Ralph's Blog

The Importance of Hardness in Hardwood Floors

Posted on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 @ 14:12 PM

Young, rowdy children are a good reason to pay attention to the hardwood floor hardness on the Janka scale.

Durability is one of the reasons many people choose hardwood flooring for their home. Hardwood floors are known for their ability to resist wear and tear.

But not all hardwood floors are the same. Some species of wood are harder than others, meaning they’re more durable (i.e. less likely to dent).

Hardness is determined by the density of the wood. This is measured using the Janka scale. A species’ Janka rating is determined by how much force is needed to embed a .444-inch steel ball in the wood to half the ball’s diameter. The denser the wood, the more force will be needed.

When choosing a species of wood for your hardwood flooring, hardness might be important, or it may not matter much to you.

Hardness is significant if you expect the floor to experience a lot of activity, such as entertaining or children playing. The more activity in the room, the more likely something will be dropped on it.

Hardness is also a relevant consideration if the floor is in a high-traffic area, such as a kitchen or hallway.

Hardness becomes relatively unimportant in rooms that won’t see a lot of activity or if you don’t mind dents. Some people are very bothered by dents, but some welcome them as a sign of character. Some people actually select “distressed” flooring with dents in it because they want a rustic look.

The hardness of the wood is not the only factor in a hardwood floor’s durability.  The way the wood is cut and the finish used are also factors. But when choosing a species, we suggest paying close attention to hardness if you expect your flooring to be heavily used or you are concerned about dents.

We’re glad to provide our expert advice on how important wood hardness is in your project. And we can help you select the flooring with the right hardness for you. Stop by our showroom any time during business hours to consult with one of our hardwood flooring professionals.

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

The Importance of Stability in Hardwood Floors

Posted on Thu, Nov 29, 2018 @ 12:11 PM


floor stability graph-1

Because wood is an organic material, hardwood flooring will react to its environment. If the environment in your home is humid, the flooring will absorb moisture and swell. If the environment is dry, the wood will lose moisture and shrink.

A hardwood floor’s stability is the degree to which it can resist this swelling and shrinking. The higher the stability, the greater the resistance

Generally, the higher the stability, the better. That’s because hardwood floors with greater stability are less likely to cup and gap.

Hardwood floors that gain too much moisture can cup, with the centers of the planks becoming lower than the edges of the planks.

Wood flooring that loses too much moisture can have excessive gaps. Small gaps between planks are normal if they appear during cold (drier) months and disappear during warm (more humid) months, but if gaps persist throughout the year or a larger than normal, it’s a problem.

Both cupping and gapping can be minimized by always keeping the temperature between 60- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent.

But the type of wood you select will also determine how susceptible your flooring is too cupping and gapping. That’s why stability is an important consideration when choosing the species of wood for your flooring.

Species with relatively high stability include Red Oak, White Oak, and Ash. Species with relatively low stability include Maple, Hickory, and Cumaru. Regardless of the species, engineered hardwood flooring will almost always have higher stability than solid-plank floors.

For some species, low stability isn’t something to worry about if the flooring will be in an area where you know you can control the level of humidity. But in areas where that’s difficult or not feasible, stability should be a consideration when deciding the species of wood for your flooring or when deciding on whether to use solid planks or engineered hardwood.

To learn more about how to determine dimensional stability check out this great post.

We’re glad to provide our expert advice on how important stability is in your project. And we can help you select the flooring with the best stability. Stop by our showroom any time during business hours to consult with one of our hardwood flooring professionals.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, remodeling, caring for your hardwood floors, types of hardwood used in flooring, about hardwood floors

Producing Masterful Hardwood Floors: The Learning Never Stops

Posted on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 @ 18:08 PM

I’ve been working in the hardwood floor industry since I was a little boy, “learning at my father’s knee,” as they say.


Twenty-five years ago, when I took over Ralph’s Hardwood Floors from my dad, Ralph Lorenz, one thing I’m pretty sure I did right was to realize I was far from through learning.

The hardwood floor industry is changing all the time—with new styles, new materials, and new installation techniques. Just as with so many other fields, you can’t rely only on what you already know. You have to keep seeking knowledge, or else you fall behind the latest innovations.

I keep current with hardwood floor trends and innovations in many ways, including our company’s membership in the National Wood Flooring Association, an organization that provides many valuable training and educational services, such as guidelines, tech manuals, live tech support, and “NWFA University,” an online portal full of information to keep my installers and me continually learning about the best—and better—ways to practice our craft and keep our customers more-than-satisfied.

