Ralph's Blog

Surprise! Pop Quiz.

Posted on Fri, May 31, 2013 @ 09:05 AM

I was talking to my 12-year-old daughter the other day, and she had pop quizzes on her mind. She was explaining how she always has to stay on top of her homework because she never knows when the teacher will surprise the class with a pop quiz.

pop quiz custom hardwoodOur conversation made me recall my own feelings about pop quizzes when I was in school. If I knew I hadn’t studied for a subject, my heart would drop at the words, “Put away your books; we’re having a pop quiz today.” But on other days, if I had studied as I should, I was happy for a quiz because it meant I was going to get credit for doing the right thing.

Little did I know that running a business would have a lot of pop-quiz days. Twenty years ago when I took over Ralph’s Hardwoods from my father, I was 27 and full of youthful confidence. I thought I had studied enough. I had grown up in the business, helping Dad finish floors. I had helped answer the phone since I was 7. As I got beyond my college days, I would assist customers with quotes or technical questions.  

But as it turned out, very little of that experience helped me once I took over, because I had never been the guy who had to make the decision. Dad was always there to make the tough calls.  

I remember one of the first pop-quiz days I had. An unhappy customer called in and wanted an immediate answer. I didn’t have time to discuss the situation with anyone. The two choices he gave me were not very appealing.  I asked to call him back in a few minutes, but he wasn’t going to let that happen. So I had to make a decision based solely on the knowledge I already had in my head. Pop-quiz time.

Looking back, I made the right decision, but that moment helped make it clear to me that my studying would never be done. Today, there are still pop-quiz days, but they’re easy to handle because I have studied—and people inside our company have studied. Just like back in school on pop-quiz days when I had done my homework, we welcome opportunities to demonstrate our hardwood flooring expertise.

We stay on top of the latest trends, materials, and techniques—always making sure we’re installing the best hardwood floors possible. This means most projects go very smoothly, and if any issues do arise, we’re usually familiar with them and know how to handle them without any problems. But even in relatively unusual situations, the answers are still not that difficult, because we keep up with our homework.   

As a company, we have instilled some very important values.  One of the ones that I’m most proud of is being completely responsible. What that means for us is to ask the question, “What more can we do?” before asking what others can do or pointing fingers.

We welcome our responsibility to use our expertise to guide our customers to the hardwood floors they have their hearts set on. We’re always ready for the next pop quiz. 

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Tags: stories, about Ralph's

The Appeal of Dark Hardwood Floors

Posted on Mon, May 27, 2013 @ 11:05 AM

Many people fall in love with dark hardwood colors. Rick, dark finished hardwood flooring can:

  • Help create a classic, formal look.
  • Make a room seem cozier.
  • Be used to create a pleasing contrast with lighter colored furnishings, drapery, rugs, etc.
  • Be paired with dark furnishings, drapery, rugs, etc. to unify a room.

If you’re considering dark finished hardwood flooring in your home, you can get it in three ways.

Natural Color

Many woods are naturally dark, so you can simply select a dark-colored species, such as black walnut. A natural dark color is what many people are after when the install exotic wood floors, using woods such as Brazilian teak or Santos mahogany.


Stain allows you to choose from a wide variety of hardwood colors, and common hardwood choices such as oak flooring usually hold stain well.

There are some limitations based on the type of wood, but generally speaking you can stain floors as dark as you want, all the way up to practically black.

Stain Accenting Natural Color

Working with hardwood flooring specialists you can enhance the color of natural woods with stain—not significantly altering the color, but adding to its tone. Using stain to emphasize a natural color, many woods can be darkened in a way that brings out their natural beauty.

What About Dust, Dirt, and Scratches?

Dark hardwood flooring has a reputation for showing dust, dirt and scratches, and there’s truth in that perception. Compared to lighter colors, dark hardwood colors do contrast more with light-colored things that end up on the floor, making those things stand out, just as dirt is more obvious on a dark car than a light one.

With dust and dirt, there’s little that can be done other than to keep the floors swept or vacuumed regularly. But you can minimize scratching by choosing one of the harder woods and by choosing a top-quality hardwood flooring company to make sure the flooring is finished properly.

If you expect your floors to receive a lot of wear and tear—from children or pets, for example—you should be somewhat wary of dark hardwood colors.

Explore Your Options

If you think dark hardwood colors might be just the right fit for your taste and interior design goals, start investigating your choices by talking with a hardwood floor expert. You’ll learn what will work, how much it will cost, and what alternatives you have.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood floor colors, finishes, stains & textures

3 Ways of Cutting Wood for Hardwood Floors: Which Is Right for You?

Posted on Sat, May 18, 2013 @ 12:05 PM

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.

Tags: about hardwood floors

A Wide World of Hardwood Flooring

Posted on Wed, May 01, 2013 @ 11:05 AM

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.

Hardwood floors in apartment

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.

Tags: prefinished hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood flooring, custom hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors

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