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Q: How should an unfinished floor be treated?

A: There are many different wood floor finishes. The earlier finishes used were wax, lacquer, varnish and "shellac". Although these old methods of stain and coat are still used, they are becoming rarer today because of lower durability and higher maintenance compared to oil-modified urethanes and water-based finishes. Nevertheless, these finishes still have their place. For example, oiled and waxed finishes are durable and more repairable than urethane based finishes, and therefore often used in commercial applications. They need more maintenance and have a fairly low luster. Shellac gives antique flooring a beautiful rich patina and is used both as a sealer coat under certain finishes or as a finish by itself.

Oil modified Urethanes (Polyurethane): -A clear, tough and durable finish that is applied as a wear layer. The application is relatively easy. A common method is to apply three coats allowing each coat to dry overnight with light sanding and vacuuming between coats. The coating has a thick looking appearance and gives the wood an amber color tone. It has great moisture resistance and is also one of the most scratch-resistant finishes available. It can be hard to touch up or re-coat. Oil-based urethanes have a tendency to darken and or yellow with age.

Water based finishes: This blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients (water based) produces an extremely durable surface that is moisture resistant. Different gloss levels are available, most have a clear finish and are frequently used over white and pastel colored stains. Their drying time is much faster than oil-based urethanes (one to two hours), there is little odor, and clean up is with soap and water. Their application can be difficult due to its quick drying time.

Moisture cured Urethane: Moisture cured urethane is one of the hardest finishes available, but It is also extremely difficult to apply and it has a very unpleasant (toxic) odor. A respirator is a must when applying. Moisture cured urethane dries by pulling moisture from the air, while most other finishes dry through evaporation of the solvents leaving the resins on the floor.

Q: What are the advantages of a pre-finished floor?
A: Factory pre-finished wood floors have grown tremendously. Today's pre-finished flooring comes with very durable finishes such as oil-modified urethanes and water-based finishes (see above), using several coats of ultraviolet (UV) cured urethane for added protection.

UV cured urethanes can only be properly cured in the presence of UV light, which would be extremely difficult to duplicate on a job site finish, not to mention how many days it would take. These UV cured urethanes create a tough, scratch resistant wear layer and help prevent moisture from penetrating the wood's surface. This means that these floors won't watermark like the old waxed hardwood floors, and the UV cure urethanes do make it easier to maintain the like new appearance than, for example, the old waxed wood floors.

Choosing pre-finished largely boils down to installation, durability and maintenance issues. Instead of taking several days to install and finish a wood floor, a pre-finished wood floor is generally done in one day, hence resulting in substantial time and cost savings. Most do-it-yourselfers can install a pre-finished floor. Because of a high quality and consistent factory application, a pre-finished floor often has a more durable wear layer and lower maintenance than a site finished floor.