Unfinished Flooring

How To Buy Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Think of unfinished hardwood flooring like a blank canvas. You can make it look any way you want.

Using unfinished hardwood in a home or commercial project will provide the most flexibility in making your floor unique that meets your exact specifications.

We have compiled a master list of the essentials to consider when choosing unfinished hardwood flooring. While this list is comprehensive and covers most of the typical options people consider, there is always the ability to go even further to create something truly custom.

When it comes to unfinished flooring, our sales team will work with you to source any floor you can dream up.

Solid vs. Engineered Wood Flooring

True hardwood floors can either be made of a solid piece of lumber or engineered with a true hardwood veneer on top of a plywood core. There are benefits to both formats.

Solid flooring
“Solid wood floors are ideal for homes where conditions can get dry, homes with plywood subfloors, and jobs that require custom work.”

Solid

Traditionally, wood floors are made from a solid piece of 4/4 or one-inch lumber. Lumber is harvested from trees and kiln dried to between 6-9% moisture content. The lumber is then milled with a tongue and groove, resulting in a flooring plank that is nominally 3/4″ thick. Other thickness options include 1/2″, 5/8″, and thicker, but 3/4″ is the industry standard thickness for most unfinished flooring.

Solid wood flooring is ideal for homes where conditions can get dry, homes with plywood subfloors, and jobs that require custom pattern work (more options are usually available with solid wood flooring than engineered).

Engineered flooring
“Engineered floors are ideal when being installed over concrete, in a home that can have higher moisture content, or when looking for an efficient and fast way to complete a job.”

Engineered

Recently, engineered unfinished flooring has become more popular with the quality of these floors surpassing those of solid flooring. Instead of using one solid piece of lumber for each flooring plank, lumber is cut into thinner veneers ranging from 2mm to 5mm.

Veneers are then bonded to a plywood core which gives the flooring exceptional stability. The thickness options vary from 1/2″, 5/8″, or 3/4″. Many times, engineered unfinished flooring comes pre-sanded so that only minimal sanding is required once the planks are installed. This can speed up installation time and result in a highly durable floor that looks identical to a solid hardwood floor.

Engineered floors are ideal for being installed over concrete or in a home that may have higher humidity like along the gulf coast. This flooring option is also an efficient and fast way to complete a job. Learn more about one collection of unfinished engineered from Teckton. Contact a location near you for more details.

Width

An important choice for aesthetics is board width. Unlike the thickness, you will see the floor surface every day. 

An important consideration is that the wider the plank– the more significant its potential movement. When exposed to extremely dry environments, wider plank floors can gap more significantly. In humid summer heat, they can expand and cup more than narrower boards.

For nail down installation of flooring that is 5-inch and wider, we recommend using a glue-assist method along with fasteners to keep boards from moving. The homeowner should always maintain humidity levels in the home between 35-55% RH.

Standard Widths

Unfinished flooring generally comes in standard widths which are commonly stocked. Strip widths are generally 1-1/2″ and 2-1/4″ while standard plank widths are 3-1/4″, 4″, and 5″.

Other Non-Standard Widths

Just about anything can be customized with unfinished wood flooring, including the width. Current trends are looking at wider widths being specified. It’s not uncommon to see 6″ or 8″ Hickory or White Oak. Many of these specialty specifications will be custom ordered from a partner flooring mill.

Multi-width hardwood floors
Multi-width hardwood floors typical consists of three widths, but they can be customized to have more or less widths included.

Multiple Width Floors

Another trend is to combine board widths in sequential patterns. A repeating row pattern: 3-1/4″ – 4″ – 5″ is typical, but a disordered pattern install may also be done. There is no limit to how many widths can be used, but two-five widths covers most requests.

Regardless how many widths you choose or the pattern we can calculate the square feet needed of each width at any of our ProShop locations. Just give us a call or stop by and we will handle the rest.

Length

The length of flooring boards can affect the appearance of the floor. An abundance of short boards can appear busy especially when it’s also a lower grade with knots. Longer length boards are impressive with many fewer end joints which contributes to a cleaner more uniform appearance.

Our talented sales team works with various flooring mills to specify minimum, maximum, and average board lengths for a floor. For example, a 2 – 10′ length, 5″ wide Rift & Quartered White Oak floor can be a great way to tailor a project that brings a unique look to a home.

Softwood flooring will generally come mostly in the same longer lengths instead of random lengths. These include Douglass Fir and Pine. When ordering these specified species, we will make sure you are aware of how you want these lengths.

