Prefinished Flooring Buying Guide

Our comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about prefinished flooring before buying.

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prefinished flooring buying guide
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What is prefinished flooring?

Short answer: Prefinished hardwood flooring is already sanded, stained and finished right out of the box. There are no further steps to finish the floor after you install the boards. It’s ready to walk on!

Traditionally, to have a wood floor installed in your home meant that raw tongue and groove wood flooring boards would be nailed or glued to a subfloor, then sanded, stained, and finished inside the home. This long process takes time, creates a lot of dust and fumes inside the home, and gives more chances for mistakes to be made during the process.

Today, prefinished wood floors solve all of those issues while providing many people with a floor that looks great and lasts a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.

Instead of on-site sanding and finishing, these steps are done in a factory controlled environment with precise calibrated equipment. The finished flooring boards are fully cured, then carefully wrapped and boxed to be delivered to the job site. They can then be installed in one step without creating dust or fumes.

The whole process can take a day or less depending on the job size, and homeowners can walk on their new prefinished hardwood floors right away.

is hardwood floor the best
Is hardwood floor the best option for me? Find out everything you need to know about hardwood floors in our guide. Keep reading or click a link on the side to jump to a topic!

Should you hire an installer for prefinished flooring?

Short answer: Yes, you probably should.

There are a lot of benefits to choosing prefinished wood flooring for your home or next flooring job. Although prefinished wood flooring is overall a simpler product, installing wood floors is an intermediate to advanced level home improvement project.

Our recommendation is to work with a professional installer that will make sure your floor is installed correctly. The benefits of having a professional install your wood flooring are:

  • You don’t have to worry about measuring your home accurately. They will take care of that and will factor in additional flooring for waste.
  • Your installer will inspect your home and subfloor to make sure wood flooring is the right choice for you.
  • They will measure moisture in your home, new flooring and subfloor to know when the new flooring is properly acclimated and ready to install.
  • No need to learn how to use the equipment. Professionals will know, and already have, the right tools for the job and the specific flooring you picked out.
  • A pro will prepare your subfloor to be clean, dry, sound and flat prior to installing new wood floors.
  • They will ensure the flooring is installed straight, and be able to handle complicated angles, doorways, and meeting up with other flooring surfaces.

All of these things require knowledge and experience to do well, which is why we highly recommend working with a professional when it comes to wood flooring.

That said, it is possible to DIY your own hardwood floors. There are good resources available that can help someone who is comfortable with intermediate to advanced home improvement projects do a good job.

If you don’t have an installer and would like a referral, we can help! We are the go-to wood flooring supplier throughout the Midwest. Contact one of our 12 locations and we can steer you towards a professional that will do a great job for you.

You can also stop by one of our showroom locations to get inspiration for your wood flooring project and get connected with an authorized retailer or installer.

Color

We believe color is the most important aspect in choosing a floor for your home. If the color isn’t right for your home and your style, nothing else really matters.

Take time to consider the other elements in your home that you don’t want to change. These could be paint colors, trim, cabinets, other floor coverings, furniture, etc. Then consider whether a light, medium, or dark wood floor would work best. This will narrow down the choices and help you focus on the floors that you know will work in your home.

One of a kind wood floors

One of a kind wood floorsHave you ever wanted something truly unique? Something that wasn’t mass produced, and looked just like what everyone else has?

Many of our prefinished floors undergo a special reactive stain process that react with tannins in the wood to create a unique look.

Factors like soil composition, amounts of sunlight and moisture, altitude and temperature can all affect how much tannin is in a tree. A reactive stain creates a special color in a relatively small batch of flooring, and will give you a truly one of a kind hardwood floor.

We place a special sticker on our flooring samples that undergo a reactive stain process to bring attention to the uniqueness of the color. When you look at these samples, you are seeing a color concept that is created through a special process. No two boards will be a like, and colors can vary from lot to lot.

“The reactive staining process allows the natural beauty of the tree to fully express itself.” – Nathan Elbrecht, Real Wood Floors.

For this reason, it’s especially important to approve these floors before they are installed in your home. It’s best to even order a box of the current lot before you make your final decision to see what the floor will look like in your home.

See more at our Prefinished Flooring Gallery.

Species

Wood flooring is a natural forest product. The species of tree that is used for lumber determines the species of your floor.

Every species has its own distinct characteristics and appearance – no two trees are exactly alike. In addition to the width and color of your flooring planks, the species you choose will be one of the main factors in determining how your floor will look.

One consideration is the density (or hardness) of each species, which is measured by a Janka rating. The higher the number, the denser (or harder) the wood is. Oak, Hickory, Birch, Maple and Walnut are all suitable hardwoods for flooring. Hickory and Northern Maple are considered very hard, while Walnut is on the lower end of the Janka scale. Oak is considered average.

There is no right or wrong choice here. The questions to consider are:

  • How much traffic your floor will be getting?
  • Will there be a chance heavy objects could be dropped or moved on it?
  • Is it in a commercial setting?

In some of these situations, a denser (harder) species may be advisable. See the differences between each species in our Prefinished Flooring Gallery.

See more in our Prefinished Flooring Gallery.

Photosensitivity

Many species of hardwood are photosensitive, and will change appearance when exposed to UV light.

Species like Walnut, and American Cherry are especially sensitive to color change. Other species like White Oak and Maple are less sensitive.

The reality is that all wood floors will be affected by light over time. You can slow this process down and make it less noticeable by:

  • Using window treatments in areas with a lot of direct natural sunlight.
  • Rotate furniture and area rugs to expose the floor uniformly to sunlight
  • Understand this is a natural process for many hardwood species, and will give your floor a rich, unique patina over time.

Cut

There are three primary ways a log can be cut for prefinished hardwood flooring: plainsawn, rift & quartered, and livesawn.

The way lumber is cut for flooring can have a significant effect on its appearance. Most times, lumber yards and flooring mills are cutting logs for maximum yield. This allows them to use as much of the log for flooring as possible.

Plainsawn

Plainsawn hardwood floor
Plainsawn produces the highest yield and is the most common cut for hardwood floors. You’ll get a traditional, “cathedral” grain pattern in this type of floor.

Plainsawn is what the majority of prefinished flooring is cut for because it produces the greatest yield from a log.

Plainsawn wood, also referred to as “flat sawn”, means the log is cut so that the annular growth rings of the tree are 30 degrees or less to the face of the board plank. This results in a “cathedral” grain pattern on the face of the board.

As a premium option, some mills will cut logs in a less efficient way that produces different grain patterns on the face of the board. The two options that can be found in prefinished flooring are “Livesawn” and “Rift & Quartered.”

Rift & Quartered

Graf Custom Hardwood Metal Gray
Rift and Quarter Hardwood Floors create a high-end, clean linear look. See more Rift & Quarter floors on our Prefinished Gallery here.

Quarter Sawn boards are cut with the end grain at a 60-90° angle to the face of the board. At this angle, the grain appears in very straight lines and the medullary rays (lines running through the growth rings in the tree trunk) in the lumber are split open to produce a stunning fleck pattern in the face of the board.

Rift Sawn boards are cut so the end grain is at a 45° angle to the face of the board. This produces a beautiful linear grain pattern and is the least efficient (and most expensive) way to cut lumber.

In prefinished wood flooring, these two cuts are usually combined and sold as “Rift & Quartered” flooring.

This is a premium option, and there are only a handful of Rift & Quartered species available as a prefinished wood floor.

Live Sawn

Livesawn hardwood floors
Livesawn flooring are popular with European White Oak floors. This is the cut that also yields rift & quarter wood floors

Live Sawn lumber is simply cut straight across the log. The resulting planks have a varied mix of Plainsawn, Rift sawn and Quarter sawn grain.

This cut is mostly used in wide plank flooring that is 6” or wider. Livesawn flooring has become increasingly popular and prevalent in prefinished wood flooring, especially in European Oak.

See more at our Prefinished Flooring Gallery.

Texture

Because prefinished hardwood flooring is manufactured in a factory controlled environment, extra steps can be added to the process to put texture into the flooring boards before they are stained and finished. This can be done through wire brushing, hand scraping, saw marks, or a combination of all.

Wire brushing

wirebrushed prefinished floor
Wirebrushing creates a light, weathered texture that brings out the grain of a wood floor.

Prefinished wood flooring that is wire brushed have a hard metal bristle brush applied to the wood surface to brush out the soft grain. This gives the floor a “weathered” look that can add character to a floor.

Hand scraping

handscraped hardwood floor
Handscraped hardwood floors are scraped (by hand or a machine) to add character to a floor.

Many floors are scraped to add depth and character to the boards. Some manufacturers try to recreate this texture with machines, but it is hard to substitute the look of a true hand scraped floor with no repeating patterns or obviously machined details.

Saw marks

saw mark wood floor
Saw mark floors mimic old wood floors found in factories and warehouses. These floors give a unique and rustic look.

Historically, hardwood floors were not able to be sanded as thoroughly as they are today. This left a lot of the original saw marks in the face of the board.

Today, this look has become more popular with the desire for an authentic vintage or reclaimed style. Many manufacturers are choosing to leave in or add saw marks to their prefinished flooring, creating a stunning appearance.

All together now: Mixing textures for a unique look

Creativity knows no bounds when it comes to texture in prefinished flooring. Many prefinished floors today that are brand new can have the look of a 100-year-old reclaimed floor. Something that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive and impossible to find is now readily available as a prefinished hardwood floor.

See more at our Prefinished Flooring Gallery.

Width

In addition to color and species, one of the most important choices to make when considering an unfinished wood floor is how wide the planks will be.

Unlike the thickness or construction type of the floor, this is a choice you will be reminded of when you or your client look at the floor every day.

Most solid prefinished hardwood flooring is available in 3-¼” and 5”, some will also be available in 2-¼” or 4”.

Engineered prefinished hardwood floors are typically 5” and wider, up to 8” with some manufacturers having options for even wider planks.

Multiple Widths

Multiple widths – Saltbox “Concord”

Many prefinished flooring manufacturers have options for multiple width floors. For instance, you could have a floor with 4″, 6″ and 8″ planks in alternating rows.

This multi-width layout is a great design choice, and can help provide a unique look to your floor. It is also eco-friendly as using varied board widths helps make the most use of the log, leading to less waste.

The choice of your flooring widths is largely a matter of taste and what you want your floor to look like.

One thing to consider when choosing a solid prefinished hardwood floor is that the wider the floor, the more significant the movement of the board can be when it is exposed to either a very dry or very moist environment. Wider planks can gap more significantly in dry weather, or swell and cup more noticeably in very moist conditions. Engineered boards are less affected by big swings in moisture.

For nail down installation of planks that are 5” and wider, we recommend that a glue assist method be used in addition to the nails to keep the boards from moving as much.

As always, for any solid or engineered it is important to keep the humidity in the home controlled between 35-55% RH. This is the range in which wood flooring is most stable.

See more at our Prefinished Flooring Gallery.

Engineered vs. Solid

True hardwood floors can either be made from one solid piece of lumber or engineered with a real hardwood veneer on top of a plywood core. While you can get the same beautiful hardwood look from both types, they also have their own benefits.