The NWFA also offers a trade magazine, which we diligently read at Ralph’s. And they hold annual expos, which I attend every year.  Every other year, I also attend the Surfaces trade show, which is designed for all floor coverings. From this show, I get a better take on colors and trends, whereas the NWFA expo is more about techniques to achieve certain hardwood floor looks.

Customers tell us where to focus

Customers frequently drive the course of our continuing education. When they request a certain look, and we’re not sure of the best way to achieve it, we look to sources such as the NWFA, other trade magazines, and websites to figure out the best solution for the customer. I’ll even spend time talking to other industry professionals if I know they have more knowledge about the customer’s desired look than we do.

The goal is always to find the materials and techniques that will produce the best result for the customer.

This process is nothing new for us. When I took over in the 1990s, there was big demand for maple floors stained with dark color. As I said, customer requests often focus our learning efforts, and that was the case then just as it is now. I wasn’t satisfied with our results with this style of flooring, so we got advice from any source we could, did our research, and learned through trial-and-error experiments in our shop.

We tried multiple combinations of sanding techniques combined with different stain brands—until we had figured out how to create dark-stained maple floors that made our customers go “wow!” Over the years, we’ve done the same in learning how to achieve excellent results with other consumer trends, such as hard exotic woods, lighter red material (e.g., red birch), and hand-scraped flooring

Most recently, we’ve focused on learning about current trends like wider-plank flooring, engineered floors, lighter-textured materials, and luxury vinyl tile.

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect my installers all feel the same way—this constant learning is one of the best parts of the job, a part that keeps us feeling refreshed every day.

Tags: about hardwood floors, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends

The benefits of letting professionals install your hardwood floor

Posted on Thu, Nov 03, 2016 @ 11:11 AM


installation-hardwood-floor-resized-162.jpgHere at Ralph's, we believe you should take any opportunity you can to put hardwood flooring in your home. It looks great, adds warmth to your home and when installed correctly, it can exceed the lifetime of many other aspects of your home. All in all hardwood is a win-win.

The key phrase here is "when installed correctly". In order to get the most out of your investment in hardwood flooring you need it to be installed right and unlike some Do-It-Yourself home projects, hardwood flooring can be complicated.

Save time and money by using a professional installer.

Some homeowners think they can save money by installing their own hardwood. It isn’t impossible for this to be true but there are real benefits to letting professional installers handle the job - real benefits that can save you time and money.  It will also save you the frustration of making your way back and forth from the big box store, buying and returning unnecessary tools.  Using a professional installer will help make sure you don’t.

Get the job done on time.

DIY projects can have the unintended consequence of never really getting done. A professional installer not only knows just how long a project will take but how to get it done on schedule.

Sub-floors need love.

Proper preparation of your sub-floor prior to installing hardwood is essential to ensuring your floor looks great. If the subfloor is not properly cleaned, not dry, or not flat, your hardwood floor may end up needing future repairs or even reinstallation.

Saws, hammers…and a few other things.

A professional hardwood floor install requires a wide range of tools and most homeowners don't have these tools readily available. Here is a list of just some of the tools a professional hardwood floor installer uses:

Saws of all types (i.e. Circular, Table, Jig, Miter, etc) for getting the right dimensions of boards and planks

Moisture meter for testing moisture levels in wood – very important

- Level

- Air compressor

- Nail gun

- Stapler

- Sanders

- Buffer

Experience and skill mean a lot.

Installers at Ralph's have, on average, 10 years of experience. They understand hardwood floor installation is a craft and spent the time to make sure they know what they are doing. It is a career and they are committed to being the very best at theirs.

This isn't to say you shouldn't read blogs like this, spend time on YouTube and watch home improvement TV shows because it is always good to be knowledgeable but that isn't the same as actually undertaking a hardwood floor install project.

Our installers have seen just about every situation imaginable and know just how to manage them. Let their experience be your benefit and ensure your floor lasts a lifetime.

Tags: about hardwood floors, installation

Two hardwood alternatives that keep the beautiful wood look we love.

Posted on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 @ 18:10 PM


Vinyl_Flooring.pngHardwood is what we do best at Ralph`s and most of the time it is the flooring we recommend. That being said there are areas of the home where the incorporation of natural wood is a no-go even when they support the natural timeless beauty of natural hardwood. In some below grade rooms or high-moisture areas and such as bathrooms or pool cabanas hardwood flooring is not the best fit.

