Last week I talked about how you can source the right reclaimed wood flooring for your project, and this week I want to conclude with some detail about choosing and installing a floor finish. One thing to keep in mind when installing any wood floor, you should always (always!) follow the guidelines set out by the National Wood Flooring Association. They cover every possible scenario you might encounter. We have them posted on the Viridian Reclaimed Wood website here.
Finishes provide a layer of protection for reclaimed wood flooring, guarding it from dirt, moisture and wear. Finishes also add an attractive sheen to bring out the natural beauty of reclaimed wood flooring. There are many finish options to choose from—each with different advantages—and the finish chosen can significantly alter the look of the wood.
This information below is meant as a starting point to select what is right for your home; however, it is always best to test your choices on uninstalled material to make sure you are getting the results you want.
Wax or Wax Paste:
Wax is the oldest finishing substance for wood floors, and there are still many advantages to finishing your reclaimed wood floors with wax. It is inexpensive, easy to apply, fast drying, easy to repair and long lasting, assuming you provide the proper care. Today’s advanced waxes are also environmentally friendly and more durable than in years past.
At Viridian, we regularly use and recommend Osmo Polyx brand for durability and ease of application. Osmo has proven in tests to be as tough as polyurethane, yet it’s still a natural, repairable, low-toxicity finish that nicely complements reclaimed wood flooring. Of course, there are a few downsides to wax, as well – water will stain wax finishes and occasional buffing and reapplication of wax will be required. Chances are, your grandmother knew how to wax her wooden floors; if you are attracted to reclaimed wooden flooring for its old-world charm, wax may be the best finish for you.
Oil is the most popular finish for wood floors around the world. Like wax, oil has long been used as a finish for centuries. Quality oil finishes are plant-based and contain no VOCs to harm the environment. Unlike other finishes, which typically look their best at the time of application and head downhill from there, oil finishes continue looking better and better every year – provided you’re willing to put in the necessary work.
Oil finishes require regular touch-ups and buffing to continue looking great. In fact, many homeowners consider the reparability of oil finishes an advantage over finishes that do not allow repairs, such as polyurethane. Oil finishes also have a low sheen many homeowners prefer, especially on rustic or antique wood flooring. At Viridian, we routinely recommend Teak Oil and Woca Oil for their penetrating ability, hardness and overall look. Note that depending on the application you may also need to use a paste or liquid wax to protect the finish.
Newer floors are often finished with surface sealants, such as urethane. A big advantage of urethane-based finishes is that they are stain- and water-resistant. Urethane finishes are so durable that they are often used in high-traffic areas, such as school gymnasiums. The only maintenance required for surface-sealed reclaimed wood flooring is the occasional dusting and mopping.
Urethane floor finishes are available in several forms. Oil-based urethane dries slowly and brings out a beautiful amber glow in reclaimed wood flooring. One downside to oil-modified urethane is that it is a petroleum product; if you originally purchased reclaimed wood floors for sustainability, you may not want to use a finished based on fossil fuels.
Water-based urethane has grown in popularity in recent years because it has the same positive properties as oil-based urethane, but it has very low (or no) volatile organic compounds (VOCs). There are many water-based products that are easy to apply, dry quickly, are hard enough for commercial floors and create a clear to amber tone. These are occasionally more expensive than their oil-based counterparts. Moisture-cured urethane is also available; it is extremely durable and moisture resistant, but it’s also so difficult to apply that it is best to call in a professional if you choose this finish.
Also called a “conversion varnish,” this is an alcohol-based finish developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s and has been popular in Europe ever since. Like urethane seals, Swedish floor finishes require virtually no maintenance beyond light damp mopping, however, it is an extremely toxic process. Swedish floor finishes are notoriously smelly; the strong odor from this type of finish may linger for weeks. For these reasons, and the fact there are so many quality alternatives, we do not recommend Swedish finish for any applications.