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For restorations and custom jobs, frequently the standard 2-1/4" strip oak flooring just doesn't make it. Here are 26 specialty flooring suppliers who can furnish everything from antique pine planks to exotic Asian hardwoods.

Flooring materials contribute mightily to the character of a room. Yet too often, strip oak flooring is installed out of habit. And that's too bad, because the restoration boom has caused a blossoming in the flooring products industry. Today's designer has an incredible choice in flooring, ranging from antique planks of 200-year-old chestnut, to new heart pine boards milled from virgin first-growth logs dredged from the bottoms of Southern Rivers. So whether you're doing a museum-house restoration, building a reproduction house, or just designing an interior where you want an eye-popping effect, there's a wood flooring material that will fill the bill.

Selecting Wood Types

Eastern White Pine, for over 300 years a favorite in building New England houses, is still one of the most popular and readily available new woods for wide plank floors to create and Early American look. However, white pine is relatively soft and can be dented by spike heels and furniture legs. But, although compressible, the wood itself doesn't wear out - if a finish is maintained over it. (Some penetrating oil finishes, such as Watco Danish Oil, solidify beneath the surface and actually harden the wood by about 25%). The client just has to understand that any dents will have to be thought of as part of the wood's character.

Other pines, such as antique heart pine, Northern hard pine, and Southern yellow pine, are denser and less vulnerable to denting. Pine flooring is available in the $3.00 to $8.00 per sq. ft. range.

Hardwoods, of course, are also less dentable than pine - but are also more expensive. Plan to spend in the vicinity of $4.00 to $12.00 per sq. ft. for hardwood flooring. Here's how the hardness of some common flooring woods compare:

Type of Wood   Hardness
Eastern White Pine   450
Hard Pines   660
Black Walnut   1,010
Red Oak   1,290
Teak   1,290
Sugar Maple   1,450
Karpawood   1,803
Hardness is defined as the p.s.i. required to imbed a 0.444-in dia. steel ball to half its diameter

Flooring Grades

The presence and frequency of defects determines the grades of lumber used in flooring; all the grades normally used are equally serviceable. The best "Select" grade will have few, if any, readily noticeable imperfections and will be rather consistent in color. A lower cost grade sometimes offered will contain natural flaws of minor nature and show color variations between heartwood and sapwood.

Pine flooring grades show a wider range of characteristics. The typical New England farmhouse used wide knotty-pine boards in 12" to 24" width range. This quality, containing large tight red knots, is graded as #3 common, or "Premium." Smaller and fewer knots improve the grade to #1 or #2 common, or "Finish" grade. The most costly grade in pine is a clear grade allowing only minor imperfections and an occasional small knot, rated as "D & Better Select." No flooring grade would contain major defects such as knot holes or wood rot, such imperfections being culled during grading at the mill.

Over the Edge

After choosing the species of wood, your next decision is the type of edge to specify: tongue-and-groove, square-edge, or ship-lap.

For wide boards, square of ship-lapped edges are easiest to install. For kitchens, bathrooms, and where sub-flooring has gaps, as often found in old buildings, ship-lapped is recommended/ With a good flat plywood sub-floor, square edged is usually adequate. For narrower flooring, 4" to 10" wide, tongue & groove edges install without much difficulty.

Pine flooring is usually installed with cut nails nailed through the subfloor and into the joist. White pine can be nailed directly, but hard pines should have pilot holes drilled to avoid splitting. The best method for installing hardwood plank flooring is to drill and counterbore for screws (spaced to enter floor joists), and cover screw heads with wood plugs.

Moisture Content: Critical

Wood flooring should be obtained from a reputable manufacturer - one who has a track record of supplying dimensionally stable wood at the proper moisture content.There are numerous variables in the drying and milling process that can affect how satisfactorily the wood will perform during installation and after.

Flooring wood should be dried to 6-8% moisture content. But how it is dried is also important. When wood is kiln-dried, it must be properly stickered to keep it from taking a permanent warp. And there are some woods that should be thoroughly air-dried before entering the kiln.

Hard pines and oak, for example, are woods that must be well air dried, then slowly kiln dried, to prevent case hardening (embrittlement) and honeycombing (internal cavities).

Flooring should be installed with the same, or lower, moisture content than it will have - on average - in the occupied building. In the North East for example, this can range from around 12% in the summer to 6% in the Winter during heating season. This means that when installed the moisture content in the flooring material should be under 10%.

When installing flooring in the Summer, it's best not to let the wood hang around on the job site picking up moisture from the humid air. Also, try to get wood that hasn't been stored for a long period in some lumber yard. Conversely, when installing wood flooring in a centrally heated building during the Winter, the wood should be stickered and allowed to sit for at least a week to come to equilibrium with the air in the building.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Charles Thibeau of Craftsman Lumber Co. for supplying much of the technical information in this article. Craftsman Lumber specializes in supplying wide plank boards for flooring and paneling, custom millwork, restoration, and historical reproductions.


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