Luckily we have some wood-look alternatives that we recommend that make it possible get the function required and to achieve the stylish appearance of hardwood. Our two current favorite faux-wood floors are luxury vinyl and porcelain tile. Both options provide durable surfaces against moisture and can look great when properly installed.

Luxury Vinyl

Recently improved printing and embossing techniques means we are seeing more vinyl with surfaces that look and feel more authentic than ever. Durable and low maintenance, luxury vinyl can be made to look like a variety of species and textures in several colors.

Vinyl comes in a variety of formats including sheets (6- or 12-foot-wide rolls), tiles and planks. Vinyl tiles are easy to install and can be laid in any orientation, from checkerboard to diagonal, replicating the look of ceramic or stone. Vinyl planks are designed to closely resemble hardwood and even come in the same size as wood planks, and feature the most realistic features such as texturing and beveled edges.

Porcelain Tile

Similar to vinyl planks, wood-look porcelain tiles come in the same sizes as hardwood planks and looks like wood right down to the grain and texture. We commonly hear that well-chosen porcelain tiles look so realistic guests are surprised to hear the floor is tile!

Not unlike Luxury Vinyl, specialized scanners, graphics, and printers are helping to produce many realistic and beautiful wood looks in a durable tile. The nuances in color and grain provide design flexibility because they mirror the color and patterns of real hardwood meaning you are likely to find one that fits your personal wants and needs and even to closely coordinate with natural hardwood in other parts of the home.

Wood-look alternatives can add a look of elegance, old-world charm, modern trendiness, or just about any other design aesthetic you may be trying to achieve in rooms that aren't ideal for real hardwood flooring. They can be versatile, easy to clean, and comes in a variety of colors and styles.

And they look like wood. We like that the best. In fact, we’ve dedicated a large section of our showroom to luxury vinyl. 

Tags: about hardwood floors, hardwood flooring trends

A few of our favorites

Posted on Sat, Sep 24, 2016 @ 09:09 AM


Our_Story.pngI am consistently amazed how many people come to Ralph’s and tell me they love the stories we share on our blog. I would never have guessed that they would resonate with so many people. These are the stories of my life and my work and it is an honor to know that in their busy lives they find a little time to read about mine.

We are always working new stories but in the meantime, here are a few of our favorites:

When Ralph’s Began

The woman behind our success

How far will Ralph’s go to please customers? All the way to Alaska

Getting the job done on a snowmobile

You want me to grab the what?

Ralph's celebrates bittersweet 50th anniversary

Free shipping from the North Pole

The Romance of Hardwood Floors

What’s on my mind this holiday season? Family, friends … and hardwood floors

We’re all in this together


Tags: about hardwood floors

From the forest to the floor – Part Two

Posted on Sat, Sep 10, 2016 @ 09:09 AM



In this two-part blog we explain how a beautiful tree in the forest becomes a beautiful floor in your home. Part one focused on turning a tree into floor boards and this part starts once the floor boards are sent to us. The process of turning milled planks into an amazing floor in your home starts unsurprisingly with you.

1. Style Selection

Selecting a hardwood floor often starts with either a species or a color. While this seems straightforward enough, it is important to remember that it’s not easy to look at piece of raw oak or maple and see the beautiful floor you want. Raw hardwood often doesn’t showcase the grain or highlight the texture you have in your mind. Color can be tough to visualize too. We are color specialists and proud of it and as such we can create thousands (literally!) of custom shades.

So to make the selection process easier and to help you really understand how amazing your floor could look we spend some time together to understand your style, functional needs and preferences and create a sample.

2. Samples

Samples are exactly what they sound like. We take a small piece of hardwood flooring and sand it, stain it, etc. to create an example of the floor you think you want. We create a couple of different samples for you to look at, for instance using a slightly darker finish or a more rugged finish, so you can see how some of your decisions play out.

Once the samples are ready, we bring them to you and review to see what you like. The sample process can go through a few rounds but the outcome is always the same - you find your dream floor.

3. Laying the floor

On the day of an install, we come to your home, inspect the job site, measure the flooring area and set up our dust containment equipment outside. If there is an old floor which is pretty much every job except new construction or a large renovation, we tear it out and make sure the sub-floor is level. Then we lay the raw flooring you selected.

