Featured image for "Types of Hardwood Flooring Finishes" blog post. Kitchen with hardwood flooring.

Types of Hardwood Flooring Finishes

There are various types of hardwood flooring finishes that can transform a boring floor surface into one that is beautiful. Regarding home décor, flooring is part of the process, and depending on the type, it can either make or break the appearance of the entire living space.

A DIY approach can require a significant amount of time and patience to complete. If you don’t want to leave it to a professional to handle, we understand. Still, you can choose to do so and also have the control to choose a finish and design that is to your liking.

What is an Unfinished Hardwood Floor?

A raw hardwood floor is unfinished. It’s ready for maintenance and allows a wide range of options that are available to add a custom touch. Although the installation is cheap, imperfections are noticeable, but the surface is durable. Upon choosing this method, not only are you responsible for the result but also for preserving the health and life of the surface.

The surface of an unfinished hardwood floor has been sanded which is done to a minimum and lacks a finish. This is its natural state. However, it can be re-sanded until it’s completely uniform and smooth. To install the floor, the effort is still time-consuming, but the finish is customizable based on the available DIY choices. This is ideal for unfinished hardwood flooring designs because of the flexibility, independence, and creativity.

There isn’t one “best” type of hardwood floor but rather many that are based on various stages and methods. If you intend to learn more about the other types, then read further.

Popular Types of Hardwood Floors

  • Engineered
  • Hand-Scraped
  • Pre-Finished


An engineered hardwood floor consists of several different wood veneers that are positioned in different directions. Unlike a solid hardwood floor that is nailed down, each plank is made with a thinner top layer of hardwood. Then the planks are bonded together to prevent shifting during expansion. The surface of engineered hardwood is often compared to the surface of laminated hardwood in terms of the finish.

However, when unfinished, this type of flooring is pre-sanded and ready for a final sanding that should be minimal. In terms of unfinished hardwood flooring, engineered flooring is an easier, quicker installation method.

The manufacturer of this flooring type can apply a durable and long-lasting finish that preserves and protects it from many uses. Also, it usually doesn’t need to be refinished for a decade or two. Depending on the skill level of the manufacturer, the lifespan of the floor can last even longer.


Both solid hardwood floors and engineered hardwood floors can be hand-scraped. When done with a single-edged knifing tool, hand-scraping gives the raw material of a hardwood floor a distressed appearance. The result is a surface that is old, worn, and overused. Also, it’s reminiscent of antique flooring that is over 100 years old.

Hand-scraped hardwood flooring can be found in barns and aging urban residential properties.


A prefinished hardwood floor is factory-finished with a protective finish that is waterproof and prevents water absorption. The wide planks are thick with beveled edges. This prevents chipping due to gradual stress from walking and rough handling in general. As a ready-made option, prefinished flooring doesn’t require complex skills and can be refinished when needed.

Floating vs. Gluing vs. Nailing

During the installation of a hardwood floor, securing each plank depends on the method. This pertains to flooring that is engineered or solid because both have contrasting methods of installation. Depending on your particular choice, it’s important to determine which one is suitable before the entire process is pursued.

Floating: The floating method consists of planks that are “puzzle pieces” and locked together by the material to create a bonded effect. This is usually done over subfloors such as vinyl, concrete, wood, and tile for support.

Gluing: For this method, an adhesive in the form of tape or a liquid glue bonds the hardwood planks. The installation process can be only slightly time-consuming because each plank should be secured in place carefully with one of the adhesives.

Nailing: This is the most common method of installation for solid hardwood flooring. A plywood subfloor should be installed beneath the surface and should be evenly balanced. It ensures a form of foundation before the nailing process begins.

Popular Species of Hardwood Flooring

Mahogany: With a tri-species history, genuine mahogany is quite difficult to obtain because artificial duplicates of it are illegal to sell and trade nationally and internationally. The original grain is sought-after because of its exotic color combination of both red and brown. While straight-grained, it’s quite unruly to work with but should be handled gently due to possible tearing.

Oak: Oak is broad in terms of color which consists of natural, red, golden, autumn, harvest, and provincial. Despite how dark a wood stain is, as it penetrates the wood grain of oak, it has to set completely to reveal its color which may slightly contrast compared to its wet or damp state.

