When wood is milled into boards for hardwood flooring, there are several methods used, but three are most common. Each method produces distinct characteristics that might particularly appeal to you. It’s essentially a matter of personal taste—although you can’t forget about functionality and cost.
This is the simplest and most-common milling method. Logs are sawn with a series of parallel cuts lengthwise (in the direction the tree grows, not across the tree).
Boards cut from the edge of logs will be narrower than those cut from the center. They also have larger, more “open” grain patterns because the growth rings are nearly parallel with the cut.
Planks cut from the center of logs are wider and have tighter, more vertically aligned patterns because the wood’s growth rings are nearly perpendicular to the cut.
In terms of functionality, plain-sawing (also called “flat” sawing) leaves the wood more susceptible to cupping, crowning and gapping than the other methods. However, plain-sawn is the least expensive of the three options, in large part because it wastes the least wood.
For many homeowners, this affordability is just icing on the cake—the open feel that’s possible with plain-sawn planks is exactly the look they’re after.
This milling method begins by sawing a log into four quarters. The quarters can then either be plain-sawn or flipped from flat edge to flat edge between each cut. Plain sawing the quarter is relatively easy but wastes a lot of wood; rotating the log quarter between each cut wastes less wood but obviously requires more labor.
Because the growth rings in quarter-sawn planks are more perpendicular than parallel to growth rings, quarter-sawn boards usually have tight, vertical grain patterns.
In some woods, the quarter-sawn method also produces pleasant, ribbony “ray flecks,” which occur when the cut crosses the wood’s rays, which transport nutrients laterally within trees. Quarter-sawn oak flooring, in particular, has beautiful ray flecks.
Quarter-sawn planks have more stability than plain-sawn planks, with less tendency to expand and contract with moisture and temperature variations, but quarter-sawn hardwood is typically more expensive than plain-sawn.
This method produces the most stable boards, but it’s also the most expensive of the three choices—and the least common. Logs are cut radially, perpendicular to the wood’s growth rings, from the edge to the center. This results in a lot of wasted triangles of wood between each plank—frequently almost as much waste as usable wood. But the rift-sawn method produces the most-stable planks with the straightest grain patterns, making it a desirable method for a highly elegant, formal look.
Take a Look for Yourself
The best way to select between the three milling methods is to visit the showroom of a quality hardwood flooring company and ask to see samples of each method. You’ll also be able to talk to a hardwood flooring specialist about how the milling method affects specific types of hardwood.
If you’re in the market for finished hardwood flooring, you have so many choices, it can be overwhelming. Solid planks or engineered wood flooring? Prefinished or sand on site? Domestic or exotic species?
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, just a generation ago, solid plank flooring sanded and finished on site was essentially the only option for homeowners. Then in the 1990s, engineered and pre-finished alternatives entered the picture.
This variety makes it easier to find finished hardwood flooring that fits your taste, needs, and budget, but to navigate the multitude of options, you need to understand the fundamental differences between the choices. Here’s a brief primer.
Solid plank vs. Engineered
Despite the availability of alternatives, solid plank finished hardwood flooring is still the choice of many—and with good reason. It lasts longer than engineered hardwood because it can be re-sanded more times. It’s generally less expensive than good quality engineered wood flooring And with solid plank flooring, you know exactly what you’re getting, whereas with engineered wood flooring, you also have to consider the quality of the manufacturing process and the composite material that’s used below the top layer of genuine hardwood.
The quality of engineered flooring has come a long way, though. It’s not at all a matter of “solid plank is always better.” In fact, in many cases—such as in basements or high-moisture areas—engineered wood flooring is clearly the better choice because it is more stable. This stability also might appeal to you, even in areas where solid plank could just as easily be used.
You can find outstanding engineered wood floor products, particularly by consulting with a hardwood flooring company you trust, to help you evaluate the quality of the products you’re considering and recommend the best-performing engineered flooring.
Sand on Site vs. Prefinished
With both solid plank and engineered flooring, you can choose to have the flooring sanded on site, or you can buy flooring that’s been finished in the factory.
