Oil finished wood flooring w/ kids & pets: a mistake?

olivesmomNovember 3, 2011

I'm in the process of updating our 2005 builder-blah home and could really use some flooring advice. I live in the pacific NW and I'm dealing with an above grade concrete slab. We currently have laminate flooring and in all fairness it looks pretty good considering the abuse it gets. We have two small dogs, a couple cats, two kids under two, a husband who refuses to remove shoes upon entry, and a less than stellar housekeeper ;).

The issue I have with the laminate is that is looks fake to me, I dislike the light natural maple color and I cannot stand the clickity-clack of my dogs nails even when they are trimmed short. I do suspect that the light color I detest is part of the reason it's still in decent shape. There are a few dents/gouges from where something sharp and heavy has fallen on it, and the seams are starting to look dark (due to the shoe wearing and lack fastidious cleaning I'm sure). But all in all it looks okay for what it is, I just want something nicer looking that will fit the look of a craftsman cottage with semi-rustic touches that I have planned.

The laminate is throughout the first floor of our open concept home, save for the laundry(vinyl) and living room (carpet). So whatever I replace it with will be in our foyer/hallway, powder room, playroom/den, kitchen & dinning room.

I really want a rustic white oak or hickory floor with an oil finish (solid wood finished on-site w/oil). Will this hold up as well as the laminate has to our pets and kids (think plastic ride-on toys being dragged around)? I imagine it will get some dents/scratches, but A.)the floor will be light-ish and rustic looking already and B.)the oil finish will allow me to buff and reapply the oil to damaged areas if needed. Is that true? Would hickory be better than oak?

So if the wood will work for our scenario what do you think about my DIY plans: Install a utility grade (& maybe some higher grade for longer planks) white oak or hickory over Elastilon? I know this board pooh-poohs LL, but the Elastilon product looks very promising and I haven't been able to find any negative reviews even on UK sites where it has been around longer.

How hard will it be for me (a novice DIY-er) to work with utility grade wood? By using the Elastilon I won't need nails or glue, but I'm worried about the 3-1/4" wood planks being all wonky in shape. Besides LL, any suggestions on where I can get inexpensive character grade oak or hickory? The Elastilon product is just under $2 a sf, so I really don't have much room in my budget for a higher quality flooring. I need something inexpensive and I want it to look rustic.

If my plan sounds like a complete disaster waiting to happen what would you recommend in its place? I'm waiting on some engineered wood & laminate samples from Builddirect.com, but I'm worried that even if they look good to me they might not hold up as well as my current laminate. I have seriously considered a slate floor, but tiled floors are really rare here, my husband will protest the hardness (if given a choice he would have wall-to-wall carpet installed throughout the first level), and I'm not sure I can DIY it. I tested out some vinyl wood planks, but I was able to scuff them with my finger nails, so they are out.

Many thanks in advance for your help!

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We recently just finished installing and finishing utility grade mixed solid hardwood oak floors from LL (.99/sqft) all DIY. It was our first time installing any type of hardwood flooring DIY.

Looking at the Elastilon product, I wouldn't suggest using the very rustic utility grade flooring unless you plan on nailing it down due to the extra fitting/fussing it can take to install it. Also I would be concerned about possible movement with the heavy sanding machines/buffing during the finishing process. I would think an engineered or prefinished hardwood flooring would be better to use with the Elastilon.

Laminate (depending on quality) may hold up better with kids and pets as far as scratches. Prefinished hardwood may have a stronger finish (factory) than site finished too. However solid hardwood can be refinished, it may hold up to liquid issues a little better than laminate, have more value, and if you get a rustic character grade flooring the imperfections will blend in.

Even with my dogs nails clipped on the site finished solid hardwood, I can still hear the click of their nails, however it's not as loud as it is on laminate floors.

If you really want to do site finished utility grade rustic solid hardwood floors, it might be possible to build a proper subfloor accounting for the moisture, on top of the concrete slab. Someone on the Hardwood flooring talk forum may be able to offer some more information on this, I have no idea how easy it is or how well it would hold up.

Hickory is harder than white oak, so it will probably be more durable, but the lower grades of hickory can have more pattern to them and I don't think hickory takes stain as easily as oak. With a good professional grade finish, I think an oak floor would be fine.

With natural oil finishes (100% tung oil, linseed oil, etc.) I think it depends on the finish, after considering it for our floors and researching it, I decided against it. Natural oil finishes can smell and the odor can linger for a while, they may take a long time to dry/cure, and are not as durable as the water based poly finishes. However the natural oil finishes are repairable, which is nice. I've read that in high traffic areas the finish can wear faster requiring recoating once a year or every couple years though. I know my mom has spot repaired old wood floors with poly, but it's probably not as easy as using a natural oil finish because you have to sand.

We went with the professional grade floor finishing products (Bona) and decided to use a water based poly (Bona traffic HD in extreme matte) so far with two dogs and two visiting dogs racing and sliding on the floor, it's been wearing like iron. The extreme matte finish gives it a very natural wood look (not really plastic) and is extremely durable, the matte finish also hides more imperfections. The rustic floors also being custom stained with different light/medium brown shades (Bona drifast stains) really helps hide tons of dirt and dog hair.

