A Complete Guide to Timber Flooring

Timber flooring is a timeless and durable option. It’s easy to take care of, softer underfoot than tiles, and adds natural warmth to your home. It’s not as simple as choosing a colour and glueing a few boards down, however.

There are quite a few things to consider before making your final decision. In this post, we’ll guide you through the different choices that you’ll need to make.

How to Choose a Timber Floor

Hardwood flooring is traditionally made of solid wood. Today you’ll also find engineered wood options. Understanding the difference is vital in making the right choice for your home.

Advantages
  • The same look at a fraction of the cost
  • Resistant to nicks and dents
  • Virtually maintenance-free
  • Able to withstand radiant heat
  • Creates less of a height differential upon installation
  • Faster to lay

Engineered planks look and feel similar to solid hardwood. Pick up an engineered plank, however, and you’ll notice that it’s lighter.

Once the floor is down, you’ll be hard-pressed to see a difference at all. This is because the upper surface is hardwood, while the substrate is pine or rubberwood. The board is coated with a protective layer of polyurethane.

Engineered floors don’t have as much hardwood in them as traditional boards. Their primary advantages come in the form of saving money and increased longevity.

The coatings protect the surface of the wood and prevent it from fading. You don’t need to sand and resurface the planks every few years to keep them looking like new. All you need to do is to wipe them down regularly.

Engineered planks are more stable than solid wooden ones. The stability of the substrate also makes it possible for engineered boards to be wider. This is beneficial when you’d like to create a feeling of more space.

If you’re a stickler for even sizes and spacing, veneered options offer a more uniform look.

Hardwood flooring is traditionally made of solid wood. Today you’ll also find engineered wood options. Understanding the difference is vital in making the right choice for your home.

Advantages
  • More flexibility with colour and finish
  • Deadens noise naturally
  • High durability
  • Much easier to repair
  • Easier to work with if you are remodeling and/or expanding your area
  • Can be recoated & sanded MANY times to reveal a clean surface underneath

Solid wood is will last a lifetime with proper care and if you get scratches in the floor, or if you want to change the color later, you can. This is an especially important consideration if you plan on living in your home for a while, have kids/busy household and/or if you have pets.

The final step is to seal the surface. The varnish wards off the elements so that the wood doesn’t dry out and become brittle. You must allow it to cure properly, however, which can be something of an inconvenience.

It’s hard to beat the look of aging wood. Composite options come close but don’t quite match the natural aging of real timber.

Many homeowners claim they can feel the difference between solid timber flooring and composites. Timber flooring also adds to property value.

Consider Wood Types

When you’re using a laminate, you may simply choose the colour and grain that you like best. If you’re opting for solid wooden tiles instead, you’ll need to think about the following:

  • Durability: Is this for a high-traffic area? If so, some types of flooring are better than others. Ironbark is a particularly good option when in need of something hardwearing.
  • Fire Danger: Do you live in an area where bush fires are frequent? If so, using Blackbutt or Jarrah might be a reasonable safety precaution.
  • Aesthetics: Aesthetics go beyond colour. Consider the texture you prefer and whether or not you like the grain to be even. Do you prefer straight lines or lots of whorls in the grain? Ironbark’s unmistakable grain pattern gives it a distinct look that won’t suit everyone.
  • Grain Pattern: The way a mill cuts wood can greatly influence grain patterns. Speak to your installer about the available options .
  • Plank Width: It’s becoming increasingly common for people to choose wider options to reduce the overall number of seams. To make this work, the underlying wood must be stable and dense or it’ll buckle.
  • Flooring Style: If you’re choosing a straight lay, you allow differences in grain and tone to spread out over a larger area. They’re less noticeable. With tiled patterns, those differences become more apparent. Consider the overall effect that colour differences may have.
  • Maintenance: Not many homeowners relish the idea of maintaining their floorboards. It’s a messy and costly process. Darker woods don’t show stains as quickly and so may not need retouching as often. Hardwearing options tend to go longer between touch-ups.
  • Will a Stain Work? Another option to consider is whether or not a stain would suit you. It’s easier to get a custom, even look with staining.

Australian Hardwoods

Spotted Gum

Australian Cypress Pine

Cypress Pine is golden brown, streaked with light yellow, orange, and cream. The knots are usually dark chocolate brown or black. It’s a look that ages particularly well.

