The finish is the material that goes on top of a prepared wood floor- a correctly & thoroughly prepared floor- that makes it look fresh, emphasizes the grain & protects the wood, a comparatively soft & porous material. There are many products on the market, & I think the best way to choose the right wood floor finish for your bungalow, is to examine some of these products & consider their pluses & their minuses. I am not going to talk about stains (changing the color of the wood) here. Historically, wood floors were not stained. They were left natural & have aged & darkened to a beautiful patina over the decades. So that’s what I am going to recommend- floors au naturel.
As with any material that you use, or is used by a hired professional, I suggest that you read the manufacturer’s data, the Safety Date Sheet for the product & if you have any questions after reading the material, call the tech people at the manufacturer. They are the ones that most likely to have all the true & correct information about the product- not the pro, not the distributor or seller, not little ol’ me, but the manufacturer. I once had a really good painter apply paint in a method that was different from the manufacturer’s directions. The paint failed. The company’s literature said it would.
HIRE TRAINED WOOD FLOORING CRAFTSMEN WHO KNOW HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT WOOD FLOOR FINISH
I do not like speaking ill of members of my trade, but I have seen some pretty angry homeowners complaining about the odd choices made, resulting in high-gloss floors that gleamed like beacons in the night, floors that peeled before they were even dry & floors with their beautiful grain obscured by too many coats applied by the overzealous finisher.
As a wood flooring professional, my focus, when I choose the right wood floor finish for your bungalow or decide on which technique or equipment to use, it to view their consistent workability & durability. After answering calls from tearful owners of old houses, seeing hundreds of attempts by others to do oddball stuff to save time &/or money, all the advice that I am giving you is based on my 40+ years of experience with professional products & techniques.
You have only so much wood layer left above the tongue & groove of your historic floor. Incorrect choices, over-aggressive or poor sanding can reduce your floor’s life by decades. I always recommend that any wood flooring tradespeople you hire be trained & certified by the companies that make wood floor finishes for your historic bungalow that they will actually use on your project. (Hopefully, they follow schooling that they learned!) The National Wood flooring Association has extensive training programs for installers, sander/finishers & even sales reps. Additionally, Bona a finish company whose products we used for many years has a topnotch training program for finishers. They train craftspeople in the use of their products, their state-of-the-art equipment & techniques, including removing the least amount of precious floor necessary to get the heavy marks out of it & create a surface with which the finish will tightly bond. I also recommend that you read my 7 VITAL Things to Know Before You Hire a Contractor.
I caution you against hiring someone to apply a particular type or even brand of finish for the very first time. The techniques & tools for applying each of these finishes varies hugely. They do not use the same skill set.
SO-O-O-O, WHAT’S THE RIGHT ONE?
My pros & cons are based on the use of these products in an old house- either for the installation of new or reclaimed/salvaged, wood or for the refinishing of existing wood. Folks seem to have strong opinions about wood floor finishes. Please be polite in expressing these opinions. Everyone has different requirements for their floors based on budget, lifestyle, skill level & aesthetic preferences. And perhaps the phases of the moon.
OIL-BASE POLYURETHANE FLOOR FINISHES
Pros: Approximates the illusion of depth that old finishes- shellac, wax, & varnishes showed & it ambers over time, again mimicking those historic materials. Costs less than many other types of finishes.
If you follow my maintenance guide & don’t have any water intrusion horrors, you have a good chance of never having to refinish your floor again by periodically recoating it. Check out the section RECOATING to learn more about this useful option.
Cons: Strong odor that can linger for months. Long cure time. More environmentally harmful. Flammable, as are applicator rags. Some people don’t like the fact that it ambers over time.
Sheens: Available in matte to high gloss. (With matte, it is almost impossible to get an even sheen.)
Recommended brands: Bona & Dura Seal (Not available at big box stores.
Pros: Easy application & cleanup; low odor and low VOCs; several gloss options, including an easy-to-use matte; no yellowing over time. Good scuff, scratch and chemical resistance at full cure. Quick drying. Easy care.
The ones we liked best were two-partwater-based finishes, such as Bona Traffic HD, Dura Clear Max, & Basic Coating Street Shoe which are considerably more durable than most oil-based polyurethanes. They have much better abrasion resistance and will last longer when used on your bungalow’s wood floors. However, water-based finishes sold at the retail level are not two-part & are less durable than these better, professional grade water-based finishes.
Cons: Raises grain when applied for the first couple of coats when no stain coat has been applied. Grain raise makes the wood surface feel rough, both in appearance & to the touch. A trained wood flooring professional should be able to deal with grain raise & would probably suggest a minimum of 3 coats, lightly abrading between each one.
Lower sheen or matte water-based finishes make the wood look bare rather than creating a look of depth that old finishes impart. Semi-gloss or gloss water-based finishes do give good depth of finish.
Sheens: Available in matte to high gloss, except for Bona Traffic HD which is not made in high gloss.
COMBINING FLOOR FINISHES
Another good option when you choose the right wood floor finish for your bungalow, is to consider applying 1-2 coats of Bona Dri-Fast oil poly sealer, with 2 coats of water-based Bona Traffic HD (stands for Hard & Durable!) on top This combination gives you depth, ambering & durability plus avoids grain raise.
Recommended brands: Bona, Basic Coatings, & Dura Seal. These products are available in extra durable product levels. (Not available at big box stores.)
Once again, if you follow my maintenance guide & don’t have any water intrusion events of magnitude, you can avoid refinishing your floor again by periodically recoating it.
OIL PENETRATING WOOD FLOOR FINISHES
While other finish systems sit on top of the surface of the wood, oil penetrating wood finishes go down into the fibers of the wood, then harden on the surface.
Pros: Offers a natural look because you do not look through it. Many contain no VOC’s. Easy application of non-pigmented products. We have found Rubio to have a moderate odor & WOCA’s to be stronger.
The use of these products requires periodic maintenance- re-applying oil, but may not ever need a full sand and refinish. If severely worn, a light sanding may be needed first.
Cons: The look is very matte & most people are accustomed to a bit of shine. It is a durable finish, however, we once used this coating on the floor of a studio of a painter. He worked in oils & his paint drips were not repelled by the finish but soaked right into the wood. It was awful!!!!
Pigmented oils require impeccable prep/sanding & are difficult to apply.
Clean-up is similar to that of oil-base finishes. You will need paint thinner to clean your hands, your brush or non-disposable applicators. All are flammable.
Recommended brands: WOCA, Rubio & Bona
TUNG & LINSEED OILS
In 40+ years in the trade, we did not have good luck with these materials for various reasons- cost, durability, toxicity, flammability, sheen choices, ease of use & ability to get a consistently good finish. There are no manufacturer recommendations for use on floors for some products. Floors lead a hard life & using a product designed to be applied to furniture is only going to lead to more maintenance. We greatly preferred the products mentioned above. If you should choose to use these product formulated with these oils, please ensure that they are specified for floors.
One more bit of advice- when it’s time to choose the right wood floor finish for your bungalow, no matter what the species, stay away from high-gloss sheens. They reflect so much light that you will not be able to see the beautiful wood grain. Additionally, they show even the tiniest scratches as well as dust & dirt. And the there’s the hairballs. Kitty’s urp is very high acid & will dull that mirror shine of high-gloss very quickly.
As always, whether you are hiring someone to perform the work or doing it yourself, study the manufacturer’s materials, the Safety Data Sheets & protect yourself & your family from chemicals & toxins in your home. And enjoy your beautiful wood floors!
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