4. Sanding the floor

The sanding stage is where your floor really starts to come to life. As we sand, the wood’s true beauty beings to come through. The size of your floor will dictate how long this takes but for a typical floor we sand for 1 or 2 days. We sand the floor to ensure it is flat and smooth, removing the bevels and getting that superb flat modern look.

To help control mess, we use dust free sanding equipment with charcoal and Hepa filters. We have the capability to accommodate several pieces of sanding equipment at a time, leaving very little dust behind.

5. Staining and Finishing

The final step of the hardwood floor installation process is stain and finish. The process causes fumes and takes some time to cure so we recommend you leave home and spend with friends, enjoy a hotel getaway or head up to the lake. As a very last step we apply a clear finish to protect, preserve, and enhance the natural beauty of your wood.

At this point all that is left is for you to move back in and enjoy your hardwood.  From beginning to end the process takes about 5 days.

When we break it down like this, the journey from a tree in the forest to a stunning floor in your home is truly an amazing one. Don’t just take our word for it though. Come and visit us in our showroom and we would be pleased to take you through the whole process for yourself.

 Photo courtesy of Oyvind Hope

Tags: about hardwood floors

From the forest to the floor – Part One

Posted on Sat, Aug 27, 2016 @ 09:08 AM


Forrest.pngIn this two-part blog we explain how a beautiful tree in the forest becomes a beautiful floor in your home. Part one focuses on the process to turn a tree in made into floor boards while part two explains the installation and finishing process.

When I look at a hardwood floor I can often envision the wood it came from and sometimes I think I can even see the tree it came from. And you need a lot of tree to make a floor.

How many trees?

Imagine a tree about 18 inches wide and about 10 feet of trunk. Not a giant tree but not a small one either. It will create something close to 100 square feet of flooring, depending on the quality of the wood once it is milled. This means for an average Ralph’s floor; we need 5 trees to create the flooring.

A trip to the mill

After being cut, raw logs are sent to a saw mill to be further cut into boards. At the mill, the first machine is a debarking machine which removes the bark from the outside of the log, from one end to the other, all the way around in one continuous motion. Once the log is debarked and smooth, it is fed into a rip saw to be cut into boards. 

Cool, lasers…

Before a single cut is made on the rip saw though each log is scanned by a laser to determining how to best cut it up to produce the best and most usable boards. There are many ways to cut a log into lumber but the most common are: plainsawn, riftsawn, and quartersawn.

If the goal is to produce mostly plainsawn boards, the log will be turned 90 degrees after the first few cuts to keep the grain at the correct angle.  When more quartersawn or riftsawn boards are needed, the log may be cut from four “corners” of the log, yielding some riftsawn and some quartersawn boards or may be cut at an angle from the outside edge to produce only boards with a specific grain.  Each of these sawing methods produces progressively fewer usable boards per log, which is why rift and quartersawn boards tend to cost more.

Each of the boards produced is then sent to the planer in order to get them to a uniform thickness. Usually the boards are cut to slightly over one inch thick and about half an inch wider than their finished widths. This extra leaves room for the moulder to shave off a little and for shrinkage when the boards are dried. Multiple widths also allow for most yield from the boards.

The moulder planes the boards to an exact thickness and creates the tongues and grooves that will enable them to fit together so precisely. End matching is the last machining step and it puts tongue and groove on the ends.

Waste not, want not

Milling wood for hardwood floors can create lots of extra pieces but everything is used for something. Smaller or irregular pieces are used for trim while bark and shavings are sent off to be used for paper or mulch. In some mills sawdust and shavings are for heat or power. And just like with the bark, any thin strips sliced off are reused too, either by being sent to the chipper or sent to be made into trim.

Removing defects & drying

Defect cutting occurs before it goes through the moulder, cutting out cracks, large knots, and anything else you don’t want in the finished floor. Often the pieces are sorted into matching bundles. The kiln drying occurs after the material is rip sawn but before it is ran through the planer. Once the hardwood bundles are sorted, they are ready to be shipped to be made into your dream floor.

In the second part of this blog, we will describe how the boards from the mill and used to create amazing custom floors in your home.

 Photo courtesy of Oyvind Hope

Tags: about hardwood floors

Sand on Site vs. Prefinished Hardwood – Myth Buster Edition

Posted on Sat, Aug 13, 2016 @ 09:08 AM


Myth.pngHere at Ralph's Hardwood, we love wood and we think all wood floors are beautiful. This fact seems obvious but it doesn't stop people in our showroom from asking us all the time, "which is better: sand on site or prefinished?".

