COLOR PROCESS & FINISHES
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Color Processes & Finishes
At Gate Hardwood Floors we believe in educating our customers of the different options available to them. We invite you to share in the education of some of the finer points of wood floor coloring, coating and sourcing. We believe that this information will help you make the best decisions possible while selecting your new wood floors. We would like for you to take your time and read through the information below.
We Offer Unlimited Color Possibilities
Unlike most hardwood flooring companies that offer a limited selection of colors and finished to choose from, Gate Hardwood Floors can meet your project requirements by providing you with infinite color options. Whether you prefer the convenience of a factory finished floor, wish to have a traditional wood floor installed and finished in place, or are in need of customized colors and treatment options that can only be accomplished at the shop, Gate can help you with every step of the process.
Gate also offers an exclusive color matching system that can provide a fast solution for finding the custom color you want for you custom hardwood floors. With us, you will never have to settle for a color that’s “nearly” what you had envisioned. Provide us with a sample item that you need to match – a paint swatch, fabric or linen, piece of wood or flooring and we will re create the color for your floor.
Traditional Oil Based Stain Color Chart: CLICK HERE >>
Water Based Alkaline Dyes
Urethane vs. Natural Oils
Urethane floor finishes are very durable and are currently the most popular choice in the U.S., but at Gate we believe that natural oil finishes would be more popular if they were better understood. In Europe, where oil finishes have a long tradition, they make up roughly one third of the residential flooring market and one half of the commercial market.
Oil and urethane finishes reflect two completely different approaches – oils work by fortifying and sealing the wood fibers, while urethane works by walling them off. With an oiled floor, you are walking on the natural wood surface. With a urethane floor, you are walking on a man-made barrier. Consider this analogy: Oil is to urethane as skin is to a raincoat.
An oil finish penetrates into the wood and hardens to become an integral part of the floor, just as skin is an integral part of the body. A urethane finish is a protective layer that covers the floor, like a raincoat.Consumers often ask which type of finish is more durable, urethane or oil, but there is no simple answer to that question.
Repair & Maintenance – Urethane vs. Oil
Like a raincoat, a urethane finish provides excellent protection, but its appearance and performance are never again as good as on the day it was installed. Gradually the floor gets more and more scratched up until you eventually have to sand and recoat it. Urethane finishes can’t be patched or touched up. Repairing scratches requires replacing individual boards, or recoating the entire floor – throwing away that old raincoat.
By contrast, an oiled floor that gets damaged in a particular location can usually be treated locally and blended with the rest of the floor. And, the entire floor can be refreshed fairly easily by nourishing the wood with more oil, which will remove most signs of wear and tear without sanding. Like skin, an oiled floor that is well cared for may last a lifetime.
A urethane-coated floor will, on average, need to be cleaned and a new coat of finish applied every 5-7 years. A properly maintained oil finish will require re-oiling every 3-5 years. So, the maintenance of oiled wood floors is more frequent, but it is far less disruptive because it generally requires no sanding. To be sure, some of the patina and wear patterns in an oiled floor will still be visible after re-oiling, but for consumers looking for an antique or weathered look, this only adds to the floor’s appeal.
It’s important to mention that the ease of doing a localized repair on an oil finish depends on the complexity of the original color and how worn the floor becomes before the problem is addressed. Doing a repair on a color that was created with multiple layers of treatments requires more skill than most homeowners possess. Also, if someone doesn’t maintain an oiled floor properly and allows the oil to wear down to the point where the wood is no longer protected, the wood may discolor and can only be fixed by sanding and refinishing. Oiled floors therefore may not be the best choice for people who are likely to neglect their wood.
A few additional factors to consider:
Different Factory Finishes
UV Cured Urethane
A Note About Aluminum Oxide
When aluminum oxide and ceramic finishes were first introduced to the marketplace, they were often added to the topcoat to make the floor more scratch resistant. Over time, many manufacturers abandoned this strategy because they found that as the coating wore down, the additive particles would create micro-scratches in the finish that would give it a cloudy look. The abrasion resistance of the topcoat also made it more difficult to screen in preparation for a refresher coat. Now, most manufacturers who use aluminum oxide and other additives apply them in the sealer (base coat) to serve as a last defense against finish wear-through. So, the idea that additives like aluminum oxide make a finish more scratch resistant is usually not correct. They simply make it more wear-through resistant.
