Everyone loves the look and charm of real hardwood flooring. For centuries people have used wood floors throughout their homes to add warmth and charm. Hardwood floors never seem to go out of fashion and can add real value to any residential or commercial project and, providing you only use wood that is FSC- certified as having been supplied from sustainable forestry techniques, the environment-conscious amongst us need have no fears.

To enable natural wood floors to compete more readily with laminates and other forms of flooring, and to drastically reduce the amount of natural wood used whilst retaining its beauty and longevity, one of the greatest advances in wood floors has been the introduction of engineered wood flooring.

Engineered hardwood flooring is a multi-layered product comprising a core of plywood or HDF adhered in a diagonally opposite direction to a less vulnerable wood than hardwood, with a top layer of natural hardwood fixed to the top surface.

Thus, this product has the natural characteristics of the selected wood species but uses considerably less of the natural material to achieve the same effect and performance. Also, it has been designed to provide greater stability, particularly where moisture or heat poses problems for solid hardwood floors, and the lifespan of engineered wood floors is what you would expect from a solid wood floor.

Engineered floors can be provided as tongue-and-groove board or are available using the unique ‘click’ system now so popular with flooring contractors.

The manufacturers of pre-finished hardwood floors have dramatically improved the finish, durability and ease of maintenance of hardwood flooring. No more buffing and waxing of hardwood floors with the urethane-based finishes that are applied right at the factory.

By using ultra-violet light manufacturers can quickly apply several coats of urethane finish. This process is called UV-cured urethane coating. As an example, some manufacturers are applying 6-10 coats of UV-cured urethane. In addition, many manufacturers now add small chips of aluminium oxide directly into the floor’s finish which dramatically increases the life of the floor.

An extremely popular trend in wood floors today is the handscraped hardwood floor offered by many of the wood flooring companies. If a more rustic-looking wood floor with lots of character is required, be sure to see the samples of handscraped hardwood floors before you buy.

Factory Pre-finished Hardwood Floors (wood floors that have been factory- finished before they are installed)
Here are the terms you may encounter for factory-applied finishes:
UV-cured – Factory finishes that are cured with Ultra-Violet light versus heat.
Polyurethane – A clear, tough and durable finish that is applied as the wear layer.
Acrylic-urethane – A slightly different chemical makeup to polyurethane but with the same benefits.
Ceramic – Advanced technology that allows the use of space-age ceramics to increase the abrasion resistance of the wear layer.
Aluminium Oxide – Chips added into the urethane finish for increased abrasion resistance of the wear layer. Very popular on the better-grade hardwood floors.
Acrylic-impregnated – Acrylic monomers are injected into the wood cell structure to give increased hardness and then also applied on top of the planks.

Job-site Finished Hardwood Flooring (wood floor is installed, stained and finished at the job site)
Job-site finish means you start with an unfinished wood floor and then the floor is sanded, stained, and finished on the job site. If you want a custom-stained wood floor, or a wood floor to match existing trim, a job-site finish is your answer. Another advantage of a job-site finished floor is if you are concerned with height variations between the boards the sanding process will totally smooth out the unevenness.

The urethane finishes used on job sites have been improved dramatically over the years and offer a much better performance:
Water-Based Urethane – Water is used as part of the chemical makeup of the polyurethane finish.
Solvent-Based Urethane – Oil is used as part of the chemical makeup of the polyurethane finish.
Moisture-Cured Urethane – Chemical makeup similar to solvent-based urethanes but this finish needs the humidity (moisture) in the air to cure.

Job-site finishes are a specialist application, so make sure you use a professional with the right credentials to provide a superb finish.

This sector of the flooring industry has become so popular that for our annual feature this year we have produced individual introductory articles for each type. However, bringing you our annual feature on Wood, Laminates & Bamboo has been a pleasure, and there is something in this issue for everyone interested in these floorcoverings. Enjoy!

Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for information contained in this article: www.hardwoodfloorsmag.com; www.sawlfa.co.za; www.floorfacts.com