Poly or varnish?

Q: We have a 218 year old home with original maple floors. We are in the process of sanding them and refinishing them. We have used poly in the past, but recently someone told us varnish was better. What do you think, is polyurethane or varnish finish better? We really want low maintenance and something that will last a long time.

A: I would consider polyurethane to be a type of varnish. It is the combination of various resins along with other additives that will give any product it’s distinctive characteristics. I use Poloplaz Primero polyurethane which is the best such product I’ve ever worked with. It is nice to apply, and very tough when cured.

However, on your very old pine floors* you may prefer a different type of product which may be more complimentary to the age of your pine. I have used a penetrating oil finish which contains linseed oil and tung oil as 2 of the top 5 ingredients. Excellent penetration into the wood, which will build to a film after several coats. Buffing is not necessary to gain adhesion between coats, making it a very easy finish to refresh and keep looking it’s best. You can read about this product at waterlox.com and in other Q&A here.

*Note from Rachel: sorry about the obvious mix-up I spotted when editing this Q&A- the person has maple floors, not pine!