rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol. 

Another product to try is isoparaffin or white spirits. It sounds exotic but it can usually be found at hardware stores as liquid paraffin, the fuel for clear candles (the decorative type you can burn inside your home).

THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! Put the cleaners on a rag, not directly on the floor. Rub the spot lightly with the solvent until the mark is removed. Don't use alcohol or isoparaffin if you have a wax finish. This could remove the wax or cause it to turn white.

I suggest you first try the solvent you plan to use in a closet or other out-of-the-way place to see what effect it has on your floor finish. If it attacks or softens your floor finish, or causes it to change color, don't use it.

Hope this helps.

Don Bollinger
don@woodfloorco.com
Wood Floor Products, Inc.
(206) 622-6996

 

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