Understanding Pre-finished Hardwood Flooring and Plank Variations
Hardwood provides organic beauty, with each plank telling its own unique story of the life of the tree. No two hardwood floors are the same. Even more, no two planks are the same. It’s this unique appeal that draws designers, real estate agents and consumers alike to hardwood floors. But it can also mean your final product may not look exactly how you envisioned if you don’t do your homework before purchasing and installing.
Even with LIFECORE’s affordable engineered hardwoods, upgrading your floors can be a big investment. We’ve put together this resource to help you make sure the floor you end up with is really what you want.
Why Are No Two Hardwood Floors the Same?
Most people are aware that because wood is an organic material, each species has its own characteristics when it comes to color and grain patterns. Many consumers are not aware that hardwood may also show variations from the same tree, even within the same carton. In other words, don’t be surprised if your new hardwood flooring does not look exactly like the small sample you’ve have seen at the floor store.
Beyond the natural characteristics of the wood itself, factors like style and finish texture further add to the unique characteristics of wood flooring. For example, while a natural stain and finish will highlight the graining—showing more variety from plank to plank—an evenly applied stain to the same species will give a more even, cohesive look to the end result. These variations can be seen in the images below. All acacia hardwood floors, all distinctly different.
Reactive flooring will give yet another look, with natural elements and tannins working together to create a very natural and tone varied look.
Understanding the Colors and Graining Patterns of Hardwood Floor Species
Below is a brief guide to the natural color and grain patterns of the species that LIFECORE carries. These are generalizations and will vary based on the tree’s own experience. Keep in mind that the descriptions below represent the wood prior to being milled, stained and finished.
- Oak – Oak’s grain is tight, straight and deep. Its natural heartwood is a light to medium brown and can blend in with its white to light brown sapwood for an even look.
- Maple – Maple has lush, milky hues which look great whether stained or in its natural state. It also has a fine grain pattern that ranges from uniformly straight lines to curly, swirling patterns.
- Acacia – Acacia has golden honey-like color and a very unique, swirling grain pattern and natural luster.
- Hickory – Hickory has a two-tone coloration that blends brown lines with those of reddish tan and cream. It has a deep grain pattern, often with visible knots.
A Quick Guide to Hardwood Floor Treatment Styles
The treatment itself also has a major impact on the end look of your hardwood floors. You can view this in a tiered system from a more even look to a more varied look.
- Single Stains – A single colored stain will provide a more even overall look for your finished floor.
- Double or Triple Stains – Multiple color stains provide variety in color and tones of color but provide a more even plank to plank look.
- Reactive – Hardwoods treated with a reactive process have natural and rich colors and tones that provide a strong variety of color, which can vary by species.
A Quick Guide to Buying Hardwood Floors
What to Do Before You Buy Hardwood Floors
While these variations give hardwood its spirit and style, if you’re not aware of the possibility when purchasing, it can be a surprise. The surprise factor is compounded if you shop online and don’t see a sample of the flooring before purchasing.
We’ve put together a list of a few things to do before you purchase your hardwood floors to help take some of the surprise out of the process. First, use our list of species and treatment styles to understand the finished look you are going for. Do you want an even-toned smoother look or are you seeking more natural, grain variety and movement in the floor? Maybe you want something in between!
Take some time looking at finished installations and images of each separate product you’re considering on sites like Pinterest or Houzz. LIFECORE provides a number of resources to imagine what your floors will look like. Within each collection, we’ve visualized every product in the same space to help you see the variations between each color and style and provide a larger area of space so you can see what the overall pattern could look like.
We recommend viewing your desired floor on your phone for a truer view of the color rather than using a desktop computer or tablet, which could have varied results.
What to Do Before You Commit to Your New Hardwood Floors
So you’ve decided which product you like the best and are ready to jump right in. Don’t purchase all the floor you need just yet. We recommend you buy a carton or two first. Open them up, lay out the planks, and get a feel for the characteristics of that species and style to make sure it really is what you want.
Keep in mind that if after opening a carton you decide that the coloring varies too much from the sample, there is a good chance that you can return the flooring. But once the flooring is installed it cannot be returned and is not eligible for a warranty claim, as color variations are not a manufacturing defect.
What to Do Before You Install Your New Hardwood Floors
Once you’ve committed to your product, it’s time to get your new flooring in, but remember: beautiful hardwood floors in magazines and on Pinterest do not come out of the box looking the way they do in final photos. They’re planned and installed by professionals.
Don’t expect your installer to know exactly what you’re envisioning for your final floor, so it will help to do some of the work for them by “racking the floor.” Open each box and arrange the planks on the floor in a design that you like, focusing on both color and the varying board lengths. This will ensure the finished floor will look exactly the way you want it to before the first nail goes in.
Ideally, you’ll want to do this right before installation to save the step of packing the boxes back up again. If that’s not possible, then we recommend you snap a picture of the layout and go over it with your installer.
Depending on your preference, place your favored plank colors in the most visible sections of the room and put those you least want to feature under furniture or area rugs. You may want to keep the color range flowing evenly from light to dark or lay contrasting colors next to each other to achieve a high-variation look. Make sure to consider the light sources in your room, seeing how both natural and artificial light falls on the boards.
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