Prefinished, or Unfinished Wood Flooring? Which will be best for your project? In this quick guide we take a look at reasons why you might choose one type of floorboard over the other.
Unfinished vs. Finished Floorboards – What’s the difference?
As the name suggests, unfinished wood flooring comes without any kind of wood finish. That means no penetrating sealant, oil, stain, lacquer, varnish or paint. In all other respects though, it’s ready to lay.
It’s usually ready sanded. And it’s often available in tongue and groove form.
Unfinished planks are the opposite of of Prefinished floorboards.
Once laid, prefinished floorboards are pretty much ready to use. Cheaper, mass-produced boards that have been rapid dried with ultra violet radiation can be used right away. Whereas higher quality, oven dried floorboards with natural mineral finishes, often require a light application of conditioning oil before they’re ready for foot traffic.
Can I Use Unfinished Floorboards Without Applying a Finish?
The short answer is no. Definitely not. Without a protective finish, floorboards will get easily marked and blemished in a very short time.
A finish also protects the wood from moisture and spills. Without a finish, moisture can easily damage the wood, causing it to expand and crack.
One possible exception to this rule might be if you’re planning to use your floorboards for some purpose other than flooring, where exposing an unfinished surface won’t cause problems.
An example might be wood panelling in a recording studio, where the risk of marking the wood and moisture damage would be minimal. Applying a finish tends to change the acoustic absorption / reflection properties of the wood, so leaving it unfinished may be desirable.
Will I Save Money Using Unfinished Floorboards?
Unfinished floorboards cost a lot less than their prefinished equivalents. But you probably won’t save money with them unless:
- You’re doing all the finishing work yourself,
- You can source your finish cheaply.
If you’re applying your finish on site, you need to allow for multiple coats of finish with a 2 – 3 days’ drying time in between applications.
So if you’re hiring someone to do the work, they’ll want to charge for the extra labour and multiple return journeys to your property.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time and effort required to clean up after applying the finish either.
Two Good Reasons to Use Unfinished Wood Floorboards
So now we’ve considered the wrong reasons for choosing unfinished floorboards, we’ll look at two very good reasons for using them.
Unfinished Wood Flooring is Best for Laying on Uneven Substrates
In flooring terms, a substrate is the layer your floorboards rest on.
That could be timber flooring joists or beams, a particleboard layer sitting on top of joists, a concrete screed or something else.
Sometimes it’s not possible to achieve a perfectly level substrate on which to lay floorboards.
For example, timber floor joists tend to move and warp over time. So laying floorboards in older buildings can mean working with substrates that cannot be made level.
Floorboards laying together unevenly often have slightly raised edges, ends or corners. This has to be remedied before the floor can be used. The only way to do so is by sanding floorboards after they have been laid.
In this situation, prefinished floorboards would be totally inappropriate. Using unfinished floorboards would be an absolute must.
Special Finishing Requirements
We manufacturers offer countless prefinished options to choose from. Even so, it’s quite possible you won’t be able find the exact finish you’re looking for.
That being the case, you’ll have to buy or make the finish and apply it yourself.
Non-natural floor stain colours such as purple or blue, or special artistic effects like stippling or marbling would definitely fall into the DIY category.
The same goes for speciality finishes such as shellac, carnauba and coconut oil, or organic eucalyptus beeswax oil.
These are all finishes that would no doubt be great, but just don’t have broad enough appeal to be commercially viable as prefinished floorboards.
Are you looking for high quality, affordable unfinished floorboards for your next project? Check out the Naked Floors Unfinished Oak Floorboards range.
On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a finish you can’t find anywhere else and don’t want the hassle of applying it yourself on site – drop us a line.
We make over 1,500 colour finishes and produce up all our prefinished oak floorboards to order at our Sussex Workshop. We may well be able to create what you’re looking for in prefinished form.