Cut

The way lumber is cut for unfinished wood flooring can make a difference in its appearance. Lumber yards and flooring mills seek to maximize the yield from every log. This means that they are cutting up logs to minimize as much waste as possible.

Plainsawn

This type of cut is the most common of all other ways of milling lumber. Plainsawn or flat sawn lumber indicates that the log is cut so that the annular growth rings of the tree are 30 degrees or less to the face of the board plank. This results in an oblong swirling “cathedral” grain pattern on the face of the board.

As a premium option, some mills will cut logs in such a way that produces different grain patterns on the face of the board.

Rift & Quartered

Many times Rift sawn and Quarter sawn lumber is mixed to generate more material. This combined product is marketed as “Rift & Quartered” or “R&Q” flooring. This is a common way to get a beautiful grain pattern at a slightly better price than either quater sawn only or rift sawn only. Rift & Quartered flooring has the added benefit of being more dimensionally stable than Plainsawn.

Because the grain is close to vertical to the face of the board, any expansion or contraction of the flooring board due to moisture tends to be directed vertically rather than horizontally. This can help a Rift & Quartered floor to not gap or swell like a Plainsawn floor would.

Quarter Sawn: Quarter Sawn boards are cut resulting in the end grain at a 60-90 degree angle to the face of the board. At this angle, the grain appears in very straight lines and the medullary rays in the lumber are bisected to produce a stunning fleck or wave pattern on the face of the board. Antique furniture from 100 years ago is replete with this look.

Rift Sawn: Rift Sawn boards are cut so the end grain is at a 45 degree angle to the face of the board. This produces a beautiful linear grain pattern and is the least efficient (and most expensive) methods of cutting logs.

Graf Custom Hardwood is a trusted partner specializing in creating rift and quartered wood flooring. Watch our video explaining this process.

Live Sawn

Logs that are live sawn are repetitively cut straight across the log without turning the log. Each resulting plank has a mix of plain, rift, and quarter sawn grain. This is mostly used in wide plank flooring greater than 6″ or wider.

Species of wood
Every species of wood is different with it’s own distinct characteristics and appearance.

Species

Unfinished hardwood flooring is a natural forest product. The species of tree that is used for lumber determines the species of your floor. Each one having its own distinct characteristics and appearance. In addition to the width of flooring planks, the species you choose will be a main determiner for how your floor will look.

Readily available species

The species of wood flooring that are most readily available are the North American domestic tree species of red oak, white oak, hickory, maple, walnut and pine. Red oak and white oak are by far the most popular for unfinished wood flooring.

Hardness

A growing concern among some is the density or hardness of a species. Problems with flooring dents and gouges have contributed to this concern. Density is measured by the Janka scale. The higher the number, the denser (or harder) the wood. Oak, hickory, maple, cherry, walnut and mesquite are all suitable hardwoods for flooring. Hickory, maple, and mesquite are considered very hard, while walnut and cherry are on the lower end of the scale. Red oak, ash, and white oak are considered average.

Questions to ponder.. before choosing a product.

  • How much foot traffic will your floor get?
  • Will there be heavy objects dropped or moved on it?
  • Is it in a commercial setting?

In many situations a denser species may be advisable.

Other species

There are dozens of other species that are used for unfinished hardwood flooring. Some are found domestically, while others are from more tropical areas. Each species has its own unique characteristics and can be a part of a truly unique wood flooring canvas. These species include:

  • Ash
  • Australian Cypress
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Pine
  • Douglas Fir
  • Brazilian Walnut (Ipe)
  • Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba)
  • Other specialty and exotic species

Grade

Since there is no universal standard for all species, grades can often be confusing. Grades only deal with the appearance of a floor, not the hardness, packaging, or quality. 

Features such as knots, mineral streaks, pin holes, and color variation all affect the grade. Achieving a desired appearance is the basis for many homeowners in determining what they are willing to accept in a floor. So, there is no right or wrong choice. Because grade affects the price of the floor, many times it comes down to what fits the budget.

Waste Factor

Flooring manufacturers are allowed a percentage of milling defect in the flooring they produce. As a result, some of these boards with defect may unusable and need to be discarded during the installation process. Because wood flooring is a natural product, some defects can be expected, even in the cleanest grade.

