Picking a finish

Q: I’m about to fit a new 3/4 inch oak floor in my kitchen/dining room and I’m really confused about how to finish it. We have a small baby, so the floor will get messy, so it needs to be easy to clean, but does that mean it will have to be a polyurethane finish? I really wanted an oiled finish.

I want oil because, 1 – I like the way that oiled wood wears, 2 – it’s much faster to apply. I guess I’m really worried about how easy an oiled floor will be to clean. I’m not fussed about the odd scratch and mark as I like the worn look. Can you help give me a bit of confidence in my decision?

A: I still feel a polyurethane finish, with a floor properly prepared and coated gives the best protection. However, if you are into a softer, oil type finish, you can go with either Waterlox, www.waterlox.com or a Dura Seal penetrating finish. www.duraseal.com. I must tell you that this work is best left to the professional. I have recently tested Hemp oil, which was said to be a wood finish, also good for floors. I don’t think it can work. The oil is too thick so gives little penetration into the wood and offers little protection. As much as we all would like a solvent free world, I doubt there will ever be a finish that is really practical without a blend of solvents (to aid penetration and drying) and a blend of resins to make it more durable. These are all vegetable oil based products, but the oils themselves, on their own, really don’t do much to help.

Follow-up Q: I think I should listen to your advice and go for a polyurethane varnish. I understand I should put a thinned coat on first, is that with 50% white spirit?

A: Thinning only aids in penetration into the wood and likely isn’t needed. However, if you wish to, I would not exceed more than 10%. You are really just adding mineral spirits to a product that likely already uses that as a solvent dryer. Thin coats are best.

If you happen to live in the U.S. adding solvents to polyurethane might be illegal. At least for a coating professional it is. I don’t know how they apply their new laws to the homeowner, nor how they might enforce that.