When installing a reclaimed wood floor, homeowners have the choice between ordering their floors pre-finished from the factory or waiting to finish them on-site. There are many advantages to choosing unfinished wood floors, not the least of which is the ability to personally select the best type of finish for their needs.
There are two primary types of reclaimed wood floor finishes: penetrating and film-forming. Penetrating finishes, such as oil and waxes, are absorbed into the wood providing protection from within. Film-forming finishes (also known as surface sealants) such as polyurethane create a coating that sits on top of the wood creating a shield against moisture and dirt.
Homeowners have many different factors to consider when choosing a finish for reclaimed wood flooring. In addition to the usual concerns – such as how long the finish will last and how often it will need to be reapplied – reclaimed wood floor owners may also want to prioritize factors such as eco-friendliness and tradition.
Oil Finishes for Reclaimed Wood Floors
For homeowners who prize sustainability and have chosen reclaimed wood flooring for its low environmental impact, an oil finish may be the best option. Quality oil finishes are plant-based and contain no VOCs to harm the environment. In fact, oil is one of the most popular finishes worldwide, for both virgin and reclaimed wood.
Unlike other finishes, which typically look their best at the time of application and head downhill from there, oil finishes continue looking better and better every year – provided you’re willing to put in the necessary work. Oil finishes require regular touch-ups and buffing to continue looking great. In fact, many homeowners consider the reparability of oil finishes an advantage over finishes that do not allow repairs, such as polyurethane. Oil finishes also have a low sheen many homeowners prefer, especially on rustic or antique wood flooring.
- Teak oil. Teak oil is one of the most effective finishes you can apply to a reclaimed wood floor. It’s formulated for denser woods, which means it has the capability to penetrate deeply into the pores of your flooring, creating a rich, warm glow.
- Woca. Woca is a manufacturer of a vegetable-based “hardening” oil, which means it hardens the wood as it penetrates. Woca is one of the best-wearing oil finishes available, with a natural appearance and a surface that makes scratch repair easy.
Wax Finishes for Reclaimed Wood Floors
If the primary allure of reclaimed wood flooring is its antique history and connection to the past, you may prefer a wax finish like the one Grandma used. Wax is the oldest and most traditional finish used for wood floors, and it still offers many benefits. It’s highly practical – inexpensive, long-lasting, a breeze to apply and quick to dry – and allows for easy repairs.
Like oil, wax finishes will require occasional buffing and reapplication. Because water can stain a wax finish on reclaimed wood flooring, it’s important to wipe up any moisture immediately.
- Polyx. Known as “the original hardwax-oil,” Polyx by Osmo far outstrips the durability of other waxes; in fact, it has proven in tests to be as tough as polyurethane. Yet it’s still a natural, repairable, low-toxicity finish that nicely complements reclaimed wood flooring.
Polyurethane Finishes for Reclaimed Wood Floors
For reclaimed wood floors in high-traffic areas, homeowners may prefer a durable polyurethane finish. Unlike wax or oil, this type of finish forms a layer on top of the wood, offering superior water and stain resistance. Polyurethane finishes are also low-maintenance and long-lasting.
Polyurethane finishes are typically either oil-based or water-based. Oil-based coatings dry slowly but usually offer greater protection (with some notable exceptions); they’re also made from petroleum, which means they’re not eco-friendly. Water-based finishes dry more quickly and contain few if any volatile organic compounds, which makes them a much greener option for reclaimed wood flooring.
- StreetShoe Super Matte. This polyurethane product from Basic Coatings is a water-based, low-VOC finish, which means it’s friendly to the environment. It dries quickly, allowing multiple coats in a single day, and is the fastest-curing polyurethane finish on the market (up to 90 percent cured in 24 hours).
- Minwax DuraSeal. This product is available at home improvement stores everywhere and is easy to work with. It is a modified polyurethane that brings out the rich grain of the wood flooring before sealing the top, yielding beautiful results.