The even grain and warm colouring make it light to medium-toned. These hues lend a warm glow to any design. Cypress Pine is also naturally resistant to termites due to the compounds it contains.

Blackbutt

You’ll find Blackbutt in a few different colours, ranging from a light blonde or brown to a medium brown with honeyed tones. Some types sport a very slight pink tinge.

The grain is straight and the wood is evenly textured. Blackbutt is naturally fire-resistant.

Brushbox

If you prefer rich, deep tones, Brushbox might work well. Typically brown or russet, it has red undertones. Some variants are a pale grey with hints of pink. The texture is interesting with a fine and even grain that curls. Brushbox is dense, making it ideal for high-traffic areas.

Flooded (Rose) Gum

Rose gum lives up to its name in hues that range from light pinks and peaches to a barely-there reddish brown. A distinctive texture adds to its allure. Popular with insects, you’ll often find intricate patterns left by them in the wood when the tree was still growing. When this occurs, it adds interest to the otherwise uniform grain.

Jarrah

Jarrah comes in tones reminiscent of the outback: soft pinks, fiery reddish browns, and deep burgundies. Jarrah works if you prefer waves and a higher degree of texturing.

Who needs oak when Jarrah’s available? Jarrah is denser, resistant to timber-boring insects, and very difficult to set alight.

Karri

Karri comes in delicate shades of pink and lustrous reddish brown with appealing cream streaks. The grain runs long within this hardwood. It’s an evenly spaced pattern, with a smooth texture and bright quality.

Ironbark

Ranging in tone from pale to chocolate brown, grey, and red, it’s the purple undertones that make this colouring special. The pattern in the wood consists of numerous arches for a mottled, marbled effect.

Ironbark lives up to its name thanks to its outstanding durability.

Myrtle Beech

Warm beiges, oranges, and reddish browns punctuated by strips of light cream characterise Myrtle Beech. The patterns in the wood range from parallel lines to wavy striping and whorls.

Spotted Gum

Spotted Gum provides the most variations. It may be a golden green, antique white, pale crisp brown, or chocolatey in colour. The purple strips and grain create the ripples that give this hardwood its appeal.

Spotted gum is another fire-resistant Australian beauty.

Victorian Ash

Ash is a light-coloured hardwood that is, at its darkest, light and nutty. The cool tones make for an interesting contrast to traditional alternatives. The wood is evenly toned, making it simple to stain uniformly.

Victorian ash is stable, but not ideal where there’s a danger of termite damage.

European Oak

Prized for centuries for its durability, European Oak is warm in tone. It’s a light to mid-toned brown with even graining.

Durable and hardwearing, it’s often found in stately old Australian homes. People choose this species of oak because it’s taller than its cousins and has thicker sapwood. You’ll get longer, thicker planks from a European Oak than an American Oak.

Style of Flooring

Your next decision is how you’d like the boards laid. The pattern may be practical, decorative, or completely random. The limitations of using natural timbers needn’t apply to composite alternatives.

Straight Lay

Straight lay is the most common, and fastest, option. The boards are typically the same length and laid parallel to one another.

This method allows installers to use a tongue-and-groove board, speeding the process more. The technique enables installers to lay the timbers without nailing them down.

The interlocking design creates additional stability.

Straight lays using continuous lengths make a room seem elongated. They’re a good design option for a room that’s wider than it is long.

A variation of this design is to select planks of differing lengths. The overall design stays parallel, but some boards are cut off at different lengths throughout the room. This creates joins in different areas, adding variation.

The diagonal pattern is a variation on this concept. Instead of the boards being laid parallel to one wall, they sit at a 45-degree angle to it. This style optically widens the area by drawing the eye along the longer diagonal lines.

A straight lay pattern is practical and straightforward. It’s ideal for covering large rooms quickly.

Herringbone

A herringbone design is also called a broken zigzag. That gives you a clue as to the difference between herringbone and chevrons.

With a herringbone pattern, the two sides join much like a chevron. Instead of uniting in the centre, however, one “leg” of the herringbone butts up against the other. The angle at which carpenters cut the legs is very different.

It’s a decorative option that takes a little longer to install but yields greater impact. Laid lengthwise along a long corridor or narrow room, it creates the illusion that the space is more uniform in shape.

