Swedish Finish Is Floor`s Lasting Friend — Chicago Tribune

Swedish Finish Is Floor`s Lasting Friend - Chicago Tribune

Swedish Finish Is Floor`s Lasting Friend

If you`ve fallen in love with the idea of adding or refinishing wood floors in your home but cringe at the thought of maintaining them, a Swedish finish may be in your future.

Wood floors outlast nearly every other flooring product. The life of a conventional 5/16-inch wood floor is 40 to 50 years. And wood can be continually adapted to changing fashions via finishes—dark stains, light stains, bleach, «pickling,« paint or stencils.

Most of these looks involve personal preference in decor, but it`s the final finish—the protective coating—that determines how long the «look,«

as well as the floor, will endure, and what kind of maintenance will be required.

The Swedish-type finish, developed in the early 1950s in Scandinavia, quickly caught on in Europe, where today many manufactured hardwoods are sold with the finish already added at the lumber mill. In the United States, the finish has its biggest following in the Pacific Northwest but is now beginning to come into its own in the Midwest.

Between 30 and 40 percent of the floor finishers in the Chicago metropolitan area use a Swedish-type finish, estimates Don Filipp, vice president of sales for Illinois Hardwood Flooring Inc. in Elk Grove Village, distributors of wood flooring, sanding and finishing materials. A Swedish-type finish is used 2 to 1 over any other finish on the North Shore, he added.

«For good quality work, where the customer is concerned about final appearance, the Swedish finish usually will be used,« said Filipp. «It has a more natural look and, from a professional viewpoint, it`s far quicker to work with.«

Wood finishes basically break down into two categories: a penetrating seal covered with wax, and surface finishes, such as polyurethane and Swedish- type finishes.

A penetrating seal, such as an oil stain, soaks into the wood pores and must be finished with wax or protective oil to shield the wood. As the wax wears off, it must be reapplied to protect the wood from soil and scratches. Wax finishes can be beautiful, but they`re also slippery and require continual care, two reasons middle-class America welcomed carpeting and linoleum into their servant-free homes.

About 20 years ago, the retailing of polyurethane, a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients, probably started the renewed interest in wood floors, simply because a polyurethane finish eliminated semi-annual waxing and could be cleaned with a damp mop.

Oil-modified polyurethane, composed of air-drying materials, remains the popular choice of a do-it-yourself floor finisher. Moisture-cured

polyurethane, which absorbs minute quantities of moisture from the air to cure and harden, is slighty more wear-resistant than oil-modified polyurethane but not recommended for nonprofessionals because of the difficulty in application and flammability of the material.

Swedish Finish Is Floor`s Lasting Friend - Chicago Tribune

Use of polyurethane over the last 10 years also has produced some dissatisfaction with the product. It scratches easily and continually hardens, becoming brittle over time and flaking in some cases.

And because it is very difficult to re-apply without showing lap marks, typically a floor must be resanded when the polyurethane begins to wear through, which shortens the life of a conventional wood floor. In fact, the Oak Flooring Institute recommends waxing polyurethane to provide better wear and appearance.

Polyurethane also may present a problem with white or bleached wood floors, as it tends to yellow over time.

The Swedish-type finish is a base of urea-formaldehyde resins with a butyl-alcohol solvent. Unlike polyurethane, which sits on the surface of the floor, a Swedish-type finish bonds to the wood and itself, avoiding the sometimes undesirable «plastic« look of polyurethane and allowing recoating whenever necessary without resanding the floors.

Floor refinisher Jeff Clark introduced the Swedish finish to the Chicago market eight years ago when he heard about it from friends in Seattle, where its popularity was firmly established a decade ago.

«For three or four years, I had to have it shipped to my place,« he said. «But I went to all that trouble, because I knew that it was a much better finish than polyurethane.«

The ability of Swedish-type finishes to bond with the wood avoids a material build-up, said Clark. «With polyurethane, as time goes on, it gets harder and harder. In kitchens, the polyurethane breaks down if you get it wet a lot, and I think that stems from its being real brittle. But I`ve never seen the Swedish finish break down.«

Leave a Reply