Ralph's Blog

Does your floor make the grade? - Defining wood floor grades

Posted on Mon, Jul 08, 2013 @ 16:07 PM

You've done some researching on line and you have found all this discussion about wood grades and quite frankly you are now confused. Don't feel bad, the wood flooring industry has made it very confusing. Each manufacturer has come up with their own way to name the grades and in the mean time it has gotten confusing. 

So, what is a grade? 

In school, you get graded with A, B, C, D, and F's.   Everyone knows that when you are graded in school, the higher the grade, the better you did.  Is it logical to assume that the "higher" the grade of hardwood, the better the hardwood would be?

Actually, no. With hardwood flooring, grade is not a matter of quality—it’s a matter of uniformity. The higher the grade, the more uniform the floor will look and the less natural characteristics of the wood will appear.

So if you’re going for a formal, sleek appearance, a higher grade may be your best choice. But if you’re after a casual look—as many people are—then lower grades could work best for you. 

First Grade or Clear Grade

The higher grade is cleaner and contemporary, without a lot of color variation and with longer boards than other grades. It has the occasional small black mineral streak.


Second Grade or Select Grade

This is the  most popular grade because of its blend of color variation and mild character.

describe the image

Third Grade or Common Grade

This grade allows color variation, smaller knots, mineral streaks, and shorter boards. It is a great value floors and creates a more-casual feel with the natural characteristics of wood coming through.

3rd Grade Resized to email

Character or Rustic

Milled for tight knots, mineral streaks, color variation, and longer boards, this grade is a perfect choice for lots of natural character.

describe the image


Don't get confused or worried about the name of grade. Find a look that fits you and your lifestyle. The best way to see the different grades is a trip to our showroom where you can see large sections of floors in the different grades.

Ralph's Essential Guide to Selecting the Perfect Hardwood Floor

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors, picking the right floor for your lifestyle

Domestic Hardwood Floors: The Beauty Right at Home

Posted on Fri, Jul 05, 2013 @ 07:07 AM

If you love hardwood floors and live in North America, you’re in the right place. This continent is home to some of the best trees for hardwood flooring in the world.

And the farther north you live, the better off you are. Domestic species from Canada and northern states—such as Wisconsin hardwood—are known for being harder and more durable than the same types of hardwood farther south.

You can see it in many northern trees’ tighter growth rings, which in addition to generally being a sign of superior hardness also create an appearance that appeals to many homeowners.

The great thing about being able to get excellent hardwood in your own backyard is that the abundant supply and lower transportation costs result in a great deal! At Ralph’s Hardwoods, we gladly source our materials locally, providing our customers with the wonderful hardwood that Wisconsin produces, at reasonable prices. When the best is right here, why go anywhere else?

Some of the most beautiful and most popular species anywhere in the world are readily available from Ralph’s, including:


Maple offers a beautiful blend of warm heartwood and creamy sapwood. Light stain tames the color variation, adding warmth to Maple’s overall appearance.


Walnut provides dark rich browns with just a touch of creamy sapwood. It can be steamed to bring out a richness sometimes lacking in walnut floors.

Red Oak

A relatively consistent open grain is present in Red Oak. It’s very hard, with a mild texture in the surface that may help your floor look great longer.

White Oak

The abundant light tones of White Oak give a crisp, clean feel. It displays a combination of deep grayish-brown heartwood and creamy tones.

American Cherry

This hardwood has a reddish-brown, satiny look with a fine grain that will age to a rich patina. American Cherry is one of the most sought-after of the northern hardwoods.

Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch is a closed-grained, even-textured hardwood with warm undertones. It’s similar to maple in grain but with more reflective-light properties.

Peshtigo River Cherry

Taken from the heart of the maple tree where the warmest colors are present, Peshtigo River Cherry has a softer, warmer look than traditional maple.

Red Birch

Handpicked for its deep, rich auburn color and intriguing grain, Red Birch’s warm, cherry-like color creates a dramatic look.


