What are the recommended finishes for antique wood flooring?

Finishing the floor is totally up to the desires of the customer and the type of look they want to achieve. Sanding is always recommended to level any variations as with any unfinished hardwood floor. Sanding can be heavy or light, depending on the desires of the customer. Any type of wood finish can be used on the floor. Stains, polyurethanes, tung oils, or plain wax are all options. However, several important things need to be considered. Antique wood flooring has more check cracks, nail holes, and knot cracks. Also, the cell structure of the wood tends to be more open due to the many years of conditioning. It is important, regardless of the finish you choose, to get a good, deep sealing initial coat. This protects the wood from spills and will serve as a base for subsequent coats of finish. Another important thing to remember is that all wood tends to darken a little with age and exposure to light and the environment. Keep this in mind when stains are applied.

Finish properties and drying times require experience. Some basic information to get the discussion going with your flooring professional should include the difference between surface and penetrating finishes. Within the surface finishes there are four types:

Oil-modified urethane is easy to apply. It is a solvent-base polyurethane that dries in about eight hours. This type of finish ambers with age. Scratches can be repaired lightly sanding and recoating.

Moisture-cured urethane is a solvent-base polyurethane that is more durable and more moisture resistant than other surface finishes. Moisture-cure urethane comes in non-yellowing and in ambering types 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.

Conversion varnish is clear and dries in about 8 hours. It is durable and non-yellowing. These finishes have an extremely strong odor and should be applied by the highly skilled wood flooring professional.

Water-based urethane is a waterborne urethane that dries by water evaporation. These finishes are clear and non-yellowing. They have a milder odor and dry in a few hours. Some of the newer water-based products are now as hard or harder than the moisture-cure products and are not as harmful to humans. These include BonaKemi Traffic,; Loba Supra,  then click Supra brochure; or Basic Coatings Street Shoe, Scratches can be repaired by lightly sanding and recoating.

Penetrating Stain and/or Wax – This finish soaks into the pores of the wood and hardens to form a protective penetrating seal. The wax gives a low-gloss satin sheen. It is generally maintained with additional thin applications of wax. Only solvent-based (never water-based) waxes, buffing pastes or cleaning liquids (specifically made for wax-finished, wood floors) should be used. A penetrating sealer such as the one manufactured by Dura Seal can be waxed over and buffed periodically or if you do not want to wax your floor you can simply repair the finish with another product called Renovator when wear shows. Remember, if you use wax you must completely sand back to bare wood before you can recoat. If you do not use wax you can easily repair the finish with more penetrating sealer coats or a renovator.

We also highly recommend Waterlox, ( a premium wood finish made from Tung Oil. Their website provides information on different products and application information.

How long should the wood acclimate before being installed?

All woods should be well acclimated prior to installation. In general, we recommend a conservative time frame – acclimating for 3-4 weeks in the same climate controlled environment where the floor will be installed. Your installer should give you the final guidelines, based on your location and building.

Any recommendations for floor specialists?

The National Wood Flooring Association has a list of members by state. Copy this into your browser or go to then click on member locations. The list is alphabetized by city name and you can click on city on the right hand side of the screen. All NWFA members must abide by the NWFA Standards of Professional Conduct.

How do I check the moisture content of concrete? What is a typical moisture barrier material? Is “felt” or “rosen paper” necessary?”

An easy way to test your concrete moisture content: take a square of polypropylene or viscreen (2’x2’) and tape down. If condensation forms over 2-3 days, your concrete is not cured. A typical moisture barrier material is 6 mm viscreen or plastic over concrete slab, under plywood. Felt and/or rosen paper are suggested by the NWFA.

What do I need to know about installing Antique Wood Flooring?

Our products have been sorted, trimmed, and defected for any manufacturing defects, gross structural defects, and large open holes. All of the material supplied can be installed and used. The flooring is produced from wood that was previously used in other applications for one hundred years or more. Care is taken to produce the flooring so that the unique character of the antique wood is maintained. Part of this character, and the beauty of antique wood is the variations found in the wood.

The recommended 15% trim allowance is to allow for trimming at the ends of runs, around corners, or for boards damaged during installation, etc.

Flooring is typically nailed down using the edge nailing method using a flooring nailer that puts a nail or staple in the edge of the tongue. Care should be taken as with any floor to have a clean, dry substrate with a moisture barrier of building felt between the flooring and substrate. It is recommended that some face nailing be done at the end joints of flooring material that is 6” or wider. This may help prevent a future “squeak” at the joint as the wood naturally adjusts to changing environments over time. Some flooring technicians prefer to use a mastic adhesive in place of the felt paper. This is perfectly fine with antique woods. Each customer needs to make those choices for themselves.