When done by an experienced, skilled hardwood floor installer, sanding on site—and then staining (if you want) and finishing—will provide a floor with more richness, depth, and character. And by sanding on site, you’re not limited to the finishes chosen by the manufacturer.
If you decide on prefinished hardwood flooring, it’s once again important to consult with a hardwood floor expert to find the best products on the market.
Domestic vs. Exotic
Today, there’s more availability of exotic wood flooring from other parts of the world than ever before, even as engineered hardwood. Exotic species provide a unique, luxurious look that appeals to many people. Some are also harder than any domestic species you’ll find. But the supply is still relatively limited compared to domestic hardwoods, and transportation also drives up the cost.
In “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, sees a vision of a baseball diamond in his cornfield and hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field there, which Ray does.
People close to Ray tell him he’s crazy—that he’s going to go bankrupt if he doesn’t replant his corn. But Ray’s not the only one who believes—his faithful daughter reassures everyone that people will eventually come to watch baseball at the field.
And she’s right. By the end of the movie, baseball dreams have been fulfilled, Ray “reunites” with his father, and cars are pulling up outside the diamond—all because Ray believed in dreams and what his heart was telling him.
I love that movie. It celebrates the same values we have at Ralph’s Hardwoods—family, tradition, staying true to yourself, and working hard to fulfill dreams.
I also know how Ray felt when people questioned his sanity. When it was time in 2005 for Ralph’s to build a new facility, a lot of people thought we were crazy when we decided to build it in Black Creek, rather than take the opportunity to move to a more-urban area.
But we did it anyway.
We could see the advantages of being in a city like Green Bay or Appleton. It would make it easier for more customers to visit our showroom, cut down on our transportation costs and time, and give us access to a bigger labor market.
But our dream wasn’t to build a great new showroom in a city. We dreamed of building a great facility—and continuing to build a great company—in the community that’s been home to us since my Dad founded Ralph’s Hardwoods in 1965.
We can’t think of any better place to be than Black Creek. We feel like a part of the community, and that the community is part of us. We are very pleased and proud to be the second largest employer in town.
And the lure of a larger labor pool in a city really wasn’t the strong for us. We are more than happy with our team members from the Black Creek area—they are loyal and smart, with a solid farm work ethic. We consider our employees to be a key advantage over our competition—and we didn’t think it was too wise to give that up.
But what about the customers?
Just like people eventually came to Ray’s field, our customers have come to the dream showroom we built. We are the largest full-service hardwood floor company in Northeast Wisconsin, and we keep on growing.
We think that’s because of the culture we’ve created—solid work ethic, dedication to quality, and the willingness and ability to work with our customers to give them the hardwood floors of their dreams. Just like Ray and his daughter, we believe in the power of dreams, and we’ll do anything we can to make our customer’s visions become reality.
We know we’re doing something right if people drive many miles out of their way to take advantage of our products and services. That also says a lot about our customers. It means they’re people who love hardwood floors enough to insist on the best, just like we do.
I was at a dinner party recently when one of the guests started talking to me about birdhouses. “Birdhouses?” I thought. “I don’t care about birdhouses.” I’ve got nothing against them; I’ve always liked them, as far as that goes. But birdhouses certainly wouldn’t have been my choice for conversation.
But my friend kept talking about his passion for birdhouses and how he loved to build them. You know what? Before long, I was getting pretty interested in birdhouses myself!
In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever think of them in the same way again. The more he passionately articulated his love of building birdhouses, the more I came to appreciate the creativity and craftsmanship that can go into them.
Are You Passionate About Your Flooring?
I doubt my birdhouse building friend shares my passion for flooring, but if that had been what we were talking about at the dinner party, I’m pretty sure he would have gone home with a new appreciation for the subject—particularly hardwood flooring, which is my specialty.
Why? Because passion, combined with knowledge, usually produces enthusiasm, no matter what the topic.
If you’re in the market for new hardwood flooring, why not get enthusiastic about it? Choosing your hardwood flooring can be a thrilling experience. If you don’t feel that way yet, I suspect it’s because you haven’t been exposed to what makes people like me so passionate about it.