It works to great effect in small rooms to make them seem larger. It also works well on floors that aren’t a perfect square or rectangle. Disruptions in the pattern don’t jar the eye as would be the case with a perfect zigzag.

The herringbone is the more traditional option. It’s well-suited to a restored Victorian manor-style home, for example.

Chevron

a photo of chevron timber flooring

A chevron pattern forms a continuous V. The two legs are cut at exact angles so that they join in the centre. The points are more precise than in a herringbone design.

Chevrons using larger planks make the room seem bigger. Chevrons are at their best as the highly polished showpiece of a large room. This is timber flooring you won’t want to cover with rugs.

The chevron is the modern variant and is therefore better suited to a contemporary-style home.

Installation

Floating

The floating method of installation is versatile. You may use this method at floor level or to raise/lower the level of the flooring. Floating systems are a good option when you need to conceal a radiant heat system.

For this type of installation, the installer first creates a frame to rest the timber on securely. They must then place a foam underlay. This layer cushions the planks, dampening their sound and protecting them from moisture.

Many of these boards use a tongue-and-groove system to lock in place. This style reduces the need for adhesive and improves stability.

It also speeds up the process because there’s no need to use a conventional trowel-and-glue method. The conventional approach has always been more labour-intensive because it involves fitting and adhering the boards manually.

Using the interlocking technique instead speeds the process considerably.

The downside of this technique is that the boards can expand and contract more than they would if glued down. In cases where there’s high moisture content in the subfloor, it might be better to glue the boards down.

This method works well when the frame is level. If parts of the structure are uneven, the floorboards may jut out in those areas.

Glued

Gluing is the traditional technique for parquet floors. Parquet floors are very effective, but also expensive to install. The reason is that the tiles are small and require some skill to assemble correctly.

When you choose a chevron or herringbone pattern, the installer will likely use the gluing method. With advances in adhesive technology, it’s becoming more popular with straight lays as well.

If you prefer a seamless look without nails, you might consider this technique. If you’re using a composite product, this method might help you more effectively replicate the feel of hardwood.

Modern glues expand and contract, and so allow for some movement. The floor has very little give compared to floating flooring and therefore feels more like solid wood.

The glue acts as a vapour barrier, so there’s no need to put down a foam layer first.

The downside is that the glue is almost impossible to remove. If you don’t use enough, the tiles will loosen over time. Use too much, and the adhesive might seep out, marring the finish.

For this technique to work, the surface must be flat. Any bump will cause the floorboard above it to be uneven. The unevenness results in it being noisy when trod on.

The other disadvantage is that the glue may smell for a little while. Ventilating the area well removes the fumes fast.

Acoustics & Underlays

Engineered boards may have an underlay pre-adhered to the underside. If they don’t, the installer may apply a layer of foam before installing the timber flooring.

The underlay improves moisture resistance and helps deaden acoustics.

The moisture-proof layer prevents the underside of the board from rotting. This dryness, in turn, prevents mould from gaining a foothold in the little crevices.

The layer has sound-deadening properties. As the composite planks are thinner, they’re more likely to sound hollow when you step on them. The underlay deadens any echoing noises that you might hear.

The underlay makes the composite seem more like solid timber flooring.

Maintenance of Timber Floors

Solid wood floors require a little more care than other options. It’s not an excessive amount of extra work, but you must guard against scratching and fading.

Strategically placed mats can accomplish much of the work at the front and back doors. These prevent people from dragging in gritty particles that might scratch the surface.

A UV-resistant coating on the boards protects them from sun exposure. You may increase this protection by using awnings or window treatments to keep out the sun’s harsh rays.

Other simple tips include using floor protectors, walking barefoot, and keeping your dog’s nails trimmed neatly.

When You’ve Just Had the Floor Installed

Once the coating’s hardened, you may walk on new timber flooring. That being said, it’s still advisable to exercise caution for the first couple of weeks after installation. By following these tips, you allow the floor to settle and let the finishes harden properly:

  • Don’t walk on the floor unless necessary.
  • Walk barefoot if you must go into the room.
  • Where possible, delay replacing the furniture. When it’s essential to do so, carry the items into the room instead of sliding them in. 
  • Place protective pads under the feet of furniture to keep them from damaging the surface.
  • Delay laying rugs for a few weeks.
  • Avoid rugs with rubber on the back as these may affect the floor coatings.

