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What You Need to Know When Shoppping for Hardwood Floors

In the broadest of terms, there are two main categories of wood – hardwood and softwood. Hardwoods are strong and stable and are typically used for flooring, decking, and timber furniture. Softwoods, on the other hand, have their origin in coniferous wood species like cedar, fir and pine. The wood is much lighter than hardwood and is not as strong.

If you are shopping for a hardwood floor, Australian hardwoods offer a wide range of choices, both in wood species and in the way the flooring is manufactured. The most commonly Australian hardwood timbers include blackbutt, ironbark, jarrah, blackwood, red gum and Tasmanian oak.

Imported hardwood types include cherry, hickory, walnut, maple and others.

In this article, you will find all the relevant information about hardwood types, manufacturing processes and their suitability in different scenarios plus alternate solutions and recommendations.

Progression from early history

You have undoubtedly watched movies set in scenes that portray the early pioneering days; a time when settlers cut logs to build their log cabins, and cut the floor boards using one of those two-man, two-head saws to split the wood into suitable thickness for a floor. Mostly, the floor was left untreated and acquired a dull, grey colour over time. Their priority was shelter, not appearance, and crude sacking often had to do as floor covers.

Much has changed since those days. Vast improvements in the sawing, cutting and manufacturing techniques now provide hardwood floors that are stable and functional. With the addition of modern sealers, their grains come to life with a variety of colours and hues. You can now have a hardwood floor which truly reflects the colours of the Australian outdoors.

Australian hardwoods

Flooring needs to possess hardness, stability, and durability. The hardness of wood types is listed in what is called the Janka Scale.

Australian hardwoods listed include ironbark (14), spotted gum (11), blackbutt (91), and Tassie oak at 5.5. The higher the rating, the harder the wood and the better its durability.

Another relevant classification is called grade. It is a measure of how visible the wood grain and knots are once the surface treatment has been applied. Most suppliers in Australia offer woods in three different grades: classic, standard or natural, and rustic or Australiana; the latest the one that carries the highest visibility of grain and veins.

Today, Australian hardwood species essentially come from state forests or private property.

Hardwood manufacturing processes

There are a number of choices including solid floor boards, engineered hardwood floors, and laminate flooring. Your choice depends on where and on what type of ground surface the floor will be installed. As some of the alternatives are not mutually exclusive, factors like cost, wear, and appearance become other relevant determinants.

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood floors are supplied as tongue and grove planks in various length and width.

An important consideration in installing a solid hardwood flow is expansion and contraction that depends on the level of moisture present during different seasons. For this reason, the wood should be seasoned in the same weather conditions.

The solution to this problem rests with proper installation. With increased humidity, the wood will absorb moisture and expand. During the dryer winter months, the moisture evaporates and the wood contracts. To avoid occasional cracks or bumps in the flooring, a solid hardwood floor should be nailed down, either onto bearers and joints or onto a wooden sub-floor. Properly installed, they can last for a hundred years.

Hardwood flooring can be delivered in widths ranging between 7.5 – 30 cm. Narrow boards present a more formal look, the wider varieties gives a more rustic look.

A final consideration may be to consult your supplier as to the relative merits of beveled or square edge planks. The beveled edged planks may be somewhat cheaper because they are easier to produce and it is supposed to be more suited when laid over sub-floors that are slightly irregular.

Engineered hardwood floors

This type of floor is manufactured by gluing a hardwood veneer over a core of hardwood plywood. The core itself is manufactured as a multiple-ply plank which always remains stable. The layers are laminated together to make floor planks. The process employs what is called cross-ply construction; a process that places the grain direction of layers in opposite directions. This reduces expansion and contraction problems.

The veneer comes in many different hardwood species, each providing its own unique pattern and colour.

When installed, these floors are more stable than solid hardwood and more resistant to moisture penetration. An additional advantage is that they can be installed over radiant heating systems.

An engineered floor can be nailed down over a plywood sub-floor, or glued down onto a plywood or concrete sub-floor.

Laminate floors

These floors are manufactured by bonding fibreboard with synthetic materials. The surface can be made to resemble any wood type. They are less expensive than engineered floors and can have a life-time between 15-30 years.

Parquetry

These floors look like a mosaic pattern of wooden blocks and a manufactured in different sizes, typically 30 x 30 cm squares.

They are typically laid onto a solid surface like concrete or plywood.

Installation methods

Depending on sub-floor treatment and the need to install the hardwood floor above or below ground level, the following installation methods are available.
Nail down – Nailing cleats are used to attach the floor to the sub-floor surface. Solid hardwood floors and plank floors can only be installed on wooden sub-floors at or above ground level.

Staple down – A pneumatic gun is used to attach the hardwood floor to the sub-floor.

Glue down – This is the most suitable method of attaching engineered wood floors and parquetry floors.

Floating floors – This term refers to floors that are not mechanically fastened to a sub-floor. Instead, a thin pad is placed between the hardwood floor and the sub-floor.

Hardwood surfacing

This is subject all of its own and not covered in detail in this article.
Two to three coats of urethane sealant is the standard finished recommended by Style Timbered Floors. Other finishes include:

  • UV-cured
  • Polyurethane
  • Acrylic-urethane
  • Ceramic
  • Aluminium oxide
  • Acrylic impregnated

Contact Style Timbered Flooring for more details.