That’s why I strongly encourage you to visit our showroom. I’m not the only one at Ralph’s Hardwoods who is passionate and knowledgeable about hardwood flooring—having that passion and knowledge is a prerequisite for becoming part of our team.
If you drop by, not only will you get to see all our samples, you’ll give us a chance to pass on our enthusiasm and educate you about hardwood flooring, so that the experience of selecting your flooring becomes something you profoundly enjoy.
In our experience, the more we explain the intricacies and possibilities of hardwood flooring, the more excited our customers become about the opportunity to creatively express themselves and get great value.
A Conversation Among Friends
You might think that going into a showroom exposes you to getting a “hard sell.” That’s not how we operate. For us, it’s more like the guy talking to me about birdhouses. We love hardwood flooring, and we want you to love it to. When you’re passionate about something, spreading that passion is just the natural thing to do.
Photo by Dèsirèe Tonus. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
Not long before Christmas, my 7-year-old daughter was playing on the Internet, looking at the website of Build-a-Bear Workshop, which lets kids customize stuffed animals.
She looked up at me told me the site was “awesome” because she could pick exactly the teddy bear she wanted Santa to bring her.
“Oh, and it has free shipping,” she added.
I thought that was very cute. And also quite interesting. I wondered why a 7-year-old would care whether the shipping was free. Didn’t she expect to get it delivered for free by Santa anyway?
I decided it was simply the notion of “free” that caused her to comment on the shipping. Even little children know that free is good.
But in the world of commerce, is anything really ever free? Whatever’s “free” is always built into the price. If you can find a product cheaper with shipping included than the same product with “free” shipping, aren’t you’re going to decide that “free” isn’t free after all and buy the cheaper product?
Real Value Is in Quality Service
In the finished hardwood flooring industry, you may find hardwood floor companies that offer various “free” products or services along with a purchase, but don’t let those sway your decision more than they should. Your total cost is the bottom line, not how much “free” stuff you get.
Instead, look at the truly free things you should receive from a hardwood floor company—personal attention, commitment to customer satisfaction, and devotion to getting all the details right. At Ralph’s Hardwoods, we’ve been providing this free value for two generations, as we’ve installed more than 5 million square feet of finished hardwood flooring.
Our dedication to our customers and to quality craftsmanship won’t show up in the price, so they really are free. They’re also critical in getting the best value for the money you do spend.
The Personal Touch
My daughter’s remarks also got me thinking about how pleased she was that she could put together her own teddy bear. Not only will it look like she wants, there’s just something about being part of the creative process that makes people enjoy the finished product more.
Custom hardwood floors provide the same kind of thrill. To get the look you want, you can chose every detail—species, color, grain, finish, texture, and more. We can provide expert assistance and advice as you make your decisions, but they’re your decisions.
When selecting a hardwood flooring company, don’t be misled by promotional offers. The free value that matters is excellent customer service, hardwood floor expertise, and a wide range of custom options.
Point2Homes recently analyzed 300,000 real estate listings from 2012 to find out what words are most often used to describe homes for sale.
Not surprisingly, “beautiful” topped the list, but in the second spot was “hardwood floors.” That’s not surprising either—people love finished hardwood flooring, and it’s a great selling point. The fact that “hardwood floors” ranked second in Point2Homes’ list clearly shows that real estate agents have seen how much value home buyers place on hardwood flooring.
But hardwood floors’ contribution to a home’s value has many variables. Here are four to consider.
1. A lot of the value depends on where you live. For example, in areas where finished hardwood flooring is common, not having it could lower resale value. But in places where hardwood flooring isn’t expected, it might not add much value because home buyers looking in that area won’t (or can’t) pay extra for them.
2. A primary attraction of custom hardwood floors is that you can express your personality and taste. But if you chose an uncommon hardwood floor, you should realize that not all home buyers will share your taste, possibly increasing time on the market as you wait for just the right buyer to come along. On the other hand, a distinct floor can really pay off if you find a buyer who falls in love with that particular look and is willing to pay for it.
3. The value you get from your floors can’t always be quantified in the sales price. In many cases, finished hardwood flooring doesn’t make a home sell for more—but it does make it sell faster, which can have immense value.
