Flawlessly Finished Wood: Which Finish is Best for Your Project?

Steve Grimwood, Managing Director of Osmo UK, provides an insight into what different wood finishes can achieve – both visually and practically.

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Wooden flooring is a beautiful feature of the home. Still, it is essential to understand that as an organic matter, it will continue to need nourishment to ensure it stays in the best possible condition, both aesthetically and structurally. My best advice to architects and building contractors is to specify a high-quality finish, full of natural ingredients to complement the wood’s properties. This will ensure that the wood continues to breathe and responds well to environmental conditions, removing any possibility of cracking and/or blistering. For projects like this, I would recommend an oil-/wax-based finish.

Protection

The desired result by many is the natural rustic look. To maintain this, the finish applied needs to add durability to the wood surface, protecting it from everyday wear-and-tear, stains and dirt. In this situation, a clear matt finish would be the answer. The finish will not detract from the overall beauty of the natural wood but will make it more robust, adding to the longevity. Oil and wax finishes penetrate deeply into the wood to create a micro-porous finish. This allows the wood to breathe, moisture to evaporate and ensures a flawless finish both upon application and for many years to come.

After treatment, the wood is strengthened from within and retains its elasticity. It becomes water-repellent, stain-resistant and more hard-wearing, because it meets the wood’s natural demands and does not crack, flake, peel or blister. This makes it an ideal choice for commercial projects where the wooden flooring needs to last, alongside remaining aesthetically pleasing.

Colour

Another feature of wooden finishes is the ability to apply colour to your flooring. Tired or dull rooms can quickly be converted to gain a vibrant and exciting appearance. Whether it is a simple tint to change the shade of the wood, or a complete overhaul to a refreshing, bold colour tone – this can be a quick-fix way of improving the appearance of the room.

The products, which are available on the market to do just as we have said, have been designed to combine creative design and perfect protection. Not only do they offer visual enhancement, but also a finish that maintains the natural characteristics of the wood.

A current trend within UK homes is for light-wash-appearance flooring. Going for a pale finish can give an increased impression of space – essential when many people are investing more in improvements over relocating. Additionally, a lighter finish can open up the room. This is especially helpful when designing a space with little natural light.

Safety

Depending on the location of the floor, safety needs to be considered when specifying the finish. Like any hard flooring material, wood can become slippery when wet, resulting in a slip hazard. To rectify this issue, many anti-slip finishes have been introduced to the UK market. These products apply a clear anti-slip finish to the floor, which doesn’t compromise the overall appearance.

Before the application of finishes, it is essential to ensure the flooring is adequately prepared to achieve the best results. Whether it be a newly-laid floor or an old renovation, sanding out uneven surfaces will allow for the finish to gain a better result. Without proper preparation and the removal of pre-existing treatments and varnishes, new finishes may appear uneven and will not saturate the surface sufficiently enough to perform the required job.

VOCs

For many years, finishes for hardwood floors have been criticised for the odours they produce, and this has left clients complaining about the smell or having to leave their home during hardwood floor refinishing. This situation arises because most conventional oil-based hardwood finishes contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which produce gases that can be detrimental to health when inhaled. VOCs can be found in stains, lacquer and other finishes and, when applied, the gases become airborne. Not only is this unpleasant to put up with, but it can be harmful.

The reason oil-based finishes are formulated with solvents (or VOCs) is to improve performance and durability. These benefits need to be balanced with the real cost. If the continuing use of this type of product comes at the price of customer satisfaction, as well as a long-term detrimental effect on the environment, then their future use needs to be called into question. Thankfully, awareness is growing of the possible health risks associated with the impact on air quality, and this concern has driven the demand for products with lower VOCs. Extensive research and development have brought about a situation where there are products low in VOCs that release minimal gas and are virtually odour-free during application.

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