August 31/September 7; Volume 30/Number 6
By Ken Ryan
Hardwood flooring is finished to enhance the marketability of the product, bring out the natural beauty of the wood and protect it from damage incurred by moisture and handling. A quality finish that offers sufficient performance while meeting aesthetic requirements is no easy feat but is critical to the success of the product.
“The finish is especially important to customers because it not only must speak to them on a uniquely personal level, but it also represents a weighty commitment,” said Jose Alonso, creative director at DuChâteau. “Customers plan on owning their floors—if properly maintained—far longer than their cars. It is something they will use, feel and see every day. In order for customers to feel a certain level of pride and confidence in their purchases, they need to know that a floor’s finish will retain its beauty and not deteriorate with time and use. If you can deliver on that commitment, you will have a customer for life.”
Surface finishes are exceedingly popular today for many reasons: durability, water resistance, minimal maintenance, environmental attributes and aesthetics. These finishes are blends of synthetic resins, often referred to as urethanes or polyurethanes and remain on the surface of the wood to form a protective coating. They are generally available in high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin and matte. There are several types of surface finishes from which to choose.
Oil-modified urethane is generally the most common surface finish and is easy to apply. It contains a petroleum base with a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients that produce a durable and moisture-resistant surface. The solvent-based polyurethane dries in about eight hours. This type of finish ambers with age and comes in different sheen levels.
The oil-modified look, which has traditionally been finished on-site, is now making its way into prefinished flooring. Oil-finished hardwood is a luxurious visual, and having an oil look available in a prefinished floor gives consumers the opportunity to avoid expensive on-site finishing.
Moisture-cured urethane is solvent-based polyurethane that is more durable and more moisture resistant than other surface finishes. Moisture-cured urethane comes in non-yellowing and non-ambering options and is generally available in satin or gloss. These finishes are extremely difficult to apply, have a strong odor and are best left to the professional. The curing process is dependent on relative humidity; it is completed by absorbing minute quantities of moisture vapor from the air, causing it to dry and harden.
Water-based urethane is a waterborne urethane with a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients that produce a durable, moisture-resistant surface. These finishes are clear and non-yellowing, and are available in different sheen levels. They have a milder odor than oil-modified finishes and they dry in about two to three hours. Water-based urethanes are generally more expensive.
Aluminum oxide is an additive to water-based offerings. It typically improves the luster of a floor’s finish and remains a popular treatment today. In fact, the majority of engineered hardwood has an aluminum oxide finish. Specific products that feature water-based urethane include most of Mullican’s offerings, which are finished with its exclusive Alpha A’lumina Real World Finish, a third-generation aluminum oxide finish featuring a satin look. The company applies a stronger finish that contains more aluminum oxide with smaller particles in its Ponte Vedra, San Marco, Muirfield and St. Andrews collections.
Wax finishes soak into the pores of the wood and harden to form a protective penetrating seal, which will appear low luster and amber in color. DuChâteau’s hard-wax oil, for example, produces a matte finish designed to enhance the natural aesthetics of the wood while still providing an extremely durable yet breathable level of protection.
In the U.S., oil finishes have become a popular topic within the A&D community. “Some of those glossier polyurethane finishes are giving way to more natural, matte polyurethane finishes like what you would find in an oil finish,” Alonso explained.
Lower gloss visuals are another trend sweeping the flooring landscape. “The visual importance of low gloss is that colors look more realistic because more of the graining shows through,” said Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood for Unilin. “By using a lower gloss finish, the hardwood floor retains more of its natural beauty.”
Justin Hypnarowski, product manager, engineered wood, Armstrong, agreed that low gloss continues to gain steam. “The look customers tell us they’re looking for is a more organic, natural visual. Simply put, they want wood that’s finished but still looks like wood.”
Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand, said low luster almost gives off the appearance of no finish at all, and yet the low gloss helps “hide scratches better than mid- to high-gloss finish.”
The more natural and environmentally sound the finish, the more attractive it is to the marketplace. As a result, marketers today are touting their hypoallergenic, VOC- and formaldehyde-free finishes.
USFloors’ Castle Combe and Navarre hardwood floors, for example, are finished with a zero-VOC natural oil while Lauzon’s Titanium finish offers enhanced luster coupled with an advanced antimicrobial treatment to prevent bacteria and fungi from growing. Mercier’s Pure Expression oil finish, which is Greenguard certified, is said to be 10 times more wear-resistant than other traditional oil finishes.
While properly maintained hardwood floors can last a decade or more, a product’s finish can also enhance its durability—a key differentiator and reason why manufacturers are investing significantly in their finishes. “A product’s finish can change the tone it sets in a room significantly and is also incredibly important to its durability,” said Katie Ford, hard surfaces marketing director for Shaw Floors.
She said Shaw delivers on its promise of attractive visuals and durability with the company’s ScufResist Platinum and Anderson’s Luster-Lock. “It gives consumers permission to live on their hardwood floors.”
Mirage’s latest finish, DuraMatt, is specially designed to provide an ultra-matte look while achieving greater durability and better protection against stains and scratches. This new finish is backed with a 35-year warranty, an industry first for an oil-look finish. “The efforts we put into improving existing finishing systems and developing new ones are ongoing,” Robitaille said.
Mohawk applies an ArmorMax finish with Scotchgard protection on its hardwood products. Because Scotchgard repels stains and dirt, the ArmorMax finish is up to five times tougher than competing products, according to the company.
Also on the tougher side, Q-Wood’s Opulux Performance Enhanced Finish offers an oil- finished look with the performance and maintenance attributes of a urethane floor.
Hallmark Floors is known for its distinctive visuals, and its finishes are a major reason why. NuOil, its signature finish, gives floors a commercially rated scratch-resistant surface. Ron Oliver, vice president of sales and marketing, said the two-stage oil process allows floors to come “out of the box ready to use.” The result is stain-resistant, easy-to-maintain floors that appeal to builders and flooring dealers alike.
Many of Armstrong’s newest launches feature its nano technology coating said to resist scratches better than typical finishes. “This technology enables us to offer a lifetime residential and 10-year commercial warranty,” Hypnarowski said. “Your finish has to have the look the customer is aiming for and there are many variables at play including thickness, gloss and clarity. Ultimately, the finish is what you walk on, and that’s what protects your wood from real damage over time.”