The well-heeled love the hard wax oil touch
Terry Guilford with a rough guide to wood floor sanding
LAST month I wrote about the profitability of wood floor sanding compared to that of carpet or hard floor cleaning and I also touched on the fact that the real opportunity here lies in the maintenance of wood floors.
Why is it that up to now well-heeled clients have been quite happy to have their carpets and hard floors professionally maintained, but have ignored those scratched, worn and tired looking wooden floors? The answer lies within the industry itself as does the solution AND the opportunity.
Originally wood floors were just something to walk on and were left unfinished. And with constant mopping they grew grey and shabby. But hey, life was pretty grey in those days and shabby, so floors were of no consequence. As with everything, as mans’ hierarchy of basic needs began to be satisfied attention was turned (or the wife’s attention was turned) to the state of the house, including the floors.
The logical step was to use the same waxes and oils they used on their furniture to protect and enhance their wooden floors, and so the first wood floor finish was born. In fact in many ways the finest and most sustainable floor finish was born. However these finishes, beautiful as they were, came at a price... hard work. OK when labour was cheap and plentiful, but the post-war world put an end to that. So came the advent of surface build finishes.
There have been many different types of surface build finishes. But essentially, in my opinion at least, they all do the same thing, from the slow drying varnishes through the quick drying acid catalyst (don’t get me started) to the modern water-based polyurethane, they sit on the surface of the wood waiting to get scratched and once they are scratched you sand them off and start again.
What about acrylic seals I hear you ask (damn I’m hearing voices again). OK you clean the floor and apply a seal, in six months you clean the floor and apply a seal etc.,etc. At some point just like with Marmoleum, Amtico or any other surface with a topical seal, you have to strip the old seal coat and start again. Remind me, how much water it takes to strip old seal coat? Is it really a good idea to put that much liquid on a wood floor?
So where are we? Old wax, oil and wax oil finishes are beautiful and sustainable but are soft and need to be constantly re-applied, many have little resistance to water spotting and offer no resistance to red wine, Coke or tea and coffee. Surface build finishes are durable but once damaged it is impossible to do local repairs and even routine maintenance offers little in the long term.
The answer and the opportunity lies in the modern hard wax oils and the best bit is that many in the existing floor sanding industry are too set in their ways to see it, they just want to sand floors and throw down polyurethane.
What are these magical new products that present the solutions to all our problems? Well they are, as the name suggests, a mixture of oils and waxes blended to form a finish that when cured is hard. They broadly fall into two categories, hard wax oils that contain some solvent and those that contain no solvent and are therefore
In the first category we have brands such as Osmo and Treatex and in the second category we have Pallmann Magic Oil and Rubio Monocoat 2C. In the past I have been a great advocate of one of the brands in the first category and indeed still have it down in some rooms of my own home.
In some instances (particular where high chemical resistance is required) I would still promote its use, but as well as preferring VOC free products there are also two other advantages to Pallmann and Rubio, time saving and ease of application.
It is important to note that both these products are two-component and therefore have additives which speed up application and curing time and it is these hardners that give them the ‘edge’, do not confuse them with straight forward oils.
So now we have products which enable us to finish a job more quickly than polyurethane (and with less cost as these products are expensive but go a long way), what may have been a two day job due to drying and re-coating times is now a one day job so saving even more money.
The real long term benefit is not the cost or time saving however, but the maintainability (is there such a word?). Whilst not as outrightly durable as a good polyurethane product these hard wax oils can be repaired, touched up and cleaned and refreshed very easily and therein lies’ your opportunity.
Hard wax oil products tend to be understood and appreciated better by high-end clients; they love the natural satin/matte appearance these finishes give their floors and they want them to stay that way. It is so easy AND profitable it would be a sin not to give them what they want.
Terry Guilford is technical director of The Ultimate Floor Sanding Co, a corporate member of the National Carpet Cleaners Association (NCCA).