Red Oak - stain or no stain?

Kristen HallockMarch 23, 2013

we are having our floors redone soon. I had the first flooring guy over last night to give me a quote. He said the current finish on our floors was a cheap Minwax finish. the floors right now are a golden oak color. very yellow! I mentioned that I think we want to stain them to obtain a more light brown color. He said "you don't want them stained" he kept saying that we wouldn't want that. He uses an oil based polyurethane. He said that alone would darken the floors and bring out the color in the wood. The guys seemed knowledgable and he comes highly recommended from a coworker who also used him.

Then I found this picture on houzz. I like the color of this floor and in the comments section they said it was natural red oak with just an oil based poly finish. So, I am asking is it what I should expect if I just had the guy sand my floors and coat them with 3 coats of oil based poly??

I will show it to him as well but I probably won't see him again unless we decide to go with him for the floors. I think I should talk to a couple of more flooring people before deciding.

Here is the Houzz pic

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You will get a golden oak color right out of the can of oil based polyurethane and the finish will yellow over time.

If it's a big job, ask for samples to be done. Some floor finishers will oblige and some refuse. Also, ask for references where you can possibly view results of their work. This is not a lot to ask of finishers doing quality work at high cost. Of course...don't expect the low baller charging $.99 to $1.50 per sq. foot to agree to do any of that.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:19AM
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Kristen Hallock

The guys quote was $3.15 a square foot without staining. It was another $.75 per sq foot with staining.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 12:22PM
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Three things:

1. The floor in your photo is definitely stained, regardless of the poly finish.

2. Oil based poly will add warmth to the look of a floor and darken it a bit, but not as dark as the floor in the photo from Houzz. Water base poly will be very clear, not add warmth and will darken the floors just a touch.

3. Oil poly will amber (yellow) over time. Water base poly will not amber over time, but the wood itself (oak) will yellow over time.

I would definitely get more quotes. A good HW installer will do a sample for you to approve. If you are going with a poly finish make sure your sample has stain AND poly on it for your approval.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:49AM
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When my very old red oak (at least I think that they are red oak) floors needed to be refinished, they were in bad shape with melted-on old carpet padding that needed to be sanded off. They were sanded down and refinished with oilbased poly only and had quite a lot of color then; after 13 years or so they have darkened a bit to somewhere between a prefinished Bruce butterscotch and gunstock although the shade is more golden than those samples. I will see if I can post a pic later. I have been told since that they had to have been restained but I am quite sure that he did not. Perhaps there was some residual color that persisted after sanding, although I do seem to recall seeing the floors after sanding and they were pretty natural.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 2:35PM
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Two things strike me right off. I question how your prospective floor finisher could say your old finish was "cheap Minwax". In my experience, most Minwax products are pretty decent. Second, the finish he's proposing would likely turn yellow with age and certainly WILL NOT give you the look in that picture.
The floor in the picture is definitely stained. If you were looking for a Minwax stain you'd want to look in the range of something like Early American or Provincial. In a Dura Seal, maybe Medium Brown or Chestnut. They have many mid-range brown colors that have varying degrees of red, brown and gold so insist on samples with stain and at least one coat of polyurethane.
I am in south Florida. Standards for refinishing are rather high so we charge $3.40 per square foot for natural color using oil-modified polyurethane, including using dust pickup equipment and an extra $0.35 per foot for staining. I have a legitimate business that's licensed and insured with someone to answer the phone, a showroom, a warehouse, a full time truck driver and mostly hourly employees so guys working out of their van can undercut me. Depending on the nature of the business your person has, his price my be fair or maybe it's on the high side. If he's charging that kind of price, ask for references and check him out on the internet. If he's proposing to use water-borne urethane, that could add to the price but make sure he's using a quality product. Not all products are created equal. Of course if you have a small area that could cost more per square foot.
The differences between doing stain and natural are taking a little more care sanding to remove sanding cross scratches that would be accentuated by the stain, a slightly higher cost of labor applying stain and maybe a bit more in materials for stain and wiping cloths.
I think you're wise to get some other opinions and prices.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 3:27PM
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"most Minwax products are pretty decent. "

That is giving Minwax way more credit than they deserve.

It is a bottom of the barrel low cost product.

The 'stains' are often a combination of dye and pigment and a PITA to get even over large areas.

They are not kidding when they say 'stir often during application.'

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 3:51PM
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When I say "most Minwax products" I'm referring to their stains which are admittedly intended more for furniture use and their oil-modified polyurethane which I have used and had zero products with. Until Dura Seal came out with their quick dry stains in the Minwax colors we were still using them. It's hard to match colors like Jacobean or Dark Walnut otherwise.
Again, I still question how a supposed professional can walk in the door and say someone's old finish is probably "cheap Minwax" If you have spent any time at all in the flooring industry you know that there a lot of things sold out there that are far lower quality than Minwax.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 11:23AM
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I just posted a similar thread to this. I too was told by the refinishers that I spoke to that often times when folks refinish they do not stain the floors. However, drying time is the MOST important factor to us and I am wondering if any of you know, do they make fast drying oil based poly, or are the ultra quick drying products all water based?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 10:10PM
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