Installing Hardwood Floors: Finishes and Fastening
When installing custom hardwood flooring, both the finish and fastening will contribute to a floor that is either loved for years to come or one that needs constant maintenance and squeaks whenever it is walked on. With the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) Expo in Fort Worth arriving next month, we thought now was the perfect time to take a look at the latest in finishes and fastening products, as well as learn some best practices for working with these hardwood installation mainstays.
According to Jeff Johnson, MAPEI’s floor covering installation systems product manager, the North American market has switched from medium-gloss finishes to low- or no-gloss products, which are designed to bring out the character of the wood without any additional enhancement.
“This trend is very popular in Europe and we are now seeing more of these types of finishes being specified for North America. MAPEI’s current offering for this type of gloss level requirement can be found with MAPEI’s Ultracoat Easy Plus or Ultracoat High Traffic in our matte finish which is offered in a 10-gloss level,” Johnson noted. “Work is underway to develop a zero-gloss finish which we hope to bring to the market in 2019.”
Dee Lenston, Bona US professional sales training manager, stated that waterborne products continue to make inroads. “These evolving technologies are making floor finishing safer and even more durable,” he explained. “While we can’t refer to pending products or new innovations, Bona is developing products to create safer, greener and more flexible solutions for the hardwood floor industry.”
Waterborne finishes are showing up in natural oil products as well. Waterlox, a well-known hardwood finish for its tung oil content, is introducing a water-based version. According to Kellie Hawkins Schaffner, Waterlox president and CEO, “It’s our traditional Waterlox finish but emulsified in water instead of mineral spirits. It took more than 20 years to develop, and it’s available in medium, satin and matte finishes. It features low odor and low VOCs.”
Keith Hardisty, Rubio Monocoat USA marketing manager, shared another technology entering the finishes market. “A unique molecular bonding technology, which has been well-established in Europe but is relatively new to the U.S., allows for a wood floor finish applied in a single application. Because this technology does not build up layers of polyurethane, the technology also keeps the natural look and feel of the wood.”
He added, “Rubio Monocoat Oil Plus 2C features this unique molecular bonding technology. It is a zero VOC product available in more than 50 colors. The molecular bonding technology allows the finish to bond only to raw wood fibers and not the finish itself. Because it will not bond to itself, localized repairs can be [easily] achieved.”
Best Practices for Finishes
Johnson shared several best practices. “First, it is always important (although not commonly thought of) is to turn off HVAC systems prior to the application of the finish. You may want to move the smell or VOCs out of the room, but having the air movement blowing dust and debris onto your freshly placed finish is a reason why you need to turn these off before application and keep them off for a minimum of 12 hours to avoid contamination on the surface.
“To make things more complicated with the HVAC system off, you should always install finishes within the recommended temperature range. Remember that colder application temperatures are going to extend dry times considerably, while hot temperatures will flash cure the finish and oftentimes create issues when pulling the finish over the floor.
“When it comes to the finish itself, it is always a good practice to gently shake it to ensure all the flattening agents and raw materials are properly dispersed to avoid visual differences in the cured product. Also, when it comes to gloss levels, it is always advisable to use material from the same lot to avoid any variations in gloss level throughout the project.
“All of these best practices or suggestions have to be supported by proper wood preparation, dirt, dust and debris removal prior to the application of any sealer or finish. The best recommendation would be to reach out to the technical representatives supporting the wood floor finish business if you have any question at all on how to properly use these materials.”
Lenston stated: “It’s critical that installers or contractors stay within the recommended application rate of the product. Applying a finish too thin will affect the performance, durability and possibly lead to premature wear-through. Also, it’s important to honor the dry time of stains. Before applying finish, the stain must be completely dry to ensure that the finish will adhere.
“Environmental conditions are another key consideration. Airflow, temperature and humidity will affect how the finish will level and flow. Finally, we hear often that installers want to mix and match products (sometimes called a hybrid system). It’s best to stick with the same manufacturer’s products to ensure all the products (stain, sealer, finish) are compatible.”
Hardisty noted some common mistakes when working with the Oil Plus 2C finish. “The first common mistake is not preparing the surface properly. The finish accents the natural beauty of the wood; however this means it also accents any sanding imperfections in the surface.
“The second common mistake is not completely removing excess finish. It would seem to make sense that extra product on the surface would provide extra protection. This is not the case [with Oil Plus 2C] as the technology does not allow the product to bond to itself. This means excess on the surface will not cure properly, and can lead to problems.”
Fastening Products and Best Practices
Bostitch’s latest product for fastening is the Rolling Base Flooring Attachment. According to Dave Bertoni, product manager, “The Rolling Base Flooring Attachment lets you move quickly through flooring installations without lifting the tool between fastenings. It features tool-free depth adjustment for easy transition between flooring thicknesses, from 1/2 to 3/4 in. This attachment works with all Bostitch mallet-actuated flooring tools, including the MIIIFS, MIIIFN, and BTFP12569. Non-marring wheels are designed to roll smoothly across all types of flooring materials and finishes.”
Darwin Spencer Jr., Crain Cutter Co.’s national sales manager, noted several fastening products in the company’s line. “The 558 staple set tool is designed for power cleats and staples that misfire. It allows the installer to set the fastener instead of removing it, which can result in damage to a plank.
“The 553 engineered wood stapling tool is designed for engineered products only. This will get within two plank boards of the wall with a staple before gluing or top-nailing (which is highly undesirable) is needed.
“The 559 close to the wall staple set tool is similar to the 553 but designed for 3/4 in. solid wood installed with power cleats or staples. It is a single-load device and somewhat of a slow tool to use, but we have found that installers appreciate the option when needed.”
He also explained the importance of following the fastening schedule and not skipping any steps. “The stability of the materials being installed is very uncertain. Any cutting of corners, such as not following manufacturer recommendations on stapling patterns, can magnify some of those uncertainties. The flooring can over-contract or over-expand. With the proper fastening, you control that movement better. It’s a better-safe-than-sorry policy.”
Regarding wide plank installations, Johnson stated: “The installation of wide wood flooring plank using nail-down techniques has its challenges when the planks get larger than 5” in width. The problem becomes crowning in the center of the board with changes in humidity. The wider the plank the more problematic this becomes.
“The solution is to use a combination of nails/staples and adhesive. This is called ‘glue-assist’ in the wood floor installation market. The adhesive, in this application, prevents the crowning effect from occurring by bonding the center of the board to the substrate. This means that the traditional rosin paper moisture barrier used in nail-down installations can no longer be used, since bonding to the paper would not do anything to keep boards from crowning.
“The solution is to treat the wood substrate with a moisture-reducing product prior to the adhesive application. MAPEI offers Planiseal PMB as a moisture reducer over wood substrates (plywood and OSB). For adhesives, any of MAPEI’s complement of urethane or hybrid polymer adhesives would serve well.”