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Wood: Oil and urethane—A winning combination of aesthetics, function

Blend of finish formulations expands end-user options

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Reginald Tucker

With the advent of aluminum-oxide finishes, hardwood manufacturers were able to deliver high-performance products that could withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear. But as consumer trends evolved over time, consumers began to clamor for a more natural, low-luster topcoat—hence the resurgence of the oil-based finishes that are trending today.

Manufacturers are facing a new challenge: How to develop a finish that will allow the natural beauty and characteristics of the wood veneer to show through and yet provide the durability consumers and end users have come to expect from today’s advanced finishes. To address this issue, some suppliers are offering the best of both worlds by developing special blends of oil and UV-cured urethane finishes.

Case in point is Provenza Floors, which combines two different finishing technologies on some of its collections. As Ron Sadri, principal owner, explains: “We put a lot of money and research behind it to make sure we came up with the look we wanted while offering a product that was easy to maintain. So we put two technologies together (polyurethane and oil), which was challenging but it paid off in the end.”

Provenza Floors has more than 20 years of experience under its belt in developing different finishing processes and treatments. Some techniques, Sadri noted, were born out of pure experimentation.

“We tried to use an air-dried polyurethane finish vs. aluminum oxide or UV, which dries very quickly,” he explained. “Our finishes usually air dry and cure for about five to seven days before we package the product. This process provides a very natural look.”

Techniques such as these, he said, dovetail nicely with the advent of so-called “reactive” finishes and fuming processes—another area in which Provenza Floors specializes. “We combine that with staining and oil looks to create a UV oil, which provides a harder, smoother finish with less maintenance,” Sadri explained. “The technology has evolved to the point where we went from hard wax finishes to polyurethane combined with reactive stains.”

It’s an approach whose benefits are not overlooked by Provenza Floors’ distributor partners. “Provenza is a step ahead of the market,” said Alan Gage, president of Tri-West, a distributor partner for nearly 20 years. “They bring us products that are innovative and cool. The reactive stains and fumed products they produce are very popular in our market. Consumers love them. In fact, the entire lineup is ahead of the curve and right on with colors and tones.”

Other major producers are leveraging their manufacturing expertise to develop finishes that combine both advanced and traditional technologies. The Winery collection from Wickham Hardwood Flooring, for instance, features a matte, five-degree, UV-cured oil finish for an Old World look with modern performance enhancements. The multi-ply, 3¼-inch-wide product features a sturdy Baltic birch plywood construction with a 4mm veneer for added durability.

“We use soybean components, allowing us to claim that our oil finish utilizes the most enhanced environmentally friendly technique,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of sales, U.S. “The biggest advantage to oil-finished flooring is the simple fact that it is highly repairable vs. a lacquered floor. An oil finished floor also is appealing given that the floor is relatively static free; therefore, the accumulation of dust is minimal. I would also point out that oil finished floors are also a better choice for high-traffic applications. This finish will stand up better than a lacquer-based finish.”

Not only can Wickham Flooring provide distributors with products that feature these hybrid finishes, but they can customize them according to a distributor or dealer partner’s specifications. “Wickham has a unique business model in that they produce an enormous amount of product, but they don’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor,” said Craig Dupra, president of Installers Warehouse, a Rochester, N.Y.-based wholesale flooring distributor. Aside from the visuals, he likes the flexibility and deep range of options the Wickham Hardwood Flooring brand offers his customers. “I don’t know how they manage the logistics of it, but they’re very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still get it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed. This gives dealers an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen. Having Wickham as a vendor is like having 10 lines at the same time.”

Even the niche suppliers are getting in on the act. Monarch Plank, a division of Galleher Hardwood, provides specialty, wide-plank flooring that can be customized according to the client’s specifications. Many of those products feature UV oil finishes. Case in point is the Domaine collection, a ¾-inch-thick, 9½-inch-wide x 8-foot-long product with a hefty 6mm top layer.

“Today’s high-end contractors are turning more to prefinishing—either in their own shops or through custom prefinishing like ours,” said Todd Hamar, senior vice president. “The colors designers are demanding nowadays are often only achieved through processes like fuming, bleaching and reactive stains that are difficult—if not impossible—to work with on site. Designers are also increasingly seeking to customize texture in ways that are too tedious to achieve on the job site.”

The Monarch Plank manufacturing plant, a new 60,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, features dedicated lines for UV oil and urethane finishes, plus vacuum coaters, standalone spray booth and a spray line. Hand finishing as well as commercial-grade finishes are also offered.

“By coloring and texturing in a shop, customers have the opportunity to work with these processes in a controlled environment using labor-saving machines,” Hamar told FCNews. “More importantly, clients have the opportunity to dial in the look and get approval before installation.”