Unfinished vs. Prefinished Hardwood Floors

Unfinished vs. Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

While unfinished solid wood is the backbone of how the hardwood floor industry got started, prefinished solid floors have gained lots of momentum. More and more it seems that customers are preferring to choose prefinished over unfinished.

But what are the features that make each type of flooring unique? Here’s a rundown of the basics for each type of hardwood floor.

Pros and cons of unfinished hardwood flooring

Variety: When selecting unfinished floors there are unlimited options available. Oak, cherry, maple, pine, mahogany, and many other wood species are available for installation. And the variety is not limited to species; with unfinished flooring, you can completely customize the floor. You can choose your own stain color, finish system, as well as sawn profile (e.g. rift-Quartered vs. plain sawn) and add items like medallions and border work. This can help in a scenario where a customer has a very specific aesthetic that they are trying to achieve.

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Ability to resand or refinish: Because the floor would be installed with traditional finishes and stains, it is easier to resand and refinish the floor for a customer. The floor’s appearance can be changed whenever the customer desires.

Best option for custom elements: It is much easier to give customers a custom element like inlays, medallions, or boarders with unfinished wood. This is primarily because after the inlays are installedInstalling an unfinished hardwood floor once the whole floor is sanded. The inlays then become flush with the rest of the floor.

The finish will “seal” the floor: Unfinished wood requires the mechanic to apply finish. Because of this, the whole floor is coated with the finish. Once completed, the floor should be completely flat and free of bevels and overwood.

Time consuming to install: The same reason for variety is the same reason for the lengthy install time of unfinished floors. Because the floor must be sanded and finished (with possibly a staining step in between), it takes longer than installing a prefinished floor. On top of that, the finish will take time to fully cure. During the curing period, the homeowners will have to be careful in their own home lest there be scratches or other damage to the floor.

Pros and cons of prefinished solid hardwood flooring

Quick install: One of the biggest advantages to prefinished solid is that the install time is significantly reduced from unfinished. By skipping the sanding and finishing stages of the instal,l you can complete the whole floor much faster. Additionally, once the floor is installed, it’s ready to be used. Homeowners or other clients can move back in immediately with no worries about the finish curing.

Durable wear layer: The finish that is used on prefinished wood is more durable than most finishes that can be applied to a site-finished solid hardwood floor. Many manufacturers apply UV cured finish to their products, which makes the floor extremely durable (UV curing can be completed on-site by a contractor but most contractors do not yet have the technology available to do so––click here to read more about on-site UV cured floors). The finish itself contains aluminum Installing prefinished hardwood flooroxide, which contributes to the durability as well. A few manufacturers also incorporate products like 3M Scotchgard into the finish. This prevents stains or other foreign objects from damaging the finish and helps to preserve its beauty for years to come.

Uniformity of boards: Prefinished floor boards are much more uniform in their coloring / staining than unfinished boards because they are stained and finished in a controlled environment. Because of this, there is less need for culling out boards on a well milled, stained prefinished solid hardwood floor.

Difficult to resand/refinish: The durability of the finish can be a double-edged sword. Since it’s so durable, it can be quite difficult to remove. The aluminum oxide is also an abrasive. When buffing for a re-coat this can prove problematic as the powdered finish can scratch the floor.

Lack of availability: Despite the popularity of prefinished solid floors, there is still a lack of options available to install. While samples, widths, profiles and face treatments abound, the mills only inventory what sells. You are still limited to the choices of floors that the manufacturer decides to sell. In certain situations this can be a detriment to the client. If they’re set on a certain species of wood, width (6”,7”, 8” up to 12”),  sawn profile (rift and quartered), or color, you may have no other choice than going with an unfinished solid floor.


With these pros and cons in mind, it’s a bit easier to settle on one type of flooring or another for your next project. Go with an unfinished floor for ultimate customizability and a traditional look, or choose prefinished for an easy install and a lasting finish that doesn’t have to be touched up.

Click here to browse our selection of unfinished solid hardwood floors, or click here for prefinished solid hardwood floors.

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  1. Pingback: 2015 Hardwood Flooring Trends: What are Contractors Seeing? - Philly Floor Blog

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