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The History of the Hardwood Finish

Posted by on October 26, 2016
hardwood finish

Hardwood flooring has been around for a long time, but hardwood finish is a relatively recent development.

The history of hardwood flooring is truly unique. Once upon a time it was only available to society elites or even only to royalty in some cases. We have come a long way from the first wood floors which were hand-scraped and sanded. Hardwood finish is a relatively recent development – in the old days, wood flooring was worn smooth by generations of foot traffic. Today we’re going to take a look at the evolution and history of hardwood finish.

The First Hardwood Finishes – Wax and Shellac

Waxing was one of the first forms of finishes. Finishes were generally applied to help prevent the damage and decay that could be caused by water and wear. But since wax wasn’t a hard finish, it required very frequent reapplication. This was not ideal as people were looking for something long-lasting.

Shellac was combined with hard wax later on. Shellac is made from the residue of the lac bug and shipped around the world in flake form, which could then be mixed with denatured alcohol to form the finish fluid. This was applied onto a hardwood floor and allowed to dry, then a hard wax was applied on top of this to protect the coating of shellac. Shellac tended to darken with wear and moisture, so this was not ideal for preserving the natural beauty of the hardwood.

Varnish and Polyurethane

Varnish was discovered in the middle of the 18th century and came into widespread use after the Civil War. It was much harder than its predecessors and resists almost anything. Varnish’s main disadvantage was that it dried a lot slower than shellac.

Today most contractors recommend a polyurethane hardwood finish. Polyurethane was discovered in 1936 and came into the commercial marketplace a few years later. It dries quickly and provides a very hard, durable surface that does not need frequent reapplication. Essentially, a polyurethane hardwood finish is an impenetrable layer of hard plastic on top of the wood floor. Made either with a water or oil base, this is the kind of finish most commonly used today!

John K. Eareckson & Co.: Baltimore Custom Hardwood Flooring

At John K. Eareckson & Co., we pride ourselves on providing the best quality and craftsmanship in the Baltimore-Washington area, from custom hardwood installation and repairs to refinishing. So if you are interested in a new look to your hardwood flooring, pick up the phone and give us a call today!
If you have any questions about New Hardwood Floors, please contact John K. Eareckson & Co. by calling 410-788-4200 or visit JKEHardwoodFlooring.com today for a free quote regarding any of your hardwood flooring needs.
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