Chestnut: Often referenced as ‘American chestnut’, this species is weaker than oak but viable to use, especially for furniture such as coffee tables, dressers, or dining tables. Although chestnut is known to be vulnerable to insect and worm infestations, unfinished hardwood flooring finishes and designs can still be done. English chestnut, chestnut brown, and red chestnut are contrasting colors of brown. However, they’re great as color stains that range from medium to dark.

Maple: Regarding the reddish-brown color of maple, a dark color stain can be difficult to achieve because the grain of maple is densely closed and has a reputation for absorption that blends poorly. An uneven result is noticeable on the surface and it looks cheap as well as amateurish. Experimentation with multiple staining methods may have to be done to see which one is suitable and effective.

Brazilian Teak: Durable and water-resistant, Brazilian teak maintains its surface through severe weather conditions and is highly favored. It has a level of strength that many other species lack in comparison and its oil content is high. While long-lasting, its natural colors are reddish-brown or purple-brown with yellow streaks. This is an example of the perfect rustic style that can be achieved with various types of hardwood flooring finishes.

Brazilian Cherry: As one of the strong species to maintain its durability even in high-traffic areas within a home, Brazilian cherry hardwood is harvested in a natural, green environment. It’s considered to be long-lasting and is preferred due to its organic status. Although its popularity has tapered slightly, it’s still a choice as a reliable species for hardwood flooring. Its color can be a cold pinkish-red or a warm reddish-brown.

Hickory: The history of hickory stands the test of time due to its hard, dense, and durable reputation. Its level of strength is impressive, and its bold appearance stands out. While it can be expensive, it’s fairly cheaper than other species of wood that can break a budget. Also, it’s considered to be the strongest to use for various types of hardwood flooring finishes and designs. Its color ranges from light to dark which could be a solid pale to a combination of red and brown.

Birch: The strength level of birch is considered to be moderate between maple and red oak. While it’s suitable for installation, it can be difficult to get the job done with only hand tools. The use of machinery is better because it can achieve a dense texture that is smooth and responds well to paint and polish. White to brown with red undertones is the range of color for this species.

Walnut: As a straight wood grain, walnut is quite stable and is among the species of hardwood that is strong and long-lasting. Its colors range from light to dark chocolate with hints of blonde or yellow. Among various pieces of furniture that are made from it, antique-style dining tables and headboards are two popular pieces in that aspect.

Hardwood floor staircase top.
Looking to replace your flooring this year? Consider utilizing hardwood flooring!

Popular Softwood Species and Non-Wood

Pine: Pine is a lightweight softwood that is usually yellow or white with brown knots. Regarding density and durability, it’s weaker than hardwood and its vulnerability level in terms of scratches and dents is quite high. Furniture such as nightstands and coffee tables are often made from it as well as surfaces such as farmhouse-style flooring.

Cork: While cork isn’t hardwood nor softwood, it’s a material with a surface that is similar to the texture of a sponge. Although it’s part of a tree, it has a few of the same characteristics as any species of wood. As far as durability and strength, it ranks under hardwood but can be installed as kitchen flooring when using the floating method.

Natural cork is tan and is often confused with a colored cork that is linoleum-based.

Bamboo: Technically, bamboo is part of the grass family. However, it can be installed as flooring and treated with a few coats of a protective finish. Although durable, it’s vulnerable to water damage if exposed to excessive moisture for over 24 hours. The color of bamboo is yellow but can also be brown or green which reflects its organic nature.

Laminate vs. Vinyl

A laminate consists of a clear, protective layer that can have a gloss, silk, or matte finish. This pertains to posters, books, business cards, paper badges, and other items that use a laminate as a form of protection. While durable, it isn’t visually appealing and can look artificial if overdone. It’s also vulnerable to fading when exposed to sunlight for long periods.

In terms of laminated hardwood flooring, the finish is a photographic layer that is applied under the clear layer, and layers of material can be bonded by adhesives.

Vinyl is made from plastic and resists scratches, stains, and water. Although durable to a certain extent, it has a reputation for having a cheap appearance due to its synthetic quality. Also, as a finish, it can be risky because it’s inconsistent and is vulnerable to damage.

One example of a similarity between laminate and vinyl, as well as their relation to various types of hardwood flooring finishes and designs, is that they can create an illusion of stone, wood, and ceramic. They’re available in a variety of styles and are somewhat convincing in terms of mimicking other textures and surfaces.

Types of Hardwood Floor Designs

An unfinished hardwood floor has a personality in its natural state but can be finished to reflect your personality and/or your preference(s) in terms of its appearance. Considering the various styles and patterns that are available, there isn’t a limit to what you can do. Before the installation of the floor, you need to choose what design you like the most and stick to it. This is important for you to know in case you make a last-minute choice.

