Sure you know wood flooring is . . . wood. But how do trees become the flooring we walk and live on? Let’s follow the journey of some hardwood lumber from forest sapling to the most used surface in our homes.
Most wood flooring in the United States is made with hardwood lumber harvested from deciduous trees and forests, such as oak, hickory and maple. The majority of this lumber is from trees cut by selective harvesting. This technique cuts only the trees best suited for the particular need. Logging companies selectively harvest these trees and deliver them to lumber mills.
What’s now only an amusement park ride, log flumes used to be a common means of transporting cut logs far distances, across valleys and rivers and down mountains. Now log trucks, trains and shipping containers carry out this task.
The lumber mill does the work of taking round logs and cutting them into rough, square edged lumber. It’s then dried to remove moisture, very important for flooring, and later cut again to create surfaced lumber with specific thicknesses and varied lengths and widths. Then it’s off to the flooring mill.
Flooring manufacturers purchase lumber based on the type of flooring they produce. Species, dimensions and grading are primary influencers on lumbers’ cost and manufacturers purchase lumber very specific to their needs. Grade describes the quality of the lumber concerning it’s dimensions and how “clean” it is. The cleaner lumber has little to no knots or character marks. All variations of lumber are used though, depending on the style of the flooring made.
There are two kinds of real wood floors, solid and engineered. Solid floor mills buy lumber and plain in to 3/4” thick, then cut tongue & grooves into the sides and ends. Engineered flooring producers use a few different means to cut veneers of varying thicknesses from lumber. (A veneer is a layer of wood.) Using whichever method is best for their product, they then adhere that veneer onto a layered wood base. The amount of layers making up the base vary from just a couple to around ten, made from fast growing hardwood or softwood species, and glued together like plywood. Then it also gets tongue & grooves. Both types of flooring can be sold as unfinished at this point, or be color treated and finished in the factory.
Both solid and engineered floors have their advantages and it’s worth learning more about them to discover the best option for your project.
Some manufacturers sell their floors direct to market while many use retailers and distributors to make available to the end users. It’s not uncommon for adventurous DIYers to buy and install their own flooring but hiring licensed and experienced flooring contractors saves much time and backache. Unfinished floors require more labor than prefinished; after they’re installed, they need to be sanded, stained and finished. This is a multi-step process that takes more time to complete but can create custom, one of a kind floors. By contrast, prefinished flooring is ready for use as soon as installation is complete.
A quality real wood floor is special like no other surface in the home. Each board is as unique as a fingerprint and uses beautiful and sustainable natural resources to become a rich addition, potentially for the life of the space.