Planet Hardwood
PlanetHardwood

Pre-finished or unfinished wood flooring?

There is no single answer for whether to choose pre-finished or un-finished flooring. In this article we’ll get into details about how each is produced and the advantages of each. But for those who are looking for a quick answer, here’s a summary.

Advantages of pre-finished flooring include:

  • Faster and cleaner installation, since no sanding is required at the job-site.
  • Often comes with a warranty on the finish.
  • Lower labor costs can lead to an overall lower cost depending on your situation.
  • Factory-applied finishes are generally more durable and longer-lasting than those that can eb applied at a job-site.

Advantages of unfinished flooring include:

  • A completely-smooth surface, since sanding is done after installation. (Pre-finished floors usually have a microbevel).
  • A wide variety of finishes and staining are possible.
  • If penetrating oil is used as a finish then partial refinishing becomes possible.
  • Longer plank-lengths are available, as well as custom milling.

Which should you choose then, let’s dig in a little deeper.

All pre-finished flooring starts out as unfinished, so there’s a lot they each have in common. Let’s look at the additional steps that pre-finished takes after the initial milling, or rather, beginning with the milling.

Pre-finished flooring

Step 1: Microbeveling

The purpose of taking the edge off of the corners of the surface of most solid pre-finished wood floors is to forgive any slight deviations in the milling or in the sub-floor that might situate an individual piece of flooring slightly thicker than the adjacent piece. This would result in a sharp-edged corner of flooring sticking up past the surface. So that sharp edge is “kissed” or chamfered slightly, and when two of those are next to each other, you get the micro-bevel. In a site finished wood floor any tiny differences are sanded smooth. Taking the crisp edge off of the corners of hardwood is routine in furniture manufacture. Since the precision of wood flooring manufacturing equipment keeps improving, the old “v-groove” in pre-finished flooring has been reduced to a mini micro-bevel.

Step 2: Factory Finishing

Warranty

It is now common to find fifteen, twenty-five and even fifty year warranties on prefinished wood flooring… warranties that promise that you will not walk through the finish to the wood, under “normal” residential traffic, as long as the flooring is maintained to the Care and Maintenance standards, which are nearly identical from manufacturer to manufacturer.

What is not included in these finish warranties are scratches (anything can scratch, including granite or glass), and dulling in a high traffic corridor (compared to flooring under furniture that will never experience a footfall).

There are other exclusions, and a complete list can be found in Warranty. What has made these warranties possible are advances in the factory finish technology that includes the suspension of very hard tiny invisible solid particulates like aluminum oxide (the grey stuff in grey sandpaper). This finish layer is part of a multi-coat process that prevents wear-through, but allows for cosmetic re-coating without removing the old finish.