Some designs can bring out the beauty in a hardwood floor and can also be trendy. If you assumed only one standard design existed, now you know that you can rely on others to spruce up your floor.

Read further about these designs to understand how to make a choice based on your personal preference:

  • Straight
  • Diagonal
  • Random
  • Parquet


A straight hardwood pattern is a common design used during the installation of a hardwood floor. It’s also a common choice for many types of hardwood flooring finishes and designs. Each plank is parallel and runs long according to the length of an adjacent room as well as narrow and wide spaces. However, it’s limited to rectangular rooms and is rather basic. Unlike patterns that contrast and have a stylish appearance, one that is straight is simple but isn’t as interesting in terms of unique patterns.


A diagonal hardwood pattern emphasizes the length and width of a room or perhaps creates the illusion of such. This pattern is a twist to the standard straight pattern and the planks vary from wide to narrow while tilted at a 90-degree angle. It takes skill to have the ability to install each plank to fit from wall to wall and from corner to corner.

When installed correctly and accurately, the result can be fancy. This means every inch of width and length should be even. The pattern is often found on the outdoor wood surface of a patio and adds an edge.


A random pattern consists of hardwood planks that are of various widths. Combining different sizes can create a natural illusion of extended space in a room. The best way to install this pattern is for every plank to be nearest to the longest wall. Any plank that is shorter or longer than one that is sized to fit in the space after measuring isn’t suitable.


A parquet hardwood pattern is essential for geometric shapes that range from minimal to complex. Each thin piece of wood tile is installed to create an antique design to capture the essence of the Renaissance era. Although now a rarity, this design is known for its puzzle-like appearance and represents the touch of an artisan.

Parquet is a great choice for unfinished hardwood flooring finishes and designs. Its unique designs can range from standard to colorful. Or it can display images such as a giraffe or scattered leaves.

Related Parquet Designs

Herringbone: The Herringbone hardwood pattern is traditionally popular and distinctive. Its rectangular planks are staggered and are also continuous in a zigzag at a 90-degree angle in between the material. Specifically, it resembles the bones of a fish because of its V-shaped form.

While each plank isn’t cut at an angle, the individual points are facing one direction and are also focal points. This pattern is so complex that it isn’t far-fetched for a highly-skilled professional to make a mistake during its installation.

Chevron: While similar to the zig-zag pattern of a herringbone hardwood floor, the planks of the Chevron hardwood pattern run wider and are cut at a different angle. Also, each plank is rectangular but positioned at a 45-degree angle and is inverted.

This pattern isn’t limited to only wood flooring. It can also be found in the form of stone for front and/or back porches and marble for kitchen and/or bathroom flooring. So, therefore, it’s versatile.

Basket Weave: A basket weave hardwood floor pattern resembles woven twigs that are usually found on a wicker basket or furniture such as a wicker chair.

Hardwood flooring with a design that resembles a checkerboard is an example of a basket weave pattern. But there isn’t only just one way to install such and it can be creative depending on the level of craftiness. It’s inspired by the mid-century era and is mainly found in foyers, university study halls, luxury apartments, or home offices.

Inlay: When a particular shape is cut into a wood surface, and space is filled with a lighter shade of wood, an inlay is created. Medallions, corners, and borders are all inlays that are installed with various species of hardwood.

What to Know About the Types of Hardwood Flooring Finishes

Depending on the type of finish and stain you want to apply to your hardwood flooring, you need to choose two that can achieve it. Not all types of hardwood flooring finishes and stains are the same, and one may be more durable or thinner than the other. Also, one may not be popular while another is commonly used and has an established reputation in terms of effectiveness.

A hardwood floor finish can range from matte to glossy. If you want your wood floor surface to be flashy, then you should choose a finish that has a noticeable shine. But if you want to go the subtle route, your best bet would be to choose a natural finish.

You need to know the difference between finishes, what to expect, and how you can make the most out of your choice. In this case, polyurethane is the king of durable finishes and it’s also popular. But there are also options that are alternatives that don’t contain the high-gloss mineral yet have a similar finish.

  • Oil-Based
  • Water-Based
  • Aluminum Oxide
  • Acid-Cured
  • Shellac
  • Varnish

Polyurethane Finishes


An oil-based finish penetrates and hardens when applied to a hardwood floor. It can be glossy to semi-glossy and is a classic alternative that is attractive. It isn’t long-lasting and has to endure a refinishing process after a period of two or three years.