Additionally, depending on room layout and the angle of installation, some footage is lost. The more cuts to start or finish a row, the more flooring will be used. For these reasons, depending on the grade level, an average of 5-10% extra footage is commonly ordered on each flooring project.

For patterns or installation on a diagonal, an additional 5-10% waste factor should be figured in for a total of 15-20%.

For rustic or cabin grade there is no standard. “Anything goes” with under grade flooring like unlimited amount of defects, including boards that are short, spilt into, warped, tapered, split, undercut, just to name a few. Up to a 50% waste factor should be added unless the rustic cabin look is what you’re after.

Proprietary vs. Standard Wood Flooring Grades

There is no single standard for all species hardwood flooring grades that all mills follow. The National Wood Flooring Association governs the NOFMA standards for primarily oak grades. Being a NWFA/NOFMA certified flooring mill provides the primary standards for oak flooring. You can find more information here.

Some flooring mills have developed their own proprietary grades that meet or exceed the NWFA standards. A mill’s reputation carries a lot of weight with some being known for their quality more than others.

Because we work with many different mills across the country, we can help you determine the best product fit for your specific project. We have developed our own grade related to the flooring mills– a Good, Better, and Best– option for each grade.

Flooring grades
Flooring grades deal only with the appearance of the floor, not the hardness, length, or quality. Grades will vary based on species, mill, and region where the wood grows.

Oak Flooring Grades

The above image shows the three standard grades of oak flooring per NOFMA.

Select Oak

Contains all the variations in coloration produced by the contrasting differences of heartwood and sapwood.  Also included are minimal character marks, such as small knots, worm holes, and mineral streaks, as well as slightly open characters.  The combination creates a floor where the light sapwood and dark heartwood are combined with small characters and other small color interruptions. 

No. 1 Common Oak

A flooring product characterized by prominent color variation that also contains prominent characters (with size limits) such as knots, open checks, worm holes, along with machining and drying variations.  No. 1 Common is a tasteful floor where prominent variation is expected.

No. 2 Common Oak

Contains sound natural and manufacturing variations including knot holes, open worm holes, and other open characters along with prominent color variations.  Manufacturing variations include drying characters and machining irregularities.  No. 2 Common is most desirable for applications where numerous notable character marks and prominent color contrast is desired. 

Tavern, cabin, and utility grade

This rustic product is actually not a specific grade. It refers to anything that doesn’t fall into the other grades. It is usually a mix of leftovers from other grades. Rustic floors can have an unlimited amount of defects. But, if installed, handscraped, and dark stained can be a stunning floor full of character.

Hickory, Maple and Birch Grades

Hickory and Maple grade names are different from Oak. The top grade is referred to as 1st Grade (instead of Select & Better).

Color is not considered a defect in Hickory, Maple or Birch. Even the highest grades can include color variation, unless it is specifically requested otherwise. This isn’t possible with Hickory, as all Hickory lumber has a natural “calico” appearance.
MFMA standards govern these grade distinctions for maple manufacturers.
1st Grade – Free of any defects, may include an occasional small pin knot. This is the highest standard grade for Hickory, Maple and Birch.

2nd Grade – Distinct color variation and varying wood characteristics, including mineral streaks, knots, and stained sapwood.

3rd Grade – Includes all the natural variations of the species, but still result in a sound and serviceable floor.

Rustic / Tavern
This rustic product is actually not a specific grade. It refers to anything that doesn’t fall into the other grades. It is usually a mix of leftovers from other grades. Rustic floors can have an unlimited amount of defects. But, if installed, handscraped, and dark stained can be a stunning floor full of character.

Keep in mind: rustic unfinished hardwood flooring can have lots of defects and include boards that shouldn’t be installed. An experienced installer will judge which boards can be installed and what to throw away. Like rustic grade oak flooring, plan for up to a 50% waste factor for rustic maple, hickory, and birch flooring.

Combinations of grades

Mills often mix hickory, maple, and birch grades together, usually 2nd Grade and 1st Grade sold as 2nd & Better grade. This gives many people the look they are wanting with these species.

Walnut & Cherry Grades

North American Walnut is a rarer species than other domestic lumber types and typically has its own grading rules. North American Cherry has very similar grading rules to Walnut, with the exception that Cherry is not normally available to be steamed.

Select Grade – Expect natural color variation between heartwood and sapwood. Will also include some knots, checks, and pin holes in the wood.

No. 1 Common – Prominent color variation between the heartwood and sapwood, along with natural and machine produced defects, including knots, edge indentations, blotchiness, and pin holes.

