A Comprehensive Guide To

UNFINISHED FLOORING

What you need to consider when looking for a new wood floor.

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What to consider with unfinished wood flooring

Unfinished Flooring Cover
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Think of an unfinished hardwood floor like a blank canvas. You can make it look any way you want.

Using unfinished wood flooring in a home or commercial project will give you the ultimate flexibility to make your floor unique and fit your exact specifications.

We have put together a master list of the things to consider when choosing an unfinished hardwood floor. While this list is comprehensive and covers most of the typical options people consider, there is always the ability to go even further to create something truly custom.

When it comes to unfinished flooring, we can work with you to source just about any floor you can dream up. See our gallery of customer’s photos for inspiration or contact us for more information about our products.


See more installation photos here.

Solid vs. Engineered Wood Flooring

True wood floors can either be made from one solid piece of lumber, or engineered with a true hardwood veneer on top of a plywood core. There are benefits to both formats.

Solid

Traditionally, wood floors are made from a solid piece of lumber. Lumber is harvested from trees and is kiln dried to somewhere between 6-9% moisture content. The lumber is then milled with a tongue and groove, resulting in a flooring plank that is usually ¾” thick. Other thickness options include ½” or ⅝”, but ¾” is the standard thickness for most unfinished flooring.

Solid wood floors are ideal for homes where conditions can get dry, homes with plywood subfloors, and jobs that require custom work (more options are usually available with solid wood flooring than engineered).

Engineered

Recently, engineered unfinished floors have become more popular and the quality of these floors is truly amazing. Instead of using one solid piece of lumber for each plank, lumber is cut into thinner veneers. These can range from 2mm to 5mm.

Veneers are then bonded with a plywood core which gives the floor exceptional stability. The thickness of each plank can be ½”, ⅝”, or ¾”. Many times, engineered unfinished floors are pre-sanded so that only minimal final sanding is required once the planks are installed. This can speed up installation time and result in a very high quality floor once installed.

Engineered floors are ideal when being installed over concrete, in a home that can have higher moisture content, or when looking for an efficient and fast way to complete a job. We have a collection of unfinished engineered from Teckton. Contact a location near you for more information.

Width

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 look at your floor every day. This is largely a matter of taste and what you want your floor to look like.

One thing to consider is that the wider the floor, the more significant the movement of the plank 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.

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 always, it is important to keep the humidity in the home controlled between 35-55% RH.

We have many resources that cover the ins and outs of humidity, RH, and moisture. See our complete guide here.

Standard Widths

2 1/4" Select and Common Red Oak Floor Sand and Finish
2 1/4″ Select and Common Red Oak installed in a Kansas City home.

Unfinished flooring typically comes in a few standard widths which we keep in stock daily. “Strip” widths are: 1-½” and 2-¼” and standard “Plank” widths are 3-¼”, 4” and 5”.

Other Widths

6" Walnut floor with Emulsion
6″ Walnut with Emulsion installed by Midwest Hardwoods in Kansas City.

Just about anything can be customized with unfinished wood flooring, including the width. The current trend is to see wider and wider widths being specified. A 6” or 8” White Oak is not that uncommon anymore. Sometimes we will have these widths in stock, but typically they will be custom ordered from a mill.

Multiple Width Floors

Multi-width Red Oak
2 1/4″, 3 1/4″, and 5″ inch planks installed by Hardwood Floor Essence in Kearney, MO.

Another trend is to combine multiple widths. This is typically done in a repeating row pattern (ex: 3-¼” – 4” – 5”), but can also be mixed randomly. There is no limit to how many widths you can combine, but typically we see three widths being the most popular. We will use a specific formula to figure out how many square feet of each width you will need to install the floor. Just let us know the total job size and we will handle the rest.

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. In addition to the width of your flooring planks, the species you choose will be the main factor in determining how your floor will look.

See more here.

Readily available species

The species that are most readily available are the North American domestic tree species of Red Oak, White Oak, Hickory, Maple and Walnut. Red Oak and White Oak are by far the most popular for wood flooring. We keep all these species in stock in most of our locations.

One consideration is the density (or hardness) of each species. This is measured by a Janka rating. The higher the number, the denser (or harder) the wood is. Oak, Hickory, Maple, Cherry and Walnut are all suitable hardwoods for flooring. Hickory and Maple are considered very hard, while Walnut and Cherry are on the lower end of the Janka scale. Red Oak and White Oak are considered average. There is no right or wrong choice here. Some aspects to consider are: how much traffic your floor will be getting, will there be heavy objects dropped or moved on it, and is it in a commercial setting? In these situations, a denser (harder) species may be advisable.

Other species

There are dozens of other species that are used for wood flooring. Some are found domestically, while others are from more tropical areas. Each species has its own unique characteristics and can be a part of a truly unique wood flooring canvas. Some other species that can be used for flooring include:

  • Ash
  • Australian Cypress
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Pine
  • Douglas Fir
  • Brazilian Walnut (Ipe)
  • Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba)
  • Other specialty and exotic species

Grade

Once you decide on a species of wood, the next decision will be which grade of that species you want. Grades can often be confusing to people because there is not a universal standard. Grades also only deal with the appearance of a floor, not the hardness or quality. Things like knots, mineral streaks, pin holes, and color variation all affect the grade. Appearance is a personal decision, so there is no right or wrong choice here. Grade will affect the price of the floor, sometimes significantly, so this is usually the determining factor for most people.

To show the differences between grades, we’ve created a grading guide with many of the unfinished floor options we sell. Check it out here.

See more here.

Waste Factor

It is important to understand that a certain amount of flooring will need to be discarded on every job. Wood flooring is a natural product, and even in the cleanest grades there will occasionally be unavoidable defects that show up. In addition, there is a waste factor involved in cutting boards during the installation process. Depending on how many angles there are in a room, a certain amount of flooring will be lost to making cuts when starting or finishing a row of flooring.

For most grades of flooring, a 5-10% waste factor should be added to an order. Variables such as grade, room size, angles of walls, and orientation of the floor will affect the overall waste factor. For rustic or tavern grades that can allow an unlimited amount of defects, including some boards that are completely un-installable, up to a 15-20% waste factor should be added to an order.

To include a waste factor of 7% for your flooring order simply multiply the total job size by 1.07 to get the total amount of square footage to order. Example: 300sqft x 1.07 = 321sqft.

Oak Grades