4. Make sure you buy quality hardwood floors. Low-quality floors can go downhill to the point that the best option before a sale is complete replacement—and there goes your “investment.”
In some cases, the primary advantage of finished hardwood flooring in terms of home sales may be that you can sell your home faster, which is nothing to scoff at. But, although it’s not a given, you can most likely also offset some of the cost of hardwood floors when you sell your home.
Every hardwood floor creates a distinct feel. It might be cozy, casual, rustic, formal, elegant, dark, bright, or any number of other moods, but each floor has a character that sets the tone for a room.
Five elements will be crucial in determining the feel of your finished hardwood flooring.
Each species has a unique grain pattern. Some species have prominent patterns; others are more subtle. For a sleek, minimalist look, or for a formal room, less-prominent grain is often preferred, whereas bolder grain patterns create a more traditional, casual look.
You’ll also need to consider whether you can see pores within the grain (“open” grain) and how the boards are cut.
Each species also has a unique color. Light colors create a more open, breezy feel, while dark colors generally help “warm up” a room.
You also can decide to stain your hardwood floors to alter the natural color or accentuate it.
Hardwood floors can be wire-brushed, hand-scraped, or hand-distressed to add texture that helps create rustic, aged, and well-lived-in looks.
Hardwood is generally categorized as first, second, third, or rustic grade, but first grade isn’t necessarily the best—it just means it has the least color variation, knots, wormholes and other “defects.” Which grade is best depends on the look you’re after. If you want a natural look, irregularities in the wood are signs of character.
Finished hardwood flooring will reflect light, but how much (its “sheen”) depends on how it’s finished. There are various levels of sheen, ranging from high-gloss (very reflective) to low luster (the appearance of no finish at all). Typically, the more reflective a finish, the more formal floors appear.
Putting It All Together: Ralph’s Hardwood Floor Collections
We’ve been installing finished wood floors for almost half a century, giving us plenty of opportunity to learn firsthand which combinations of species, color, texture, grade, and sheen work best together to create certain moods.
Over the years, we’ve used this knowledge to develop a line of hardwood floor Collections. Each Collection consists of multiple hardwood floor choices, which we designed by matching each of the five elements above to achieve a specific look and mood.
If you’re after a particular feel, there’s a good chance we have a product in one of our Collections that was designed with that feel in mind.
Not sure of what you want? Looking over our Collections can help you see the possibilities.
When building a home with finished wood floors or installing them in an existing home, you have an abundance of choices. You can completely customized your hardwood flooring, by choosing the species, grade, width, color, texture, and sheen. A pre-finished floor may be exactly what you are looking for.
Custom Hardwood Flooring
This choice is for homeowners who want to specify every aspect of the flooring—species, grade, color, finish, and surface. This control may be necessary to get exactly the look you’re after.
This type of flooring is finished before it’s installed, but there is nonetheless a wide choice of species, color, width, grade, and finish (e.g., distressed, bevel, wire brush). There are also other pre-finished hardwood-like materials available, such as cork (made from the bark of the cork tree) and laminate. Pre-finished products don’t have to be the poorly made flooring you see in the big-box home-improvement stores; there are plenty of quality manufacturers to select from.
Have Fun and Get the Floor You Want
Whichever option you choose, the process of selecting the floor that best fits your home can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of building or renovating. Finished wood flooring can be used in so many creative and exciting ways to express your taste and help define your home’s “personality.” Visit our showroom and talk to the experts about how you can get the finished hardwood floors of your dreams.
In our two previous posts about how to compare hardwood flooring, we discussed the quality of various types of wood and how to have floors installed to reduce the likelihood of cupping, crowing, or gapping.
Knowledge is critical in choosing the right hardwood flooring for your home, but let’s face it—appearance is what drives our selection. Hardwood floors can be used in a myriad of beautiful ways to enhance a home’s interior design and to express the personality of a homeowner. That creative flexibility is what gets homeowners excited.
You may desire an elegant look, or you may be after something rustic. You might like the traditional look of hardwood floors, or you may want to make a bold statement. Hardwood floors can provide whatever appearance you seek.
