Wood -- Still a Popular Choice for Hardwood Floors


A traditional flooring material for American homes, wood was widely used in bygone days, be cause it was abundant and in expensive. Though good wood flooring is still readily available, it’s no longer low in cost.

Yet wood has remained popular because of its warm, natural look and its resiliency and long life—advantages that can offset its high original cost. A good wood floor will last the lifetime of most homes, can be re finished several times, and will actually improve with age.

Wood flooring may be bought with a factory-applied finish, or unfinished for sanding and finishing in place.

Red and white oaks are the most common species for flooring, but other hardwoods are available, including teak, beech, birch, hard maple, pecan and more exotic species. Some soft woods, such as fir and pine, are also used for flooring.


Wood flooring is milled in many different shapes and can be laid in an endless variety of pat terns. But there are three basic types of wood floors: strip, plank, and block. The first two actually contribute to the structural strength of a house; most wood block flooring, on the other hand, is considered a floor covering only. Wood block flooring may be solid or laminated of several layers. Only laminated flooring should be installed on below- grade concrete subfloors, and then only if precautions are taken to keep the concrete dry.

Strip and plank flooring are rated according to quality. Color, grain, arid such imperfections as knots are assessed to determine the grade. The best grade for both is “Clear,” followed by “Select,” “No. 1 Common,” and “No. 2 Common.” Other hardwoods have similar grading systems, but with different designations; check with your dealer.

Strip flooring

This is the basic hardwood flooring, made up of narrow boards with tongue-and-groove edges and ends laid in random lengths.

The most commonly used strip flooring for finishing in place is ¾ or 25/32 inch thick, with a face width of 2¼ inches, though you can buy widths that vary from 1½ to 3¼ inches. This flooring is suitable for most residential use. Thinner strips (5/16, 3/8, and ½ inch) are available with either tongue- and-groove or square edges. Thicker boards are available, but are usually installed only in commercial buildings. Tongue- and-groove boards are usually end-matched, with a tongue at one end and a groove at the other end of each piece.

Strip flooring comes in random lengths, with individual boards usually 2 to 8 feet long; they are grooved on the back to give the floor resiliency and to make it easier to lay boards over minor subfloor irregularities.

Plank flooring

A holdover from colonial days, plank flooring comes in random widths as well as random lengths. Most plank flooring sold today differs little from standard strip wood flooring. The individual boards are milled with tongue-and-groove edges and ends, or square edges, and can be installed in the same way as strip flooring. Or plank flooring may be laid in adhesive, just as wood blocks are.

The major difference between conventional strip flooring and plank flooring is that planks are produced in random widths (usually about 3 1/2, 5½, and 7½ inches) as well as random lengths. Plank flooring may be ¾ or 3/8 inch thick and either solid wood or laminated—the latter better for below-grade installations.

Generally, if the planks are no more than 4 inches wide, they can be installed exactly like strip flooring. But if planks exceed 4 inches in width, they should be installed over a plywood sub-floor; if you’re working over a base of screeds, they should be covered with a plywood subfloor before the flooring is attached. Instructions for both kinds of subfloor preparation is presented in the next section.

Plank flooring is available prefinished, either with real plugs or with simulated ones.

Block flooring

The terms parquet, wood mosaic, and wood tile are used al most interchangeably to de scribe wood flooring laid in blocks or squares. All are types of wood block flooring. The “blocks” may be solid wood pieces, laminated sheets, or squares assembled from smaller wood pieces (generally called parquet).

Wood block flooring has be come increasingly popular be cause of the wide selection of styles and the ease of installation. Improved, easy-to-install materials now make it possible for a homeowner with average building skills to create attractive, quality wood block floors.

Block flooring is most commonly manufactured in 6- to 12-inch squares, but it’s also avail able in rectangles or in panels up to 39 inches square and usually 5/16 to 13/16 inches thick, held together with mesh backing.

Blocks are often called wood tile because they are usually laid in mastic, much as resilient tile is installed. Some thick blocks have tongue-and-groove edges and may either be laid in mastic or nailed through the tongues; the latter is a job for professionals. Parquet or mosaic blocks are usually made up of many smaller pieces of wood bonded to a single piece of wood backing or held together with cotton or plastic mesh.

Laminated tiles—some as thin as ½ inch, but most of them 5/16 or 3/8 inch—are produced with a surface of hardwood veneer. They may be backed with mesh, and they’re laid in adhesive. Such wood tiles are also avail able with an adhesive backing that makes it possible to set them directly on a subfloor. The manufacturer will provide specific instructions on how to prepare a subfloor for such flooring. Laminated blocks are the best choice for below-grade installations.

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Solid block squares are made of short lengths of wood held together with splines of metal, wood, or plastic. This type of block flooring can be purchased in thicknesses from 5/16 inch to ¾ inch and more.

Another type—end grain block flooring—is exceptionally durable and has long been a popular choice for use in commercial buildings. But its appearance and long life make it practical for use in homes as well. This type of block flooring ranges from 1 to 2½ inches thick and can be bought in squares or in rectangles as long as 18 inches.

Blocks may be made with square or tongue-and-groove edges.

Before selecting a specific type of wood block flooring for your home, take time to investigate your options. Block flooring comes in virtually every kind of wood in a seemingly endless number of patterns. You can buy it with a factory-applied finish, or sand and finish it after installation. Examples of wood block flooring can be seen in by Googling “wood block flooring”.


In the following sections, you’ll find information on installing the three basic types of wood flooring—strip, plank, and wood block—none of which is overly difficult to work with.

But before you settle on wood flooring, consider the following two notes of caution.

Preparing a proper base for any of the three kinds of wood flooring can be more demanding than putting in the new flooring it self. For details, see “Preparing the Subfloor”.

Moisture, the enemy of wood, can make some rooms unfit for wood flooring. In particular, wood floors are seldom installed in rooms below grade or in areas subject to dampness, unless laminated flooring is used and careful steps are taken to keep moisture from penetrating the slab and reaching the wood. It’s important to check an on-grade concrete slab carefully for moisture before installing wood flooring over it, and you must be sure it will stay dry throughout the years—otherwise you’ll have to seal off the moisture from the wood. Similarly, the space below a standard floor supported by joists and beams should be properly ventilated and protected from moisture if wood flooring is to be laid over it.

Prev: Installing Hardwood Floors: Intro

Next: Ordering and Storing Your Wood Flooring

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Wednesday, 2020-04-29 12:58