Ash displays pronounced grain and moderate golden tones. It’s a highly stable wood that performs terrific in environments where humidity is difficult to control.


Hickory is the hardest domestic wood. It has rich color variation, with tones ranging from creams to deep browns. Hickory is available in rustic, select, and heart, which is more-subtle with mostly medium to dark-brown tones.

Takeaway Point

If you’re looking for gorgeous hardwood floors, there’s no need to look any further than the hardwood that’s available in this region. Please visit us at our showroom to see samples and discuss which locally sourced domestic species will provide just the look and performance you’re seeking.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, about hardwood floors, types of hardwood used in flooring

Finishing by Ralph's Hardwood, the final statement in excellence.

Posted on Fri, Jul 05, 2013 @ 06:07 AM

Finding a finish system that gives consistently beautiful results is a very valuable thing.  Finding a company that can consistently apply that wonderful finish is priceless.  Producing amazing results for nearly 50 years is a direct result of an outstanding finish system in the hands of highly-trained individuals. 

finishing by ralphs hardwood

As we evolved, we realized that one finish will never be right for everyone.  The needs and desires of our clients are as varied as they can be.  To some clients durability is most important, while vibrant color is what someone else is looking for.  Let's not discount those desiring to leave a lighter carbon footprint. This is becoming increasingly important to many of our clients. Although one finish will never meet the needs of all of our clients, we feel confident we can help you choose the one that is just right for your home and family. Through thoughtful exploration, we can help you hone in on one that will fit your situation. A visit to our showroom is a great place to explore your options.

Did you know that simply living in a sandy area may be a significant factor in which finish you choose? Which finish works best on oak, stained maple, Brazilian cherry, or antique heart pine? Only years and years of experience can teach this.

The application of the right finish to achieve a specific look is very important, as is choosing a finish that will wear well. Other finishes we offer are polyurethane, water-base urethane, Moisture Cure, and a variety of oil finishes. We also offer many options for customers preferring low VOC finishes. Let us help you choose the right finish for your project and your family.

Get a Quote

Tags: finishes, stains & textures

Using Color to Add Personality to Your Hardwood Flooring

Posted on Fri, Jul 05, 2013 @ 06:07 AM

Color and personality seem to go together. A person’s favorite color often says a lot about them, and your choice of hardwood colors will say a lot about the “feel” you want your floors to have.  With custom hardwood floors, you can get about any color you want, so you can choose colors that appeal to you and convey your personality and style.

Some people like a natural look and prefer not to stain, and there are many wood species that have remarkably beautiful natural color. But if you have a certain color in mind that you can’t find naturally—or if you just like the looks of a stained floor—then your color choices are virtually unlimited.

Staining floors can slightly change the appearance of a floor to dramatically changing the appearance. Check out these pictures of hickory.

Hickory - Natural

hickory natural

Hickory - Smoldering Technique
hickory smoldering technique
Hickory - Medium Stain
hickory medium stain

The photos above do an amazing job of demostrating just how dramatically a floor can change with stain. Looking at many photos of various colors on hardwood is a great way to establish what appeals to you. However, before making any decisions, we highly recommend a visit to our showroom. There one of our hardwood floor experts can show you a color you will love on a wood that will fit your lifestyle and decor. 

With the exception of lightening a naturally dark floor, most colors can be achieved on most wood species, yes, even maple! Customizing hardwood floors is our speciality and creating gorgeous floors isn't just a job to us, it's our passion. 

Ralph's Essential Guide to Selecting the Perfect Hardwood Floor

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

Creating Character With Hardwood Floor Texture

Posted on Fri, Jul 05, 2013 @ 05:07 AM

Every hardwood floors has a texture—whether it’s smooth and sleek, rough and rugged, or something in between. This texture plays a major role in creating the character of your flooring.