Hardwood flooring offers such a wide range of options because there are so many variables that go into its appearance. As you decide on the appearance you want, you’ll can enjoy selecting the following:
- Species—Each species projects a different feel. For example, maple, with its light grain, is a popular choice among homeowners who desire a contemporary look. On the other hand, oak and ash, both of which have heavy, bold grain, are common choices for people who want a more casual appearance. Open grains tend to create a cozier feel, while closed grains are sleeker in appearance.
- Color—Another difference between species is color. You can choose to leave the color natural or to stain it. With staining, color can be adjusted in innumerable ways to help achieve the look you desire.
- Sheen—A glossy finish tends to project a more formal atmosphere; whereas the natural look of a satin finish will feel homier and disguises wear and tear better.
- Grades—Each species of wood is graded, from the clearest grade to the most rustic. The higher the grade, the more uniform the wood will be. The lower the grade, the more color variation you’ll see, as well as more knots, mineral streaks, and wormholes. Some people like the character of lower grades, so higher is not necessarily better—it all depends on your taste.
- Width—Wider planks, which are becoming increasingly popular, tend to create a more casual appearance, while narrow planks are more formal. Narrow planks also work to “lengthen” a room. Many homeowners choose to use random-width boards to create a less formal look.
- Length—Longer boards are generally used to create a sense of elegance, while shorter boards are the more casual choice. As with width, a mixture of board sizes is a frequent choice (in part due to lower cost), and unless the floors have beveled edges, will be almost unnoticeable.
- Sand on Site or Pre-Finished—With sand-on-site custom hardwood flooring, the stain and finish are applied after the sanding, so you can specify exactly the color and sheen you want. The beveled edge that is almost always seen on a pre-finished floor is absent in sand-on-site floors. If you prefer pre-finished flooring, there’s an abundance of quality pre-finished products on the market, including distressed and hand-scraped finishes. So you can most likely chose pre-finished flooring without sacrificing your aesthetic vision.
- Solid or Engineered—The decision to use engineered flooring is often driven by stability issues (as discussed on our last post), but there is an appearance factor as well. Engineered flooring typically is made with beveled edges to lessen the visibility of small differences in milling thickness and subfloor irregularities, and many people don’t like this look. On the other hand, some people love beveled edges. We’ll repeat our mantra—it’s all about your taste.
This concludes our three-part series on comparing hardwood floors. We hope you’ll visit us in our showroom to learn more about how you can select the floor of your dreams.
If you’re like most people evaluating hardwood flooring options, you naturally tend to focus on how different woods will look as soon as they’re installed. And as our first post in this three-part series on comparing hardwood floors pointed out, wood quality (i.e., hardness, strict milling standards) is important as well.
But you should also think about how each wood you are considering will function over the years—specifically, how well the flooring will resist cupping, crowning, and gapping.
Cupping occurs when the edges of the planks become higher than the centers. Crowning happens when the centers becomes higher than the edges. Gapping is just that—spaces between the planks.
All of these conditions are due to the natural swelling and shrinking of wood because of changes in temperature and humidity. As wood gets warmer and takes on more moisture, it expands; as it cools and dries, it contracts.
Each species of wood varies in its sensitivity to temperature and humidity changes, and the degree to which a wood reacts to these environmental fluctuations is referred to as stability. The more stable a wood is, the less likely it is to cup, crown, or gap.
Stability is often the key factor that motivates homeowners to choose engineered wood flooring, which is generally more stable than solid wood.
Stability is certainly not the only factor to consider in choosing hardwood flooring, but you should understand its importance and ask about it so you can make a fully informed decision.
Depend on Expertise
Professional installers gauge their installation techniques based on seasonal conditions. Wood is installed a little different in the winter than it would be in the summer. Rely on a professional with a proven track record and many, many years of experience.
A veteran installer will also address any problems related to the moisture level of the subfloor. If that level is greater than the moisture level in the wood, the wood will expand over time, so the installer will have to correct the problem if possible.
In cases where radiant floor heat is used or the installation is below ground, engineered wood is almost always the better choice, and hardwood flooring specialists can help you make that determination.
In our next post, we will conclude our three-part series on comparing hardwood floors by focusing on appearance.
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