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Finishing the job to protect the product

Execs discuss the latest in coating systems

by Louis Iannoco

While retailers and end users continue to marvel at the looks of some of the latest wood flooring products and technology used to create them, sometimes lost in the shuffle are the ingredients manufacturers throw into the mix to protect that look. Coating systems and finishes continue to be tweaked and perfected with the goal of creating unmatched clarity, while protecting the product from stains and scratches. 

Mirage chooses to use aluminum oxide in its finish. “All Mirage products bear this same highly resistant finish,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand. “We broke new ground in 2006 with Nanolinx, the first finish in prefinished wood flooring that uses nanotechnology. Nanolinx is made of the smallest particles possible. Nine times smaller than a hair, each particle molds perfectly to the shape of the hardwood floor, thereby creating the clearest and most flexible finish in the industry.”

As for performance, Robitaille said Nanolinx is five times more wear-resistant than most other residential finishes. “We also have a finish designed for high-traffic and commercial areas—Nanolinx  Premium. It is 50% more wear-resistant than most other commercial finishes. It can be added to almost all Mirage engineered products.”

Even though Mirage’s finish is highly resistant, the company believes that performance is not just about the durability of the finish—it’s about product stability, the precision for an easy installation, overall uniformity, color matching and consistency from production to production. “If you truly want a product that performs, you must look at all those attributes.”

Armstrong also utilizes aluminum oxide as part of a multitude of coating systems, according to Charles Wilson, product manager, hardwood. “All our solid and engineered coating systems utilize aluminum oxide to help preserve the hardwood from abrasion or wear through.”

However, not all aluminum oxide coating packages are the same. “The amount of aluminum oxide as well as when it is applied will alter the performance characteristics of the coating package,” he explained. “Our new Performance Plus product utilizes aluminum oxide within the coating system as well as a nano particle topcoat that increases the resistance to scratching and staining.”

All coating systems utilize some form of urethane for the topcoat, Wilson explained. “Aluminum oxide provides the end user protection from wear through to the wood. If too much or too large aluminum oxide particles are utilized, the finish will become textured (i.e. orange peel) and can create a hazy visual. By balancing particle size and quantity as well as when aluminum oxide is applied, we’re able to achieve a visual equal to polyurethane with the added benefits of aluminum oxide.”

He added Armstrong’s nano topcoat offers a wide array of benefits, most notably its resistance to staining and topical scratches. “So, aluminum oxide protects the hardwood itself from common wear- through, while the nano topcoat helps keep the floor looking newer longer.”

Mullican also chooses to use aluminum oxide. “We believe it provides the best appearance while also giving consumers superior wear,” said Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing. “Its durability allows us to offer a lifetime warranty on many of our higher-end products.”

Anderson’s Bryan Boggs said the company uses a propriety acrylic/urethane blend with layers of nano an aluminum oxide on its products. “We developed this finish to give our flooring the best wear properties in the industry, while preserving the original aesthetic. Our current finish recipe is the best we can currently develop, better than other aluminum oxide finishes, but we’re always working to improve the properties of this very important wood flooring attribute.

“Aluminum oxide is a mineral that is embedded in the finish which is very hard and gives the finish long wearing properties,” he explained. “UV aluminum oxide finishes are the best wearing when compared to finishes without aluminum oxide or oil. Oil finishes can be easily repaired but do not have good wear properties.”

 

Oil over oxide

Although USFloors primarily uses traditional aluminum oxide-based finishes on its cork and bamboo products, with hardwood it specializes in its zero-VOC Natural-E Natural Oil Finish. “We do this because there is a niche, but growing, market for these products which are in our Navarre and Castle Combe product lines,” said Gary Keeble, product/marketing manager.

“The biggest advantage of an oil finish over aluminum oxide is that oil-finished floors can be selectively repaired/restored/ refreshed,” he explained. “With a typical aluminum oxide prefinished floor, when you have excessive wear in high traffic areas, such as entryways, you have to refinish the entire floor just to restore the high-traffic areas. This means a complete shutdown of the entire floor, plus it is a messy and odor-causing proposition.”

If you get a deep scratch in an oil-finished floor, Keeble noted, just sand and repair the scratch. “We can provide a repair kit that any homeowner can use to make the repair. If you get a deep scratch in a prefinished aluminum oxide floor, you must replace the plank or planks, which is a technical project that requires a qualified flooring mechanic.”

Keeble believes oil-finished floors also have aesthetic advantages. “The oil finish penetrates the wood, protecting it by be-coming an integral part of the hardwood and enhances the natural grain of the hardwood floor. Over time, an oil-finished floor will develop a patina, probably making it the only flooring that gets better looking the longer it is down.

“In contrast,” he explained, “aluminum oxide protects by forming a plastic barrier on top of the wood, making it less natural looking. Over time, the aluminum oxide finish collects micro-scratches from pets and everyday traffic that will make the floor look dull and lifeless.”

At Mannington, the majority of its hardwood products have a UV-cured urethane coating with aluminum oxide, which is added in multiple layers for scratch resistance, said Dan Natkin, director, laminate and hardwood. “We do have one product called True Bamboo with a bio-based oil finish.”

Aluminum oxide isn’t technically a finish in itself, he explained; it’s a component in a finish system. “The aluminum oxide adds a significantly higher level of scratch resistance than you would get with a traditional polyurethane finish. Oil finishes are an example of an older system coming back into vogue because of their ability to renew the finish easily.”

According to Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association, the industry is evolving and some new technologies that are coming to market are site-applied UV-cured polyurethanes, which use an ultra violet light to instantly cure the finish. “The new technology has al-lowed the machinery to become more compact, making it possible for the contractor to use it on-site.”

Another new trend, he noted is “rubbing oils. These are typically applied with a buffer and are cured in shorter timeframes than polyurethanes. The advantage to these is that in commercial situations, they can be very helpful with their quick cure time and when they are maintained properly, they can be re-buffed to restore luster and sheen. They’re also available in a wide range of colors, so this eliminates the need for staining the floor.”

Finally, Martin concluded, many companies are using innovative resins and more environmentally friendly ingredients in their products. “The goal is to provide a healthy working environment for the contractor and a healthy living environment for the homeowner, while increasing durability and longevity of the finish on the floor.”