Which wood is right? Pick the perfect style, colour and finish for your floor with our expert guide.
Wood works, in so many ways. Firstly, it’s a forgiving surface for family homes – not as hard as concrete or tiles, and visually softer and warmer, too. It’s also incredibly versatile. Whether you’re a limewash-loving Scandi fan or passionate about creating an immaculate glossy black finish, you’ll find a type and finish to suit your style. Wood is a natural product and a timeless choice and, if treated with care, your timber floor will last a generation or more. Read on to ensure you choose the perfect planks for your place.
solid vs engineered timber
To start, you’ll need to decide whether you want solid or engineered timber flooring. “New solid timber flooring is machined from rough-sawn billets of timber, while recycled flooring is moulded from timber that has been used for something else, such as rafters,” says Leon Travis, national sales and distribution manager of Boral Timber. Cost is generally higher on solid floors. “They take longer to install and finish than a pre-finished engineered board,” says Anne Plumb of Royal Oak Floors. “Depending on thickness, they can be laid over joists, however, for a better finish with insulation and structure, most solid timber floors are laid over ply.” Good installers are key. “Solid timber is more prone to expansion and contraction than engineered boards,” says Anne. “If you’re after a more seamless look, sand and finish the floor on site.”
Engineered flooring is a composite product. “It’s made up of
several layers, using either a rubber-wood or plywood core, with a 4mm-6mm veneer as the top layer,” says Leon. “Often this flooring
is pre-finished and ready for installation. Typically, floorboards with
a 4mm top layer can be re-sanded at least once.” These are great
on a budget or in an apartment where noise is an issue. “Floating floors are cheaper and easier to install as you need fewer materials and they click together easily,” says Anne. “However, they typically don’t last as long and can make a ‘click-clack’ sound when walked on. They’re laid over a concrete slab and can’t be laid over joists.”
what is grade?
Grade describes how many knots or ‘character spots’ a board has. “A board with no markings is classified as A grade,” says Anne Plumb of Royal Oak Floors. “They are rarer, so you’ll pay more. At the other end of the scale are D-grade boards. They might have knots around 50mm wide.” One isn’t better than the other. “It comes down to personal preference,” says Anne. “Having no character in the floor can sometimes make it look like a laminate.”
1) oil or wax?
Pros: Oil- or wax-finished floors give a natural appearance to flooring and can be refinished more easily than polyurethane. “These finishes are good if you have kids or pets that scratch the floor a lot,” says Anne. “They often just need a buff of oil to refinish.”
Cons: “They need more regular maintenance than polyurethane. They can sometimes go yellow over time.”
Pros: “Polyurethane-finished floors should last you for around
10 years with very little maintenance,” says Anne.
Cons: “Scratches can show as small white lines. Refinishing polyurethane floors takes about a week of sanding and refinishing. Oil-based polyurethanes can make the timber go yellow.”
Types of timber don’t just affect the colour and the look of the floor. Different woods have different hardness levels, which indicates
their resistance to denting and wear. “The Janka Hardness Scale measures the force required to embed a small steel ball into wood
to half the ball’s diameter – and determines whether a species is suitable for use as flooring,” says Anne. “Pine was a common timber flooring product, but is very soft and dents easily so rates around
1.5 on the scale, whereas spotted gum is extremely hard-wearing
and sits at around 11 on the scale. Most people want timber that
will wear well and be durable for the long term.”
Of course, recycled timber and bamboo flooring are up there in
terms of eco cred, but it pays to take into account the detail. “Choose timbers that hold Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC),” says Leon Travis of Boral Timber. “These are recognised globally for sustainable forest management.” The species is important, too. “A timber that’s fast growing and readily available, such as blackbutt, is going to be more sustainable and cost effective,” says Anne Plumb of Royal Oak Floors. But that’s not the only thing to consider. Anne says “A thin timber laminate made from a fast-growing plantation timber may last for 10 years – but if you can’t sand it to rejuvenate it then all you can do is replace it. If you choose a more expensive, slower growing species with a usable layer of timber on the top – about six millimetres – that allows more sanding options, you may get 50 years or more out of it.”
colours and stains
dark: jarrah and jatoba
Trying to stain a lighter timber this colour is generally fairly successful. Just remember that dark floors show scratches and marks very easily. “Be prepared for more maintenance if you love dark floors,” says Anne. “They’re also not much fun for the person doing the cleaning!”
Suits: Period homes or dramatic spaces
medium: oak, teak and blackbutt
“Blackbutt is a porous timber and responds well to stains or washes,” says Leon. Remember, if you’re trying to turn a dark wood in to a mid-tone colour, it could still show through, so you’ll need to make sure you’re using the right stain to make it work.
Suits: Rustic homes and most styles
light: birch and beech
Be careful if you’re trying to recolour existing timber, warns Anne. “It’s challenging to turn a dark board light,” she says. “Liming is very difficult – patchiness is common. The base tone of the timber will come through too.”
Suits: “Light neutral tones are big at the moment with the Scandi look. It’s a good low-maintenance floor choice.”
on a budget?
“Thinner engineered boards are cheaper as you’re buying less timber,” says Anne Plumb of Royal Oak Floors. “They may also help to reduce installation costs.” And don’t assume recycled timber is cost effective: “Recycled timber is typically more expensive than new as the availability is much lower,” says Leon Travis of Boral Timber. “Cheaper options include wood with a standard grade or parquetry with more natural features.”
“Before you buy, try to see a large sample,” says Anne. “Small cut samples won’t show up the natural variation many timbers have, so you’ll only be looking at one small example of the colour variations.”
For more flooring inspiration, check out our top picks of colours and stains all the way from moody to bright: