After you have chosen which species of wood to use for your wide plank flooring, it’s time to think about the stain and finish. Unless you have the necessary tools, and the all-important experience, it’s best to have your flooring installer handle the staining and finishing as well. People sometimes think that adding a stain to a wood floor is as simple as spreading the stain around with a rag. But as with many projects, the reality is quite different. Many things can go wrong in staining and finishing, so unless you are an expert yourself, it’s wise to leave it to the professional.
Choosing a stain
You can stain a wood floor almost any color under the sun. However, the first question to ask yourself is whether you want to stain your wood floor at all. You don’t have to. You can simply apply the topcoat or finish, and let the natural color, grain, and character of the wood shine through. But sometimes, for various reasons, you may want to stain the wood. Typical situations that call for a stain include trying to match the wood to an adjacent floor, or trying to reproduce a certain historic look and color for your wide plank floor.
Different stains ( and there are a confusing variety of stains on the market) can work well or poorly depending on the wood species. Again, your flooring professional should know their stains, and be able to advise you accordingly. Pigment stains, for example, work well on oak, ash, and hickory. Maple and cherry, however, can become blotchy if a sealer is not used first. And keep in mind, dark stains will be more likely to show dirt easily.
The best advice when it comes to choosing whether or not to stain, and what stain to use, is to discuss it fully with your flooring supplier and installer. You can also check out the websites of the stain manufacturers, and gain some valuable information that way.
Choosing a finish
The finish, or topcoat, is the protective layer that covers the wood floor. Properly applied, it should last for many years and be virtually maintenance-free. Unlike stains, which are optional, you will certainly want to apply a finish topcoat to your wood floor.
Our recommendation is to go with either an oil-based polyurethane or tung oil varnish for a long-lasting finish. Several coats will be needed, and in-between each coat, your installer will “screen” (lightly sand) and “tack-rag” (dust removal by rags) the finish coat.
Finishes generally come “clear” or transparent, and dry to a hard, scratch-resistant finish that lets the natural beauty of the wood shine through. However, you can also consider what’s called an “amber” finish. This finish, as the name suggests, adds an amber tint to the polyurethane, which results in a more aged look. It can be a suitable choice especially for wide plank flooring, where the goal is to create an antique look to the floor.
As with most home design projects, take the time to learn all the facts about stains and finishes, and what your options are. Some time invested in this crucial final step will surely add to your satisfaction and enjoyment of your new or restored wood flooring.