Whatever surface style you prefer, Ralph’s Hardwoods can provide it for you, using the techniques we’ve perfected in our nearly 50 years in business. For each of our clients, we discuss the character created by various textures, as well as which  textures work best with particular types of hardwood—and then we deliver the surface they’re after.

Our most popular surfaces include:


Sanded flat and smooth, this is the most common surface. It is the easiest surface to clean and offers a simple, even appearance that many people love.

Site Finished Maple - Flat Sanded 

site finished maple flat sanded

Wire Brush

Using specialized wire brush techniques, some of the softer grain is loosened to create a subtle texture. An element of dimension is achieved that appears softer than hand scraping.


Our artistic craftsmen have replicated antique floors—worn and full of character. Scraped to give the appearance of grain that is worn away due to years of use. Board edges are beveled and scraped to make the floors appear slightly gapped and uneven, which is look found in really old hardwood floors.

Site Finished Hickory - Handscraped and Stained Dark

Site Finished Hickory Handscraped and Stained Dark


Greater definition of each board is achieved with beveling. Although this look is most often found in prefinished floors, it's also available in most species in a custom site-finished floor.


Dropped knifes, worm holes, and heavy use can be replicated to give you a distressed look. Using Ralph’s exclusive process, we can take a new floor and make it look perfectly imperfect.

Takeaway Point

The texture of your hardwood flooring’s surface can add visual appeal and interest, make a statement about your personal taste, and go a long way toward defining the style and character of your home.

get inspired with ralph's hardwood floor idea book

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Recoating

Posted on Fri, Jul 05, 2013 @ 05:07 AM

When should I recoat my floor?

We want to recoat after it shows signs of dulling and surface scratches, but before the finish is completely gone. If you wait too long and the finish is gone, the wood will turn gray as water penetrates the wood.

Does my floor need to be recoated because it has been 5 years?

No – Every household is different. The general rule is that if the floor doesn’t show dulling or surface scratches, it will not need to be recoated. If the wood floor is in your main traffic areas or if you have small children or pets, it is also more likely to need a recoat in 5 years. If you are not sure, we will come to your home and give you a free inspection. If we think it does not need a recoat, we will let you know.

How much dust is there?

Prior to recoating, we lightly screen the floor. However, it is not as much dust as when we originally sanded the floor.

Do I need to move out?

If we used our Swedish finish (Glitsa) on your floor, there will be a smell and we do recommend leaving for the evening. If we used a water base finish on your floor, there will not be much of an odor and you may choose to stay there. Many times we will coordinate the recoat for a time when you are going to be away from your home.

How many coats of finish do you apply?

We generally put on one coat of finish. If you floor is excessively worn, an additional coat may be applied.

Are there times that a recoat will not work?

Yes - We recommend that you clean your floor with vinegar and water or with our cleaning solutions. If you have used any other cleaning products such as oil soaps, waxes, or furniture polishes, the recoat may not work. Those cleaning products can cause the new coats of finish to wrinkle or separate.

Does a recoat make my floor look new again?

In most cases the answer is yes. However, if you have deeper scratches in the wood (ones you can feel), the recoat does not rectify the problem. In fact, it may magnify those scratches.

What do I do if I cleaned the floor incorrectly, the floor is turning gray, or if there are many deep scratches?

At this point, your floor would need to be sanded to the bare wood and re-stained and finished. The good news for you is that we have invested in the Atomic Dust Containment system. This system removes nearly all airborne dust caused by the sanding process, making it virtually dust free.

What do I need to do in preparation for a recoat?

You will need to take out all furniture. Most people will not remove their appliances.

Is there anything else that we can do during a recoat to change the looks of my floor?

Yes - In recent years, wood medallions have become more popular. These medallions can be inserted in your floor prior to recoating to give your home a new look. We can slightly change the color of your floor by adding tints to the finish.

Request an in-home consultation

Tags: restoring hardwood floors, about hardwood floors, remodeling

Latest Posts