Troubleshooting Site-Applied Wood Floor Finishes
According to recent surveys, the flooring industry has logged significant increases in both prefinished and job site-finished hardwood floor installations. I question the accuracy of this data with regard to the prefinished segment more than the site-finished category.
Manufacturers of prefinished wood floors appear to be multiplying like rabbits. The chances of catching one of those rabbits for any informational observation is dismal at best.
Nonetheless, both the prefinished and site-finished teams apparently continue to be lined up head to head at the 50-yard line with neither able to force any turnovers. But unlike adversaries on the NFL gridiron, both teams have been able to enter and leave the floor covering playing field as winners.
Without question, prefinished and job site-finished wood floors provide our industry with all the niches necessary to successfully compete with any alternative floor covering. The similarity between prefinished and unfinished hardwood flooring products begins and ends when both products are in their raw forms at the manufacturer’s plant.
With the prefinished product, the entire responsibility for sanding, staining and finishing is borne by the manufacturer. The factory environment for staining and finishing is highly controlled to minimize airborne dust and contaminants. These exacting conditions, combined with the ultraviolet (UV) curing process, allow for a near perfect application of stain and multiple coats of finish within mere minutes.
So, what’s the downside? Well, in order to ensure a minimal amount of overwood from the manufacturing process, the large majority of prefinished wood floor products are made with eased edges. Square-edged prefinished products do exist, and more of them are being developed. Products in this category require tight, precise milling to achieve a relatively smooth transition between the adjacent edges of hardwood flooring strips and/or planks.
In my experience, I’ve found that most customers tend to be a little more forgiving when they scan a prefinished wood floor installation for stain and finish inconsistencies. Troubleshooting complaints about prefinished floors usually involves reconciling the end user’s aesthetic perceptions of the showroom sample with the final on-site installation.
One particular point needs to be made. Whether the floor is prefinished or job site finished, the professional sander/finisher is an integral player in the preservation and ultimate longevity of every hardwood floor installation.
Even the customer who initially accepted a prefinished hardwood floor installation on its face value can potentially become a most vehement critic of any professionally prescribed periodic maintenance that the floor requires. Likewise, a customer who opts for an installation that requires job site sanding and finishing can become suddenly critical about the look and performance of the floor once the project is complete and payment due.
When dealing with any job site finish complaint, consider the four points below. This information can be invaluable in your efforts to achieve a smooth, agreeable resolution.
1. If the floor in question is a previous or existing “aged” installation, inquire as to whether both options — recoating or complete refinishing — were presented and offered to the customer at the time of sale. Customers must be made to understand that recoating only restores the desired sheen and/or gloss level of the floor (although superficial scratches are removed also). Indentations and uneven edges require a full sanding, staining and finish application to achieve a complete restoration.
2. During the traditional screen and recoating process, responsibility for controlling potential job site contaminants resides with the customer. If in doubt about contaminants on the job site, advise the customer that the new finish may fail to bond with the existing finish if contamination occurs.
As an alternative to the obvious option of a complete sanding, Basic Coatings developed its Tykote product specifically to promote proper adhesion. It’s worth mentioning that many of today’s prefinished floor manufacturers, particularly those that utilize variations of the aluminum oxide finish, recommend use of Tykote when recoating is required. Please note, however, that floor wax can only be removed by sanding.
3. Swirls, which are an unavoidable consequence of screening, will be especially apparent in areas of the floor directly below recessed “can” lights in the ceiling. Check to see whether the floor has been over-abraded. Explain to the customers that the required screening process in and of itself will cause some swirling and the presence of can lights will further accentuate the effect.
4. Particles will always make their way into the final coat of finish. Even though proper precautions during the job will limit the amount of particles, random occurrences of this contamination are likely to be discovered by the customer when he or she gets on hands and knees to clean the floor. Even when air movement on the job site is tightly controlled, particles can settle on the wet finish for several hours after the final coat has been applied.
Wood or Wood Knot knows one thing for sure: hardwood floors are never really complete until they have been “fine-ly” finished. Your industry colleagues commend the efforts of those who professionally and conscientiously undertake this work.