Our answer is always the same - it depends.

Dispelling Some Myths

If you do some research you will find different reasons why you should choose site finished instead of pre-finished and vice versa. While most of these ideas held some truth at one point, they aren't really as relevant today. We don't think the question is so much about which is better as much as it is about which is better for your project.

Let's start by dispelling (or at least clarify) a few myths about sand on site versus prefinished hardwood floors:

Style - often you will hear that prefinished flooring styles are limited but this isn’t necessarily the case. While prefinished doesn't give the complete flexibility you get with site finished floors, today's manufacturers have created more style  and color options that ever before. The style limitations come into play when you want a specific color and a specific texture and a specific width. This kind of customization is only available with sand on site. 

Installation Mess - there are many articles that will tell you sand on site floors are messy and that your house will be filled with sanding dust. Not with Ralph’s. We use a superior dust removal system that includes a containment system that has been modified to work with our removal and installation equipment. 

Cure Time - Traditionally site finished flooring needed anywhere from a few days to a week for the floor to dry and cure. This isn't necessarily the case anymore with portable UV finish systems that when coupled with water-based UV finishes enable much shorter cure times.

Odors and Fumes – ok, so this may not exactly be a myth. Hardwood floor finishes often have an odor however many products for sand on site floors now utilize special formulations to reduce odors and fumes and wax has experienced a real come back and has no odor at all. So while site finished floors may have fumes or odors, they can minimized depending on how you have them finished.

So What Should You Do?

Instead of worrying too much about prefinished versus site finished, we suggest you look at many different hardwood samples and go with the one you like best. Once you have a sense of floor you like, one of our hardwood expert can help you find the best option for your project, timeline and budget.

That way you can focus on getting your dream floor and not be overly focused on sand on site versus prefinished.

 Photo courtesy of CLEAN_UP

Tags: about hardwood floors, hardwood floor optio, finishes, stains & textures

Engineered Flooring Isn't What It Used to Be...It's Better!

Posted on Sat, May 21, 2016 @ 05:05 AM


It wasn’t so many years ago that I used to steer customers away from engineered hardwood flooring. They would visit our showroom and want to know about engineered flooring, and I’d politely explain that it just wasn’t as good a choice as solid plank flooring—except in cases where engineered flooring was the only option because of moisture considerations.

That’s not what I say anymore.

Homeowners can now find engineered flooring that will look great and last long enough for us to recommend it. Solid plank flooring is still the most popular option among our customers, but more and more homeowners are choosing engineered flooring, even when they don’t have to … and even when they are having custom hardwood floors installed.

Unlike solid plank flooring, in which each board is milled from a single piece of timber, engineered hardwood flooring is constructed from layers of plywood, fiberboard, scrap hardwood, or less-expensive hardwood from fast-growing species—and then a top layer of finished hardwood (the lamella) is adhered for appearance and protection.

The advantage of this engineered structure is that it provides more stability than solid plank flooring, which is why engineered flooring is usually the only option in areas with high moisture, such as basements or rooms with radiant heat.

The problem for years was that the majority of the engineered flooring on the market was made with a lamella that was so thin that it couldn’t be re-sanded more than once or twice, if it all—unlike solid plank flooring, which can repeatedly be sanded to refurbish the floor. That meant that engineered flooring wasn’t going to last nearly as long as solid plank flooring before it would have to be torn out and new flooring installed.

Most engineered flooring was essentially being made as cheaply as possible and sold as a less-expensive option than solid plank flooring.

You can still find that type of engineered flooring in stores today. But you won’t find it at Ralph’s!

Engineered flooring manufacturers have realized there’s a demand for the stability of engineered flooring, even among homeowners looking for top-quality floors. And so they’ve started producing engineered flooring that has a thicker lamella. They’ve also started offering a much wider array of species, cuts, colors, etc., making it possible to create beautiful and unique custom designs using engineered wood.

Engineered wood can be finished on site—which we often do—but today there are many beautiful prefinished products available, as well.

Don’t misunderstand me. Solid plank flooring isn’t being replaced by engineered flooring! But with the advances in engineered flooring quality over the years, we can now comfortably tell our customers that engineered flooring is a great option.

To view our selection of high-quality engineered flooring, please visit our showroom. To learn more about the technical details of engineered flooring, read our recent blog.


Tags: engineered hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors

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