Looking for recommendations for hardwood floor finishing

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Forum topic by isotope posted 02-18-2016 08:33 PM 732 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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177 posts in 1801 days

02-18-2016 08:33 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing hardwood floor maple hickory birch question

I’ve slowly been renovating our old house. Ultimately, there will be new hardwood floors installed throughout the entire house. For a variety of reasons, the main floor will get done last, probably in a couple of years. However, in a couple monthes I’ll be doing the hallway upstairs and the stair treads. Ideally, I would like to install the same species of hardwood with the same finish in these locations as what will be installed on the main floor in the future. So, I have to “decide” now. Because of the gap in time, I’m hesitant to go with any kind of prefinished flooring. There is no guarantee that the product (same stain/color) will still be available in 2-3 years. So, I’m looking at a post-installation finish. To keep things simple, I’d like to avoid staining if possible. Also, I want a product that can be easily touched up in a couple years, without needing to sand the entire floor down.

Therefore, I’m looking for a combination of wood species/finishing oil that will result in a light-to-medium brown color. As much as I love Walnut, I think it’s a little too dark brown for what we want (it’s also expensive). I want something that is lighter than walnut, but isn’t reddish in tone, as you find in woods like cherry or jatoba. I’m ruling out white oak as my wife does not like the grain. Happy wife, happy life…...

At this moment, I’m hoping that a lighter wood like maple/hickory/birch with some sort of oil finishing product could produce a light brown. I recently refinished a den/bedroom floor with 100% pre-polymerized tung oil and I like it a lot. But, it’s a little on the amber/orange side for what we want for the main floor. Does anyone have any recommendations for me? I want to start making some test panels. Watco Medium Walnut Danish oil is already on my radar and I will definitely test that out.

Thanks in advance for any ideas or recommendations.

4 replies so far

View tealetm's profile


102 posts in 1035 days

#1 posted 02-18-2016 09:09 PM

I used Golden Spike Railroad Varnish on a recent project (stripped doors and new pine wainscoting) and it looks great in my opinion.

My father used to use this varnish on his old SYP floors and it looked great there too. He hated polyurethane and I’m afraid I’ve not adopted that opinion as well. The company is local to us, so its kind of a novelty, its not cheap but I’ve never priced out any other similar varnishes.

View isotope's profile


177 posts in 1801 days

#2 posted 02-18-2016 09:45 PM


Thanks for the recommendation. There isn’t much info on their website, but I’ve sent them an email and will try to get some to test out.

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1097 days

#3 posted 02-19-2016 05:01 AM


I cannot advise you on either the specific wood or finish. But I do have some thoughts.

The floor will get more abuse than wood almost anywhere else in the home. Therefore both the wood and the finish must be up to the abuse or a lot of unpleasant maintenance will be required.

Objects of all sorts will invariably strike the floor. If your wife or your friends like those high heeled shoes, the floor could end up with all sorts or shallow dings. A woman weighing 110 pounds and wearing high heeled shoes where the heel area contacting the floor is ¼ square inches, will apply 440 lbs. per square inch of force on the floor. A floor that will look good over the long haul will have to resist dents and dings.

The Wood Database shows the properties of a variety of woods, including a photo of the wood for the wife and a measure of hardness for you. The hardness measure is called Janka Hardness. Click on “Janka Hardness” for any wood and it will explain the meaning of the measure. In short, the larger the Janka Hardness value for a given wood, the more resistant that wood will be to dents and dings.

Floor finishes are similarly in for a lot of abuse. The primary purpose of the finish is to protect the wood. If you have pets, they will eventually go where you wish they hadn’t, on the hardwood floor. Scratches and spills add to the abuse. And then methods that will be used to clean the floor should be considered – hopefully not water or water based cleaners. Unfortunately easily repaired finishes tend to be less protective and less durable. This may explain why polyurethane seems to be a preferred floor finish. It is protective and durable. If I were to use polyurethane, I would tend to a spar varnish, since the sun will probably beat down on the floor.

Most floor manufacturers offer the toughest finishes available with long warranties to back these finishes. I believe, but am not sure, that these finishes contain aluminum oxide which greatly improves durability. I do not know whether these super finishes are available to a homeowner and whether application can be done by homeowner.

In the end, perhaps checking with a Sherwin-Williams or PPG company store about floor finishes would be informative. I suspect that these companies offer floor finish products. Also, at least some of the employees are very knowledgeable and could prove to be a good resource.

My last thought is that whatever wood and finish you choose, ensure that all 6 sides are finished. This extra work, I believe, will go a long way in controlling moisture and wood movement. For example, within a few months of installing stranded bamboo flooring in the kitchen, I dropped a full wine bottle on the floor near a wall. Of course it broke and wine went everywhere including under the floor. I suspect that had the flooring not been finished on all 6 sides (including cut ends and edges), I would have had to reinstall some flooring. A real pain fortunately avoided. And for the wife, the bamboo flooring is dark – avoid dark flooring. The wife here rues the day when our dark floor was installed. Dirt, it seems, is light in color requiring constant sweeping.

View isotope's profile


177 posts in 1801 days

#4 posted 02-19-2016 02:31 PM


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I am familiar with many of the issues that you bring up. For example, I’m am almost obsessed with the Janka hardness scale. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a “perfect” solution. I have 2 main reasons why I want to proceed with a hard drying oil finish of some type. First is that the floor that I already re-finished with tung oil has held up quite well. Much better than I expected. One important thing to point out is that the house is 100+ yrs old, and that floor is nowhere near perfect. There are tonnes of dents, scratches, gaps, etc… And through the years, these have accumulated some dirt and varnish, which I did not completely sand off. So, the oak has some “organic stain” on it. Therefore, scratches in the tung oil finish don’t really catch your eye. If the new floor I put in ends up looking like this one in 20 years, I’m ok with that. Here in new england, it’s surprizingly common to find pine floors. They are all beat up, but have their own charm.

The second reason is that the pre-finished hardwood floor that I installed in the bedrooms has not held up as well as I would have expected. It’s a pre-finished handscraped solid birch (from lumber liquidators). The factory finish with aluminum oxide might be scratch resistent, but it definitely doesn’t make the floor dent resistent. After less than 2 years there are already plenty of dents from things like belt buckles, dropped items, assembling ikea furniture, etc.. You bring up a good point that the hardness of the wood is a very important factor (birch is similar to red oak). It’s another reason why I’m shying away from walnut.
So, if the floor will eventually end up with dents in it anyways, then I might as well use a finishing product that will be easier to touch up through the years. I can definitely see the advantage of finishing all 6 sides, but I’m not sure I can take the time to do that. I’ll have roughly 700 square feet of floor to install. The idea of finishing all the boards individually before nailing them down is daunting. I’m impressed that you did it that way.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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