The enhanced wear-through resistance achieved by these additives is the main reason that manufacturers are now able to offer very long finish warranties of 35 and even 50 years. These warranties give the impression to consumers that the finish will perform and look better than other finishes. But to most consumers, the scratches are what bother them most, and the manufacturer with the long warranty could just be adding large amounts of aluminum oxide in the base coat of a low quality finish. Such a finish will get scratched up and need a re-coat in five years, and the scratches aren’t covered under the product’s meaningless 50 year warranty.
Some manufacturers, particularly in Europe, prefer to leave additives like aluminum oxide out of their finishes for two reasons. First, they affect clarity, creating a hazy look, and second, they make it more difficult to refresh the finish with a topcoat. At Monarch Plank, we agree with the Europeans. We believe that the added wear-through resistance provided by these additives isn’t worth sacrificing beauty and repair-ability, since most people refinish their floors due to scratches long before the finish comes close to wearing through. We choose instead to use quality top-coats that give maximum scratch resistance and total finish clarity.
One common myth about UV urethane finishes, and urethane’s in general, is that they are waterproof and will not be stained by liquids left on the floor. In fact, if you look at urethane finishes under a microscope; you can see thousands of tiny pores. Water vapor can slowly pass through these pores, and, given enough time, chemicals left on the surface of the floor (including coffee, wine, pet urine, etc.) will make their way down through these pores and discolor both the finish and the wood beneath. It is true that urethane’s are generally more stain resistant than oil finishes, but it’s not true that they are immune to such damage.
Most hard wax oils on the market require the application of at least two coats, but there are some ‘single-coat’ hard wax oils that make use of isocyanine hardeners to bond quickly to the wood fiber and create a seal with just one thin application. These single-coat hard wax oil finishes have unique characteristics that require that they be maintained with different types of soaps and cleaners than most oil finishes.
The advantages and disadvantages of hard wax oil finishes are more or less the same as penetrating oil finishes:
So Which Finish Is Best?
We have manufactured and sold floors with all three of these families of finishes, but our current product line emphasizes UV Oil and UV Urethane options. With our ultra low-gloss, low build urethane’s and UV Oils, we can provide the look and feel of the most natural finish without sacrificing stain resistance and durability. Penetrating oil and hard wax Oil finishes definitely have their place, but we have found that the amount of education and care that those finishes require can be surprising to many consumers.
HEALTH INFORMATION – FACTORY FINISHES
Generally, manufacturers who use penetrating oil finishes on their prefinished floors will allow the finish to cure for a period before packaging, but that curing process often isn’t 100% complete at the time of packaging. Once packaged, the curing process gets put on hold while the product is protected from air circulation. For that reason, consumers may detect a slight odor when a floor finished with penetrating oil is first installed.
Some of the ‘single-coat’ hard wax oils on the market are advertised as being zero-VOC. However, it’s important to note that this technology relies on isocyanine as a hardener. Isocyanine is not classified in the U.S. as a VOC because it is not a smog-producing chemical, and manufacturers therefore aren’t required to include it in their VOC calculation. But in many other countries isocyanine IS classified as a VOC, and is considered harmful. Being ‘Zero-VOC’ in the U.S. does not necessarily mean being free of odors or harmful ingredients.
Similar to pre-finished floors finished with penetrating oils, floors finished with hard wax oils may have a slight odor when they are first removed from the packaging, as the finish may still be going through the final stages of curing.
Creating Color From Within – Natural Reactive Color Processes
At Gate we have embraced this trend and employ several different techniques to achieve these natural looks. We use Fuming (aka Smoking), Carbonization, and Reactive Stain technologies. While traditional wood stains add color by painting pigments on to the wood, these techniques create color from within the wood by causing reactions in its natural ingredients. The results are spectacular, but it’s important for consumers to understand and embrace these natural variations before they finalize their floor selection.
