Ask The Craftsman: What’s the Best Finish For Wood Floors?

By Scott Sidler July 17, 2014

best finish for wood floors
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Scott Sidler

We’ve got another great question this week from Richard in Pompano Beach, FL

“What’s the best finish for the wood floors on my 1924 Bungalow?”

Richard, the gold standard for refinishing wood floors today is 3 coats of oil-based polyurethane. It dries relatively quickly and provides a very hard, durable finish.

It does have its downsides though. The odor is pretty tough for a few days due to the high content of VOC’s. It doesn’t dry as fast as water-based poly-crylics. If it’s scratched it’s not easily repaired.

Despite these flaws it still is my favorite choice for hardwood floors. On an old house I would recommend going with a satin finish since the glossier the finish the more flaws it shows.

Another option is a new product we’ve jet started using called Rubio Monocoat. It has been used in Europe for decades but is just now making a name for itself in America. This is an oil-finish and much simpler to apply than polyurethane. It only requires 1 coat, hence the name, and dries overnight.

Rubio gives you a very matte finish and it feels like you are walking right on the wood instead of 3 coats of polyurethane. If you want a very green product with zero-VOC’s that is easy to apply and simple to repair this might be the choice for you.

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28 thoughts on “Ask The Craftsman: What’s the Best Finish For Wood Floors?”

  1. After sanding our 30 year old pine flooring, the flooring professional put down Zasser Clear Shellac then, supposedly, 2 coats of straight oil based poly by Sampson Coatings called Craftsman’s Choice. The problem is that 1. It is so very thin that I still feel the rough wood grain through many areas making me think he did NOT use it full strength 2. It also caused a strange itching reaction on my skin (spec. my feet) that other poly’s never have.
    Does anyone here have any idea of what this man may have used to thin the poly? Have any of you heard of the brand? Or know its reputation? I’m not happy that we spent this much money for something that is obviously not going to protect our soft pine flooring and has also caused such a weird skin reactions.

    1. Likely the poly was thinned with mineral spirits. The good news is you can have the floors buffed and add one more coat of another brand of polyurethane that may be easier on your feet.

  2. Does every brand of oil based polyurethane make the stain take on that hint of orange? I recently had my floors refinished because they had been natural white oak that had turned orange over many years. I went with Dark Walnut to try to ensure I didn’t get orange floors. They looked great after staining, but after two coats of polyurethane, they started taking on a more orangy hue.

    Is there anything I can do now besides another complete sand and refinish to get them back to a more neutral cool brown and take out the orange?

  3. Has anyone used wax finishes? We just purchased a 1924 Bungalow in Sacramento, and I love the distressed look of the floors. I just want to give them some love to make them shine. Made the mixtake of using Bona Polish on a small section, which I’ll have to remove. Hoping for some recommendations to make our old floors shine.

    1. Wax isn’t a particularly durable finish compared to polyurethane, but I do like it sometimes. The wax might be a nice option for your floors if they are bare wood and don’t already have a poly finish on them.

  4. I have 91 year old fir floors we unearthed in our bungalow. We have sanded, prepped and stained. They are now drying and awaiting poly. What I was wondering was how many coats?

  5. I live in a 1937 ranch house built of red sandstone. The floors are oak throughout the home. I hand wax and use an old electric buffer on the floors. How do I clean the floors….or does the wax clean the floor when applied?

  6. I have hard wood floors from the late 40s they have tiny nails going across the entire floor in rows as if that was what they used to secure the wood. I was told those are rug tacks. I thought tacks ran at the edge of the floor. I want to add matching flooring in another room and I want it to be an exact match. Anybody have input?

  7. We recently purchased a 5500 sq ft Tudor, real solid oak floors covering most of the footage. There are some beautiful oak parquet floors and one of the 2 previous owners decided on horrible tile. Would like to use this product as we are environmentally friendly as can be, and this seems like the best way to go for family respiratory issues. Questions – We originally wanted to go with a dark espresso, which is the best color to use for making oak floors look as dark as possible?
    Have you used this product in high moisture rooms, bathrooms, kitchens?
    Would this product be good for use in our master en suite sauna?

  8. I have a beautiful craftsman house, and I’m taking down the wall between the dining room and kitchen. My contractor is telling me I have to replace all the floors because of the damage that will occur. Is this correct? If I replace them, should I go with the 2 1/4 inch strips again?
    Thanks!

    1. Carin, your contractor is wrong wrong wrong. Wood floors can be patched seamlessly when walls are taken down unless there are other issues. You just need a good quality wood flooring specialist. My advice… Shop around!

  9. My 1913 four square style house has almost 2000 sq feet of red oak, maple and pine. I recommend a good stand alone oil based poly like dura seal for the oak and pine and even over stain but was disappointed with the color it left on the maple, much to splotchy. I would be interested in others opinions but I’ve heard maple is too dense to accept an oil and results in the splotchy effect that I have. Other than that the satin finish I used has held up well to 3 dogs and a 6-year-old.

      1. I hate the plastic look of poly and hate hate HATE that stark white look of sanded maple. I haven’t tested yet but my 1913 maple floors seem to have been shellacked originally. There’s definitely never been poly on them. I’ve been planning on shellac under waterlox as authentic and easiest to maintain. Will that work on maple? I’m worried I’ve read the floors wrong based on what’s said here about stain on maple.

  10. In my very limited experience, I’ve liked Waterlox, as with children running around I like the idea of something that can be scratched and repaired.
    The Monocoat sure sounds great, though, and I’ll look into it the next time I need to do some floors. I’m assuming from what I’ve read that scratches in it would be quite easily repaired as well- have you had experience with that?

  11. The Rubio Monocoat website is terrible and I haven’t been able to get the ordering page to work. Do you have another source of this product? I really do not want to use poly on my floors and they are waiting under carpet and laminate until my son gets older and I am satisfied with another solution. Shellac is OK for the bedrooms but I want something more durable for the high traffic areas.

    1. @ kathy, If want your children to be healthy in the long term, forget the shellac! Poly is ok, not very repairable…in other words “many hours of work, you can’t just spot repair a damaged area like you could with a good floor oil!

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