Comparing Wood Flooring Finishes

January 8, 2023by CMO Flooring0

Choosing the perfect finish for your wood floor is an essential decision. The ideal pick goes beyond aesthetic appeal; understanding the chemistry, drying, and curing process of each finish can ensure the longevity and functionality of your floor. Dive in as we break down various flooring finishes to help you select the best for your space.

Basic Chemistry of Finish

The world of wood floor finishes has undergone significant transformations. Although the ingredients have evolved, the foundational components — solvents, dryers, leveling agents, and matting agents — remain consistent, forming the base of the coating’s film.

There’s a cocktail of other ingredients too: viscosity-modifiers, surfactants, defoamers, and chemical catalysts or hardeners. These components are what differentiate one product from another, influencing qualities such as application methods, coverage rates, dry times, and the final appearance.

Grasping the coatings industry’s nuances is pivotal for understanding the products, their application, and the health and safety aspects linked to them. Always rely on the manufacturer’s guidelines for the correct application, uses, and coverage rates.

Drying and Curing

First and foremost, let’s clarify the concepts of drying and curing. Drying involves the change from a liquid to a solid film due to the evaporation of solvents, oxidation, polymerization, or a combination of these processes. Each finish type has its own unique drying and curing timeline and mechanism.

The Drying Phases of Floor Finishes

All finish types generally follow similar drying stages:

  1. Set Point (or Dry Tack Free): The initial phase where the finish no longer flows or levels. It might still be tacky or even feel liquid to touch, but the product will not spread any further.
  2. Dry to Touch (or Surface Dry): At this point, the finish can be lightly touched without any residue sticking. The finish is dry on top but remains softer underneath. Introducing air movement can aid the drying process at this stage.
  3. Dry to Sand (or Dry Hard): The finish solidifies enough for sanding without sticking to the sandpaper. Another coat can be applied, or it can be exposed to minimal traffic. Yet, even though consumers often receive the product at this phase, it’s essential not to cover the finish.
  4. Cured: The pinnacle of the drying process where the finish manifests 100% of its intended attributes. Depending on the finish type, this curing process can span from days to months.

Various Flooring Finishes and Their Unique Characteristics

Natural Oils

  • Characteristics: Natural oils, such as tung, linseed, and vegetable oils, penetrate the wood surface. They fill and surround the wood fibers, offering a rich, organic look.
  • Drying Mechanism: Through oxidation.

On-Site UV-Cured Finish

  • Characteristics: A transparent, water-carried polyurethane boasting durability, easy application, self-leveling, and superior adhesion. It’s suitable for both homes and businesses, with instant curing as a standout feature.
  • Drying Mechanism: Cured instantly using UV light.


  • Characteristics: This clear, alcohol-based finish has earned its nicknames “Swedish finishes” or “acid cure finishes.” The result is a hard, durable film.
  • Drying Mechanism: Acid-curing.

Conjugated Oil Varnishes

  • Characteristics: These are clear, semi-transparent coatings, usually applied as single-component products.
  • Drying Mechanism: Through oxidation or polymerization.

Moisture-Cured Urethanes

  • Characteristics: A solvent-based finish known for its extreme durability and resistance to chemicals.
  • Drying Mechanism: Cured by ambient moisture.

Waterborne Urethanes (Waterbase)

  • Characteristics: A transparent finish that promises durability, self-leveling, and fantastic adhesion.
  • Drying Mechanism: Evaporation.

Oil-Modified Urethanes

  • Characteristics: An oil-based varnish, enhanced with urethane, which offers both durability and aesthetic appeal.
  • Drying Mechanism: Oxidation.


  • Characteristics: This finish can be transparent or translucent. It hardens upon exposure to air or heat, offering protective or decorative properties.
  • Drying Mechanism: Evaporation, oxidation, or polymerization.

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