Ralph's Blog

Bring the Best of Wisconsin Into Your Home

Posted on Sat, Aug 30, 2014 @ 09:08 AM

Bring the Best of Wisconsin Into Your Home

If you’re installing hardwood floors in a home in Wisconsin, you’re in a great place.

One of the many wonderful things about Wisconsin is its abundance of trees that produce beautiful, durable flooring. Hardwood flooring made from Wisconsin trees is prized in places far beyond our state—and you can get it locally, and therefore at less cost.

A prime example of a widely sought-after, locally grown hardwood species is sugar maple. We’re right in the heart of sugar maple country, and numerous local manufacturers produce solid-plank maple flooring made from local trees.

Sugar maple trees (in addition to giving us the gift of maple syrup) are one of the hardest maple varieties. Most maples aren’t even hard enough to be classified as hardwood, but sugar maple is—and then some.

It’s so durable, many bowling alleys are made of it! It’s what the NBA uses for its basketball courts! If it can stand up to those uses, just think how durable it is in a home. This hardness understandably appeals to many homeowners.

Sugar Maple

Sugar maple is also valued because of its distinctive appearance. With a light color, medium texture, and closed (i.e., subdued) grain that’s often described as “bird’s eye,” “quilted,” or “curly,” sugar maple provides the clean, contemporary look many homeowners are after.

Wisconsin is also where you’ll find some of the best oak trees for flooring. Both red oak and white oak hardwood floors are tremendously popular, and Wisconsin supplies a large share of both to installers and homeowners across the country who are looking for the highest quality.

What makes Wisconsin oaks so particularly good for flooring? Our latitude.

The farther north an oak grows, the shorter its growing season. Therefore it has grain that’s more pronounced and consistent than oak grown father south, where the longer growing seasons cause the grain to be more open and varied.

Northern Oak and Southern Oak just aren’t the same—and I think most people agree with me that Northern Oak is better. I know plenty of it gets shipped to the South, even though they’ve got Southern Oak growing in their backyard.

You can get high-quality sugar maple and oak flooring practically anywhere your home is, but living in Wisconsin means that you’ll be able to get it with less expense, while also having the pride and satisfaction of knowing that your floor reflects the beauty of your home state.

That’s just one of benefits of calling Wisconsin home!

Photo courtesy of Elvis Kennedy, Jen Goellnitz. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Tags: about hardwood floors, types of hardwood used in flooring, Wisconsin

Why Swedish Finishes Are So Popular

Posted on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 @ 09:08 AM

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The finish is one of the most important aspects of a beautiful hardwood floor. Not only does a quality finish help your hardwood flooring keep its beauty longer, the right finish can accentuate the look you’ve chosen.

Swedish finish is the most popular choice of hardwood finish by our customers because it does both of these things. It provides superior protection for the wood, and it enhances the wood’s appearance.

What Is a Swedish Finish?

“Swedish finish” is simply a nice-sounding name for a conversion varnish, which cures by chemical reaction. Unlike most finishes, which form a layer on top of the hardwood, a Swedish finish actually chemically bonds with the wood—a “conversion” process that results in an especially hard finish.

Resistance to Wear and Tear

Because of its exceptional hardness, a Swedish finish is very durable. Compared to the other finishing options, a Swedish finish provides better protection against scratches, scuffs, water damage, and stains. Particularly for hardwood floors in high-traffic areas, a Swedish finish can keep floors looking fresh longer, extending the time until they need to be refinished.

Enriched Beauty

Because a Swedish finish bonds directly to the wood, it brings clarity to hardwood colors and provides excellent grain definition. The appearance is deep, rich and natural. For hardwood flooring with little or no stain, a Swedish finish is a perfect choice, allowing the innate beauty of the wood to shine. And a Swedish finish can also look great with stained floors—accenting the color you’ve chosen.

As a Swedish finish ages, it develops a pleasant, slightly amber tone, rather than yellowing as some finishes do.

The Process

One criticism of Swedish finishes is that the application process stinks and produces dangerous fumes. So if you’re having a Swedish finish installed in a home where you’re already living, you’ll want to clear out during the installation. The good news is that you won’t have to be gone long. Because the chemical process involved in a Swedish finish results in a fast cure, the job can be completed quickly.

Because of the chemical hazards and delicacy of the job, a Swedish finish needs to be applied by professionals with skill and experience.  We’ve been using the top-of-the-line Glitsa Swedish finish for more than 30 years, and we’d love to talk to you about the product and service we can provide.

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

Faster, Greener, Cleaner Hardwood Finishing

Posted on Sat, Aug 16, 2014 @ 08:08 AM


Commercial Hardwood FloorsWe often get visitors to our showroom because they’ve heard good things about us from homeowners we’ve served.

When they arrive, they’re sometimes surprised to learn that residential isn’t all that we do. We’ve been doing commercial hardwood floor installation and maintenance for years—in restaurants, office buildings, clubhouses, churches, gymnasiums, and more.

This is important for our residential customers because innovations in commercial hardwood flooring drive residential innovations. Our commercial experience prepares us to offer homeowners the same technology that’s been developed for commercial use.

Two recent examples are the use of Ultraviolet finishes and natural oil finishes in homes.

Ultraviolet (UV) Finishing

Ultraviolet Finishing hardwood floors

On-site UV finishing is an emerging technology that many commercial customers love because the finish cures immediately under the ultraviolet light, sparing them the typical wait of one to four weeks for traditional finishes to fully cure.

Similarly, many homeowners want to avoid delays or disruptions. This desire, combined with developments in portable UV equipment, has led to the spread of UV finishing to residential flooring.

We offer UV finishing, and we expect to see increasing demand for it as more and more people realize it’s an option for their home. Not only is it fast, it’s durable, ecofriendly, and visually appealing to many people’s tastes.

Natural Oil Finishing

Natural oil finishingNatural oil finishes are made from plant oils, with no chemicals involved. That means that once a hardwood floor is finished with natural oil the first time, it’s not dangerous for anyone to apply more of the oil. And it doesn’t take a trained hardwood floor professional to make it look good—it just blends in.

For commercial floors, maintenance or custodial crews can simply apply natural oil to floors as needed to keep them looking sharp—without even having to clear out rooms!

Homeowners can enjoy the same convenience, keeping their floors looking new without having to move any furniture or hire a professional.

By no means, however, is easy upkeep the only reason why natural oil finishes are growing in popularity. Homeowners are also drawn by the greenness of the technique and by its distinctive appearance. “Cool” is a reaction we often get when we show samples of how natural oil finishes look.

An Exciting Future

To best serve our customers, we need to offer them the full range of options available. To do that, we have to stay on the cutting edge, and there’s no question that our commercial work keeps us there.

I expect many more innovations in coming years, and I must say I’m looking forward to it. Since Ralph’s was founded in 1965, we’ve always stayed on top of the latest techniques and materials, and that’s one of the things I love about the job. 

Photo courtesy of Travis Estell. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Tags: remodeling, finishes, stains & textures

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