Cleaning Your Floors

Mop up spills as fast as possible so that they don’t have a chance to stain. Aside from that, get into the habit of cleaning the floors regularly.

Sweeping with an electrostatic mop over the surface every other day is an excellent start. You may vacuum the floors, but only with a soft brush attachment. The head of the vacuum might scratch the finish, so it’s best to tread carefully.

Once every two to four weeks, clean using a damp mop. Choose a cleaner designed for timber flooring.

Dunk the mop in the water with the solution in it. Wring it out so that it’s only damp, then wipe the surface. You may repeat using clean water.

Allow the surface to dry completely before applying polish. Polish in small sections at a time, so that the wax doesn’t cake on the surface.

If you don’t remove the polish properly, dust and grime will get stuck in it. As it hardens into place, it’ll become increasingly difficult to remove.

Take your time and use the opportunity to practice some mindful meditation.

Cleaning Off Stubborn Dirt and Stains

You shouldn’t use harsh detergents, abrasive agents, bleach, turpentine, steel wool, or steam. These will all damage the finish and cause it to peel. You might get the stain out, but the peeling or bleaching will look just as obvious.

Use an absorbent cloth to mop up any wet spills immediately. Use paper towels or a selection of soft cloths. As soon as one is saturated, swap it out for a dry one.

Wipe the area down with a soft, damp cloth to remove the mark. If that doesn’t work, use a gentle cleanser and wipe away as much of the mark as possible.

For spilled greasy food, the process is very much the same. Lift off as much of the food as possible. Use a clean cloth with a little warm water to dissolve the grease. Dab at the stain to blot off as much oil as you can.

Wiping it will only spread the grease around. Microfibre cloths are effective at soaking up greasy residue without scratching the surface.

Professional Cleaning

If your cleaning efforts seem to get you nowhere, it might be time to call in a professional. A deep cleanse will remove ingrained dirt and grime most effectively. The experts will also advise you on whether or not to refinish the floors.

Other Flooring Options

custom floor staining services by Madera Floors

Hybrid Flooring

Combining the best attributes of both laminate and vinyl, Hybrid is the first rigid floating floor product that can be installed throughout the entire home.

Advantages
  • Clean, polished look
  • Resistant to changes in temperature
  • Stain-resistant
  • Waterproof

Hybrid flooring is a viable option. The base is made of a limestone composite, which is waterproof, stable, and heat-resistant. The next layer is a decorative strip of hardwood. A PVC layer with a surface treatment creates a high-gloss, impermeable finish.

Each board has an underlay bonded to its underside. The underlay prevents moisture from seeping in and deadens sound.

The benefit of hybrid flooring is that it’s almost impermeable to stains and highly scuff-resistant. It resists extremes of temperature and won’t warp. It’s also resistant to water and humidity.

The downside is that it’s expensive and doesn’t look entirely natural. The protective coating allows the wood grain to shine through, but the coating itself is quite evident. Its slick finish looks best in a contemporary setting.

Polished Concrete

Advantages
  • Virtually maintenance-free (all you need is to mop it once in a while to keep it clean)
  • Affordable
  • Highly customisable thanks to different stains and additives
  • Can be made to look natural or with quartz for extra sparkle
  • Wipes down easily
  • Smooth surface
  • Hygienic
  • Polishing makes it less absorptive
  • Easy to extend up the walls for extra finesse
  • Durable
  • Cover over it with hardly any preparation if you want a change

Polished concrete creates a smooth, hygienic, and hardwearing surface. Forget the primary reds and greens we grew up with at school. With modern additives and stains, it’s simple to create a designer look using concrete.

The concrete surface, once polished, is smooth and glossy. It shrugs off dirt and becomes less absorbent.

Refinishing entails grinding away the top layer and smoothing it out. Then a professional polishing tool evens out the edges and brings it back to a high-gloss finish.

Concrete is a hardened surface that’s perfect for adding an industrial edge to your look. It’s a cost-effective option that’s easily covered over if you get bored with it.

Final Notes

It’s hard to beat Mother Nature as a designer. Hardwood provides an ideal flooring surface for Australian conditions. It adds effortless beauty and practicality no matter what your design style may be.

Call us today to discuss your timber flooring options. We’ll work together to find the right look for your needs, lifestyle, and budget.

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