A water-based finish can be difficult to work with because it’s a common low-quality alternative and thinner than an oil-based finish. While it’s clear, at least four coats are required for a noticeable finish. It can affect wood grains easily. However, in terms of consistency, there are water-based finishes that are thick and only require a couple of coats.

Non-Polyurethane Finishes

Aluminum Oxide

Despite its name, aluminum oxide is safe to use as a hardwood floor finish. It ranks high and is preferred as a hardwood flooring finish because it dries hard. It’s also a protectant against damage. However, this finish can be difficult to remove due to its mineral content. It stimulates the wood grain as it hardens which means the several coats it requires are nearly solid after the drying process.


While alcohol-based, an acid-cured finish (also known as a Swedish finish) can give a hardwood floor an exotic appeal. It has a sheen that is suitable for parquet flooring and dries quickly. As it highlights the natural beauty of wood grains, it’s a durable protectant against scuff marks and scratches.


Shellac is associated with the lac beetle and has origins in Thailand and also India. It’s a non-toxic, all-purpose sealant that has a clear high-gloss finish similar to a polyurethane-based product. While eco-friendly and inexpensive, it can be used to refinish a hardwood floor when needed to revitalize the surface.


Commonly used as a finish or a topcoat, applying varnish can protect and enhance a hardwood floor. It’s a blend of solvent, oil, and resin. Also, the transparency of it resembles a polyurethane-based finish but can be transformed into various colors.

Why Wood Stains Are Used

The purpose of a wood stain is to change the initial color of a wood surface to a contrasting color. Some wood grains respond poorly to the change and are difficult to work with during the staining process. However, it isn’t impossible to achieve. A stain should be chosen that you consider attractive. You should also be realistic about what does and doesn’t work in terms of wood grains.

Why Hardwood Flooring Finishes Are Essential

If you choose your floor designs and want to handle the job at your convenience, then you should plan and follow each aspect thoroughly. You know what you want and how you want it done; so, your input and contribution are what matters. Choosing among the various types of hardwood flooring finishes and applying them yourself are a better route rather than relying on planks that are already prepared and also expensive.

This is the perfect DIY project for the sake of home improvement, and it allows you the freedom to complete the job by your standards. While manufactured hardwood flooring is less time-consuming, and you won’t have to use your own hands, it’s risky because you may find that you don’t like the result. This can certainly affect your budget which is disappointing if the job is poor and you don’t get what you’ve paid for.

How to Keep Your Hardwood Floor Clean

Since unfinished hardwood flooring is frequently used and is exposed, the planks need to be cleaned. The right products should be used to avoid ruining the finish. It would be wise for you to invest in high-performance products that are effective, while also being harmless to your flooring and your health.

Champion Super Yellow Mop

The Champion Super Yellow Mop is highly effective on many types of flooring. Unlike woven fabric which has poor durability and strength, this mop works hard to absorb liquids, fluids, and won’t ruin the finish of a floor. With only a few wrings, it can be completely drained to continue its job.

Keep in mind that it’s important not to expose wood floors to excessive moisture. Only use a lightly damp mop on wood floors.

While machine-wash safe, this mop is long-lasting and can handle multiple washes on the delicate cycle.

Purchase this product here.


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Champion Old Fashioned Dust Mop

The Champion Old Fashioned Dust Mop removes stubborn dust from hardwood floors. Its electrostatic material can grab every last dust particle and ensures that it doesn’t leave any behind. While gentle, it works hard to wipe hardwood surfaces completely clean.

This mop can be shaken to release the attached dust and then stored to be reused when needed.

Purchase this product here.

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Champion Ultra Concentrated Degreaser

The Champion Ultra Concentrated Degreaser fights stains, grease, oil, and grime on floors, kitchen counters, stoves, ovens, and other appliances. It doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals and is eco-friendly. When activated with water, the solution can refresh surfaces naturally and also deodorize due to its citrus scent.

One bottle will make a whopping 256 gallons of grease-slaying cleaner!

Purchase this product here.

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Final Thought

You don’t have to be professionally handy to give life to a bare hardwood floor. There are countless types of hardwood flooring finishes available for you to choose from. If you enjoy being self-taught and would rather learn how to breathe life into an unfinished hardwood floor yourself, then this is the perfect project for you!

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