Today’s hardwood flooring is manufactured in so many varieties—from numerous thicknesses, widths, lengths, species, colors (natural and stained), textures, patterns, inlays and more. In fact it’s now even packaged in different ways—either random or fixed.
Indeed, man’s ingenuity, creativity, imagination and engineering know-how has converted Mother Nature’s wonder into a much-preferred building product. Like any type of product, trends in this popular flooring segment do come and go, but two of the latest we’re seeing happening in the marketplace, while different, do work together: The aspect of individual planks being both wider and longer.
A key aspect driving wood flooring trends is designers, architects, builders and homeowners have a greater knowledge and understanding about hardwood flooring. As such they seem to be more frequently asking for something different and unique to meet their own styles and tastes, for example, wider widths and longer lengths.
The problem is, especially in this case, it is not always as easy as it may seem.
Since timber is a product of nature it is therefore imperfect. So this is a given that on one hand can be a stumbling block to design and engineering and, on the other, a major ingredient to providing the abundant variety that is now offered in wood flooring. This is especially true when it comes to manufacturing hardwood in varying lengths and widths.
In the very early days of this country the settlers built their cabins pretty much in close proximity to forests in order to have access to ample logs for building their homes. They had the advantage of cutting “virgin timber,” which was considerably larger in girth and taller in height than most commercially harvested trees logged today.
The trees of yesteryear yielded long-length and wide-width planks that were ideally suited to make flooring—and other building products. A key factor in this yield was aesthetics. Our founding settlers could care less whether the planks had visible knots, wormholes, checks, mineral streaks or other natural inherent characteristics in their flooring. After all, their primary goal was simply to have a solid functional floor.
As the manufacturing of hardwood flooring evolved, the natural, inherent characteristics present in oak, maple, hickory, walnut, cherry and other species were deemed undesirable. This resulted in equipment such as chop saws for lumber and end-matchers for flooring, installed to cut out the major “defects” as part of the regular manufacturing process. This, then, created the random length look we see in most solid hardwood flooring today.
As a result, the overall installed average length of hardwood flooring boards dropped considerably.
For the purest who still has the desire for longer length solid hardwood flooring planks, all hope is not lost. There are several options currently available to meet this requirement, as it is a specification growing more in popularity
The easiest way to achieve longer lengths in solid hardwood flooring production is to allow a certain amount of the so-called defects in the finished board. Allowing for sound knots, pinholes, mineral streaks, etc., up to certain grading limits will yield longer boards.
The more “character” you like, the longer the boards can be—some as long as 12 feet.
One Manufacturer, Olde Wood, offers Old Growth White Oak solid planks in random lengths from 2- to 12-feet, and specified longer lengths of 8- to 10-feet for an additional cost. It procures fallen virgin timber and reclaimed lumber that yields much longer boards.
The one caveat is you must allow for some degree of character in the flooring to achieve the desired longer lengths, which average 6- to 8-feet installed.
Another option is reclaimed Antique Heart Pine flooring by Goodwin Flooring Co. It procures longleaf pine logs that have been preserved in river bottoms for up to 200 years. The company also buys reclaim timbers from old warehouses, textile mills and other facilities that used tall timbers for support beams. This reclaimed material also yields very long lengths.
Most engineered plank flooring comes in fixed lengths from 4- to 6-feet. If your preference for longer lengths is primarily for installation productivity, longstrip is one solution.
A few decades ago, several European and Scandinavian manufacturers developed a process to produce an 8-foot long, fixed length and width engineered plank, mainly to increase lumber yield and automate production using a standard sized flooring plank. It is comprised of gluing several shorter, narrower width clear-defected lamellas into a two- or three-row wide plank by 6- to 8-feet in standard lengths.
When installed it looks like a random length strip floor. It is engineered for stability, comes prefinished and provides a much quicker installation time.
Another long-length solution is offered by Stoehr Flooring. It has patented a single board-width solid longstrip process creating a unique product called Monogram XL. It is a fixed 8-foot board, with random lengths built-in. Each box has at least a 6-foot length piece. Some have a single 8-footer included.
The result is a long solid hardwood flooring product that when installed looks just like a random length strip or plank floor. It is milled with high precision tooling to produce a perfectly square edge, in both unfinished and prefinished versions. The company claims a reduction in installation time of up to 25% due to the longer fixed lengths.
Over the years, the average widths of solid hardwood flooring had gradually diminished, with a maximum wide-width between 5- and 7-inches, primarily due to the availability of wide plank lumber suitable for manufacturing flooring.
But today’s style-conscious homeowner prefers a wider looking product and the industry has answered. Several hardwood manufacturers now offer wider width planks in varying species to meet this growing trend.
One supplier, Urban Floor, offers engineered floors in a 9½-inch width, and is currently introducing an 11½-inch wide plank in its Composer Collection, which was showcased at Surfaces.
Olde Wood, Goodwin Heart Pine and other reclaimed wood flooring manufacturers also offer a good selection of wider width floors.
While wider widths are more and more available, there are several important reminders about solid planks:
•Double check the moisture content of the sub-floor and flooring product prior to installation. They should be within at least 2% of each other.
• Allow sufficient acclimation time on the jobsite—usually 5 to 7 days.
• If available, the HVAC must be running prior to installation.
• Lastly, if there is a crawl space, it’s best to have it conditioned prior to installation.
All of this is to avoid excessive expansion from moisture that could result in the wood cupping, which would cause an unhappy customer—and that is something every retailer should want to avoid.