A Beginner’s Guide to Timber Floor Finishes

Applying the right finish to your timber flooring can preserve the aesthetic and protect the wood from spills, scratches and the dulling effect caused by general wear and tear. But, with so many different types of timber floor finishes, how do you know which one is ideal for your floor?




What is a floor finish?


Timber floors require a protective coating to preserve the wood. Without a finish, the surface can warp and crack. Factors such as temperature and humidity changes can cause the wood to expand or shrink – a floor finish won’t stop the timber from moving, but it can reduce how much it responds to climate changes.


Flooring is also vulnerable to everything from foot traffic to spilled coffee. Anything that scratches the surface can leave a mark, and any liquids will quickly absorb into the wood, making it almost impossible to remove stains.


With timber floor finishes, you are essentially placing a protective barrier between the natural wood and the environment. This can help to reduce the overall cost of caring for your floor. A finish will also enhance the beauty of the timber. You can choose finishes that will leave a shiny, glossy coating or that will work to promote the original colour of your wood.



A comparison of wood floor finishes




Whether you’re applying a floor finish yourself or you are hiring professionals to refinish your flooring, it’s important to understand the advantages of each type of timber floor finish.



Polyurethane finishes


There are two basic types of polyurethane finishes, also known as polys.

  • Water-based polyurethane – With low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and a fast drying time, this is a popular choice with do-it-yourselfers. Water-based polys dry clear so you won’t change the colour of the wood. The downside is, while they won’t emit a lot of VOCs, they aren’t made with natural, sustainable materials – polyurethane is basically plastic in liquid form. It’s also not very hard-wearing.


  • Oil-based polyurethane – Oil-based polys are a little more expensive than water-based. Because of the high VOC content and the long dry time, this type of floor finish is better for professional floor refinishing. The advantage of oil-based polys is that they’re more durable than water-based; however, the finish will yellow with age.



Wood oils


An oil finish has the advantage of enhancing the natural look of the timber. Oils such as tung oil and linseed will penetrate deeply. As a result, they will enhance the grain and enrich the colour.


Most wood oils are low odour and non-toxic, or minimally toxic if they are combined with varnishes and other additives.



Moisture-cured urethane


For high-traffic areas such as hallways and kitchen floors, moisture-cured urethane is a popular choice. It’s one of the toughest floor coatings on the market.


It also emits a very high amount of VOCs and is tricky to apply because it dries so quickly. Because of this, it should only be applied by a professional who has the proper safety gear and adequate ventilation. Moisture-cured urethane is also the most expensive.



Wax finishes


Wax is the traditional wood coating – people have been using wax to coat timber flooring for generations. Today, wax finishes are still sought after for their subtle, low-lustre look and the low VOC emissions.


Like wood oils, they are easy to apply and are great for touching up the wood in the case of any scratches or other damage. The issue with pure wax finishes is they aren’t very durable so you’ll have to refinish the floor regularly to keep it protected.





Another great choice for those looking for a natural solution, shellac is an inexpensive finish with minimal VOCs. Shellac is a resin that comes from secretions created by female lac bugs.


However, it’s not very durable so you don’t want to use it on floors that see a lot of traffic. Also, shellac is not compatible with some contemporary finishes such as polyurethane, so it’s best suited for refinishing floors that already have a shellac finish.



Hardwax oils


A blend of oils and waxes, hardwax oils are the newest innovation in timber floor finishes. They offer the aesthetic benefits and the natural look of wood oils whilst providing enhanced protection with a combination of waxes.



What is the most durable hardwood floor finish?




All floor coatings will wear over time, but there are some finishes that are more durable than others. For the most long-lasting results, hardwood flooring experts recommend hardwax oils. They are the most advanced option on the market today.


Hardwax oils contain a special blend of natural oils and waxes designed to protect the timber for longer. Also, being 100 percent natural, once dried the oil is safe, eco-friendly and toxin-free.


They are also ideal for flooring in Australia as they are microporous. With a varied climate, it’s even more important to ensure your timber is protected but can also “breathe” so the changes in humidity and air temperature don’t cause the wood to crack or split.


With hardwax oils, you can count on long-term protection and an attractive finish. It’s also easier to maintain your floors as you can simply spot repair any problem areas – no need to sand everything back to restore the gorgeous look of timber flooring protected by natural hardwax oils!


For a natural, hard-wearing timber floor finish that can handle varied climates and high-moisture areas like the kitchen and bath, browse the Whittle Waxes Hardwax Oil range.


These hardwax oils are made from a blend of sustainable waxes and oils including beeswax, jojoba oil, linseed oil and sunflower oil. They are pet-safe, food-safe and toy-safe and offer excellent wood protection.


With a quality timber floor finish, you’ll be able to enjoy absolutely beautiful timber flooring for years.