While walking the aisles at the National Wood Flooring Association’s (NWFA) 2017 convention in Phoenix, it became evident how quickly wood flooring finishes are advancing. From water-based formulations to UV-cured products, hardwax oils and the debut of two new LED-cured oils, the wide range of finishes available are enhanced with the latest technologies to deliver performance, beauty and durability.

Water-based and natural oil finishes

According to Jeff Johnson, MAPEI’s floor covering installation systems business manager, oil-modified polyurethane finishes remain the most popular option for finishing a hardwood floor, though water-based polyurethanes are beginning to make inroads. “Polys are so popular because everyone is used to working with them,” he said.

While hardwax oils are also available, he believes these products are designed primarily to serve “the high-end architectural design niche. Not everyone is interested in the look these products provide, and truthfully they can be kind of a nightmare to maintain.”

Vermeister offers a range of solvent-free water-based finishes. According to the company’s export manager, Alberto Monferini, “the type of look the finish [needs to achieve] depends on the market. The market for hardwax in the U.S. is still very new; in Europe, some markets are only hardwax.”

While he acknowledges that hardwax oils definitely require more maintenance than a polyurethane product, Monferini said how these oils are received depends largely on how the manufacturer sets expectations. “If the manufacturer takes the time to explain the maintenance procedure for hardwax oils, the consumer can make the best decision. Otherwise people will just be disappointed.”

Ryan Cooney, general manager of Ciranova, stated that consumers who want a hardwax oil finish are usually fine with the extra maintenance. “Once a customer gets knowledgeable about what a hardwax oil provides, the product takes off. However, contractors are used to polys in the U.S., so it can be harder to switch them.”

Michael Schnurr, Absolute Coatings Group, said hardwax oils not only require more maintenance but other considerations as well. “You’ll need walkoff mats and a precisely controlled environment along with that regular maintenance,” he said.

His company recently unveiled two new products: Absco Grand Build and Absco Easy 2K finishes. Absco Grand Build provides the benefits of both oil and waterborne technologies in a high solids product, he said. Absco Easy 2K features aluminum oxide in a two-component urethane formula, and also offers No Lap technology.

According to Amy Riemersma of DuraSeal, polyurethanes remain so popular because “homeowners want trending colors, simpler maintenance and ease of use.” As for water-based polys, she noted “they are growing in the market due to state regulations and the need to cut down on VOCs. Another advantage is you don’t have to clean the finish with acetone or mineral spirits; you can just use soap and water.”

Dirk Horstmann, international wood finish consultant for Osmo, said one small disadvantage of solvent-free finishes is they are harder to apply. “With solvent-free finishes, you have to put more work into it because of their high viscosity. You also don’t want to put too much friction on the [buffing] pad.”

Waterlox recently introduced True Tone, a color-infused tung oil for wood offered in 11 colors. “Tung oil protects better and offers a look for people who like something different,” said Conor Hawkins, Waterlox technical product manager. “It’s for people who don’t want poly, but want protection.”

Bona recently launched Bona Craft Oil 2K, a penetrating oil that “is not the first on the market but what makes us different is workability,” stated Ilene LeBlanc, Bona marketing manager. “It’s easy to use—simply trowel it on or buff it in with a pad. It cures in just eight hours and is overcoat-able with the Bona Traffic family.”

Lenmar has released a new water-based line: ClearCoat Pro. Products include ClearCoat Pro, a single-component system; ClearCoat Pro HT for high-traffic areas; and ClearCoat Pro XD for extreme durability. The company noted, “Waterborne technology has advanced. It offers durability and performance, and also dries a lot faster than [oil-modified] products.”

Vermont Natural Coatings’ Bob Goldstein showcased the company’s new EasyWhey system. “With EasyWhey, you can enhance or change the color of a prefinished floor. It can also be used on an unfinished floor.

“EasyWhey acts as a bonding agent, so you don’t need to abrade the finish. It’s a really thin coating so as not to mask the grain of the wood. After the EasyWhey is dry, put PolyWhey finish on top of it with our microfiber applicator. You can get in really close to walls and baseboards; for any areas that were missed you can finish it off with a microfiber cloth in hand.”

Goldstein added, “The system works quickly, and it reactivates so there is no lapping. The colors are also intermixable.”

UV- and LED-cured oils

Rubio Monocoat was one of two companies that unveiled an LED-cured finish at the show. (Editor’s note: See this month’s Director’s Perspective for more information on the other company.) Keith Hardisty, Rubio Monocoat’s marketing and media manager, said the advantage of LED over UV is easy to understand. “UV is hot; LED is cold-cured. That means a lot less power consumption, and bulbs that last about six times longer.”

He added, “Our LED oil is exclusive to our LED machines, which include handheld, on-site and factory line models. The LED-cured oil serves the commercial market—restaurants, retail stores and any job where they want someone to come onto the job, finish it quickly and walk out the door.”

According to Tyson Cartwright, account manager for Centennial Woods and the UVEECO floor coatings and finishes brand, UV-cured finishes are often used with sports floors. “You pass the machine over, and it’s already hardened. You can bounce a ball right behind it.”

Ed Spal, Centennial Woods’ CEO added: “There is a lack of VOCs with this product, so you can [complete a gym floor] while school is still in session. It’s also a cohesive product, which will adhere to the previous surface.”

He noted that training is an important part of getting contractors used to working with UV machines, but the learning curve is short. “We’ll set up training when they’re getting started, but once they use the system and know how to apply the product, they’re good to go on their own.”