Our floors

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 8:31PM
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Roobear - LOVE your floors. In fact, you seem a few months ahead of what I was looking into doing (still wavering on the oil finish). Sorry to jack the posting, but did you find that there was a lot of waste with the LL utility grade? I was worried about the shorts also, but what you did looks absolutely fantastic. If you don't mind, what color stain did you end up with? Thanks.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 11:56AM
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Thanks, the waste amount can vary, it really depends on how picky you are. I think we ended up with about 20-25% waste all said and done. We really only excluded the boards that were really damaged (machine burns too deep for sanding/broken boards/no tongue or groove boards/gigantic worm hole boards). We used a lot of the boards with a missing tongue or groove on the ends of the rooms, so we had less waste. We used the boards with large knots, fairly large worm holes, etc. (which a lot of the boards had). It is a very rustic looking floor, and doesn't look like much in the beginning, but turned out beautiful in the end. I wish I had kept a few more boards with machine burns, I loved the way they looked stained.

I was concerned about shorts too, but the larger 5" boards didn't seem to look as bad with the shorts to me, and looking at rustic reclaimed flooring, some of them had a lot of shorts too. I don't think I would do anything smaller than 5" boards, too difficult to install.

If you have a Lumber Liquidators locally, see if you can look at a few pieces of the unfinished utility grade flooring before you consider buying it. It is some work to install and finish, more than a higher quality floor, but I think it has much more character to it.

We filled a lot of knots, large worm holes, and some small gaps between boards with wood filler. We stained the filled knots and worm holes dark with an ebony stain marker first.

To get more variation with a medium stain on the floor, we were crazy and actually masked off different individual boards and stained them different variations of the same stain mix of Bona Drifast Jacobean and Natural.

We masked off about 25 boards and stained them 2:1 Jacobean/Natural let the stain dry, pulled up the tape and masked off another 20 boards and stained them 1:1 Jacobean/Natural, let them dry and again pulled up the tape, then the rest of the boards were stained 2:1 Natural/Jacobean. So the floor had this slight monochromatic variation look. We worked darkest to lightest with the stains and stained by hand, wiping up overlap as we went along.

Using one stain color, you'll still get a little variation because of how different the boards are, light+dark. I just wanted more variation since I was using a medium stain that might even the floor out more.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 12:59PM
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We are building a new home and are putting in heart pine floors. I am planning on doing several coats of tung oil on the floor. The real milk paint company has a great deal of information on how to apply a quality tung oil finish.

The initial coats of tung oil need to be cut with either mineral spirits or citrus solvent. I'm using citrus solvent as it is non toxic to work with. Yes, the process is stinky, but so is polyurethane. Tung oil fumes will not harm you. Polyurethane fumes will without special respiration equipment. No matter what they try to tell you. The citrus solvent is the strongest in smell and I suggest having windows open or at least cracked. Plain tung oil does not have much smell...it's slightly nutty in scent. The reason for initial coats of tung oil to be cut with a solvent is to drive the oil deep into the wood.

It takes about 30 days for a good hard cure. However, in reality paint and poly take that long to cure as well.

The advantages of using tung oil is that it is non toxic and easily repaiable. I cannot fathom ever repairing a worn out polyutrethaned floor. I think I'd rip it out first.

I just finished the tung oil process on all our cypress interior doors. The citrus smell is now gone, and water beads up on my doors. This is with only 3 coats. I'm planning on anywhere from 5 to 10 coats on my floors.

Not all tung oil products are the same. Some of them have varnish mixed in, etc. What the big box stores carry are not pure tung oil. Not all mail order companies sell high qulaity pure oil. The real milk paint company does and is where I mail order mine from.

I looked at all the prefinished floors that are out there. We looked at the vinyl that's supposed to look like wood. I could damage ALL of them with my fingernail. Plus they look fake.Even the so called hardwoods look fake.

Our house is filled with pets and activity and is what I call a hard working home. In other words, we live in it. I feel real wood looks beautiful and a natural finish is going to worth the initial extra labor. Down the road I feel the upkeep will be easier. It will not outgas toxins. That said, no floor finish is absolutely perfect. It doesn't exist.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 9:45AM
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If you are referring to hard wax oils from Europe they will work just fine for you and your pets. The hickory would be the more durable choice however the rustic oak with claw compression marks is less objectable than the same marks on higher grade of flooring would be.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 10:26AM
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Roobear - THANK YOU so very much for your detailed response. This is a huge help to me. I'm about to put these floors in the entire house (except bathrooms) and it is great to hear from another DIY about how you accomplished the look I'm shooting for, on a budget I can live with.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 11:12AM
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You're welcome, I should have mentioned, when you stain the floor, the tannins (tree oils) will come to the surface and the floor may look a little "colorful". I was really unhappy with the floor after staining, it looked purple, green, pink/red etc., however when the poly went on, it toned down the tannins and the floor became a beautiful rich pecan brown color that it is.

So it make work out best color wise if you're going to use the Bona stain, to use the Bona poly as well, because they were meant to go together. I don't know how an oil finish will react with the Bona stains. Experimenting on your waste pieces may help you decide what you want to do.

Also when filling the knots, some of them will be all the way through or really deep, so you'll need to partially fill them, let the filler dry and then fill again, probably a couple times as the filler settles and sinks. An easy way to fill the knot holes for us was to us Timbermate or Woodwise floor filler thinned out a little with water, and put into ketchup squeeze bottles. This really helped when filling the deep holes.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 4:41PM
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I wouldn't!
I have 3/4" "hard waxed" pine, with dogs but no kids. I love my floors (probably too much) but they do scratch and it shows. Shoes? Bad idea.
I can see where my house sitter once played tug of war with my dog- it's permanent.
If you're willing to spend a premium on something that is going to get scratched then do so. It can always be refinished.
I did not stain them so they are very light colored. It is possible a stained pine wouldn't have such eye catching scratches, however I personally don't understand the mentality of staining one type of wood to look like another species, natural it is!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 11:19PM
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That is a very interesting post Roobear. I absolutely agree with your ideas!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 3:50AM
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