Color Variations in Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

We often get questions about color variations in newly installed prefinished hardwood floors. It’s common for homeowners to find that that boards in their new floors don’t look exactly like a board sample they’ve received previously. Here’s what’s going on.

First thing to remember is that no two floor boards are alike. Each shows its own variations in character, from knots to mineral streaks to pinholes to grain patterns. Wood is a natural product and even boards from the same tree will accept a stain differently. As a rule of thumb, lighter stains will allow the imperfections to show, so you’ll see more variation board to board. Dark stains will mask most imperfections and provide a more uniform and consistent look. This is why dark stains are usually chosen for the lower grades of wood and light stains are chosen for higher grades of wood.

Staining can affect the look of a board even within the same species. As we’ve covered previously, we offer three types of oak flooring: Southern, Northern and Appalachian. Depending on where your oak is from, it’ll stain differently. Southern oak has more mineral content and color variation and will show those imperfections more when stained than Northern oak. When it comes to Southern Yellow pine, the lower the grade, the more heartwood the boards will contain. Light yellow sapwood and the darker heartwood will accept a stain differently: heartwood can darken significantly when stained, bringing stark contrast to the lighter sapwood portions of the pine. Another species of wood where we see much color variation is hickory. Take a look at our prefinished natural hickory to see the patchiness, mineral streaks and knots that are spread through the individual boards.

Some people love the rustic look that results from the many characteristics a wood can have. But it’s certainly not a look that suits every taste. Aside from the species, grade and stain color, careful thought needs to be given to the layout of the boards. Make sure that every box is opened before installation begins and arrange every board on the floor as though you are about to nail it down. This process is called “dry laying” or “racking the floor”. This ensures that lighter and darker boards are all intermixed and that there are no obvious and unsightly patches of dark boards. It’s a small step but one that will make a big difference in the finished product.