One advantage of fuming, carbonization and reactive stains is that they don’t create the pronounced black lines in the wood grain that are left by traditional stains. All traditional stains employ pigments, and when applied, those pigments tend to accumulate very heavily in the open growth rings of the wood, causing the black lines. With these reactive processes, we can achieve dark colors without those unnatural looking lines. Many reactive stains actually create the reverse effect, lightening the open growth rings, for an effect similar to that created by weathering outdoors.
Fuming / Smoking
European Oak is the preferred species for fuming/smoking because of its high tannin content. American White Oak is sometimes fumed/smoked, but it tends to react less intensely, has more variation, and sometimes takes on a greenish color.
Because the intensity of the reaction to the ammonia depends on the tannin content of the wood, each board reacts a little bit differently from the next. This creates color variation that can be more pronounced than if the wood were not treated or colored at all. In Europe, where fuming is a traditional technique that has been used for centuries, consumers are accustomed to this variation, but in the U.S., many people are unfamiliar with it and can be a bit surprised by how much variation is present in the floor.
For manufacturers who want to improve color consistency in a fumed/smoked floor, careful lumber sourcing can help to some degree. Oak from Western Europe, especially France and Germany, tends to have higher tannin content than Oak from Eastern Europe and the Russian Far East. Along the same longitude, wood from farther North will tend to have higher tannin content than wood from the South. When a floor has really extreme color variation, it may be that the manufacturer mixed material from far away regions. Gate, we don’t do that, However; no matter how carefully the lumber is sourced, variation is inevitable. Even within a relatively small forest area, tannin content can vary dramatically, and it varies quite a bit even within the same log, depending on which portion is used.
Consumers looking for a floor with uniform color should generally be steered away from colors created with smoked/fumed wood. That said, Gate does offer smoked/fumed products that are color sorted for greater consistency. Ask your Gate Sales Representative about which fumed products have been sorted for consistency.
Though controlling the color in carbonized wood is challenging, we believe that these challenges are greatly outweighed by the beauty this process creates. The richness and natural look of carbonized Oak simply can’t be replicated with topical stain techniques.
It’s important to be aware of two characteristics of carbonized wood. First, the heat treatment makes the wood a bit more brittle, which is why you generally only see engineered wood flooring products that are carbonized. In a solid carbonized wood floor, the tongues would break off too easily when nailed. Second, carbonized wood tends to fade more under UV exposure than the same wood that has not been carbonized. While natural (non-carbonized) Oak changes relatively little when exposed to sunlight, carbonized Oak can fade as much as Walnut, a species known for its photosensitivity. Customers who have intense light conditions in their homes (such as floor-to-ceiling, south-facing windows) should be advised of this before finalizing the selection of a carbonized Oak floor, just as they should for Walnut, Brazilian Cherry, and other species that tend to fade when exposed to too much direct light.
Tannin and sugar differences between boards result in color differences with all of these reactive processes, but with reactive stains, the grain direction also matters. The degree of reaction depends in large part on how much reactive stain is applied and absorbed into the wood. Depending on the grain structure, some areas absorb more than others. As a result, reactive stains can create significant variation even within the same plank. Rather than being a problem, this phenomenon actually serves to enhance the perception that the wood was colored by nature. The color follows the grain, and the variation within individual boards helps blend all of the boards together.
Overcoming ‘Variation Shock’
Reactive stains are susceptible to extreme fading in color due to exposure to ultra violet, or sunlight exposure. This fading is not warrantied by the manufacturer or Gate Hardwood Floors, and the necessary steps to protect the floor should be implemented immediately. So that customers can fully appreciate these natural color processes, we encourage them to view as much material as possible to help visualize what the floor will look like when it’s fully installed. Photographs are helpful, but an even better way is to get a few bundles or cartons of the flooring and lay them out in the space. We want our customers to experience this beauty before they make their decision. Pulling just a handful of planks out and making a decision too quickly is a mistake. Almost always, the color variation grows on people, and the more area they see, the more they like how natural the floor looks. Please be sure to go to our maintenance page in the guide section to become familiar with the best practices in maintaining the natural beauty of your wood floors.