No. 2 Common – Features all the natural characteristics and defects of the species.

Steamed vs. Unsteamed (Walnut only) – Many choose walnut because of the dark chocolate appearance of the heartwood. The sapwood in Walnut can be a lighter taupe or vanilla color. Steaming the lumber lessens the contrast between the dark heartwood and the lighter sapwood.

Geographic Region

An important element of wood flooring to consider is the region from where the lumber is harvested. The geography and climate of North America has a great affect on how trees grow, and on how the finished product will look.

Northern Region
Mills that harvest lumber from Northern forests take advantage of the slow growing cycle for trees. This results in a much tighter grain pattern and more even color appearance. Northern lumber is considered a premium product for unfinished wood flooring.

Appalachian Region
The majority of hardwood production comes from this central region of the United States. The growing season is slightly longer and the geography and soil composition allows forests to be harvested sustainably. The appearance of Appalachian lumber will have a good natural variation of color, grain, and other characteristics.

Southern Region
Because of the long growing season in the South, trees grow much more quickly. Milder winters often don’t kill insects and pests that infect various species. This can cause damage to trees and lead to more discoloration and mineral streaks, not to mention pin holes. The appearance of Southern lumber can be more varied, but the quality of the milling and other manufacturing characteristics can still be controlled by mills. Most pine forests are located in this region and provide the majority of pine flooring.

Accents and Finishing Touches

Bevel Edge

For some floors, bevels are added to edges of the flooring planks. This is primarily done for aesthetic reasons.

When boards have a bevel, slight differences in the thickness and milling of the boards can be minimized making them less noticeable. Bevels can either be applied to the side edges of the board (2-sided) or also to the end-joints (4-sided).

Floor Pegs

Historically, unfinished hardwood flooring boards were not milled on the ends and would be installed with wooden pegs in holes that were drilled at the end of each board joint. These pegs became a “style” that many desired to replicate in modern unfinished flooring by drilling a space to insert a small wooden dowel.

Often these pegs were done in a contrasting species to the overall wood floor, such as using Walnut pegs in a White Oak floor. Today these pegs are usually decorative and can be added to any wood floor to match the appearance of an old one, or to give your floor a unique look. Ask us about the different sizes of walnut floor pegs in stock.

Herringbone hardwood floor
There are several different patterns and designs for hardwood flooring, such as the herringbone shown here.

Patterns & Parquets

For those wanting to take it to the next level, consider a pattern layout that can accent a formal room or library with a unique and customized style just for you.

This can be as simple as installing floors at 45 degree angle to the walls or further still into parquet, basket weave, herringbone, and chevron patterns. Pattern floors are specially milled and installing them will require an experienced and skilled craftsman to install.

Medallions & Inlays

Few things are more stunning than a custom made medallion as the centerpiece of a room, except when the room is bordered with a corresponding themed inlaid pattern. These options highlight the beauty and flexibility of woodwork and craftsmanship that can turn an average floor into a masterpiece.

We are available to assist you on the next project where a medallion or accent border is specified. Why not take your own design idea and turn it into a custom piece just for your client. Call us or stop by any of our locations for more details.

Moldings & Accessories

The finishing touches are important for any space with wood floors. One of the easiest ways to make your floor pop is by replacing in-floor metal vent covers with real wood vents that match the flooring.

When you’re looking for a specific species and size of flooring vent or transition pieces such as reducers, stair nosing, shoe moldings, don’t hesitate to let us know. We maintain inventory of many stain-ready products and flooring accessories. Check out more on our website.

Stairs and Risers

A wood staircase can function to bridge or connect two design elements in your home. Carpeted stairs detract from the symmetry and beauty of the hardwood floors installed upstairs and downstairs. Staircases not only compliment the flooring but with some customization can be a design feature in themselves. Whether a complimentary piece or the main centerpiece of your home, give some thought to what a matching staircase means to you.

Treads and risers are available in many species, and dimensions from curved to extra long, or pie-slice.. our sources are just about limitless. Let us know how we can serve your next project.

What really matters when choosing an unfinished hardwood floor

Despite all the options and variables, in the end it is about the needs of the homeowner! what matters most is the customer’s personal preference. Our aim at RW Supply+Design is to serve you and your customer, however we can, and provide you the materials and knowledge you’ve come to expect from us, all while supporting you to do work you are proud of. Contact us with questions or to get a quote for your next amazing project!