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How to choose between an oil or lacquer

Tony Bicknell, area sales manager, Kährs UK, explains a critical choice: THE ‘surface innovators’ in our industry have been hard at work. From the rustic tactile, matt finish, to a timber surface that’s so shiny you can see your reflection in it, there’s never been so much choice.

And who can grumble; more choice allows us to reach a far wider market. But, this choice brings with it responsibility in terms of education, especially on maintenance in commercial areas.

Most modern wood floors have a lacquer or oil prefinish and, whilst both are suitable for commercial and domestic application, they have different maintenance and repair regimes. During application, lacquer is applied to a board’s surface and then UV cured to harden.

Unlike oil, it seals the timber. Oil, on the other hand, is applied and left to cure naturally; it ingresses the wood grain and thus strengthens the fibres of the timber. Lacquer is often considered more durable,
thought this isn’t strictly so. In the short to medium term, lacquered floors are generally easier to maintain because you’re effectively cleaning a sealed surface. Longer term, they can be more difficult to spot repair.

Oiled floors, meanwhile, require slightly more maintenance, as oil needs replenishing periodically. But, over time, their protection builds up and, as the surface isn’t sealed, they’re easier to spot repair.

Both types of finish can provide great durability; for example a 12-year old 15mm Kahrs lacquered board is still going strong in an Oxford Street department store, and an oiled floor taking the daily strain at Copenhagen Airport, a decade after installation.

For optimum performance in high traffic areas like these, it’s recommended that both types of floors are given an additional coat of prefinish after installation. Before applying, the sur face should be lightly keyed, cleaned to remove dust and finishes should be applied using the recommended tools.

Specifiers should, however, be aware that inferior finishes still exist, accompanying a host of problems – from little scratch resistance due to too few layers of lacquer, to a plastic appearance created by too many layers.

Incompatibility between a stain and lacquer can also cause a finish to break down, creating a patchy surface difficult to maintain. In practical terms, having specified a quality product, never under-estimate the role of correct entrance matting.

Quality lacquer and oil prefinishes offer great durability but, at the end of the day, wood is still a natural material. When it comes to shoes laden with stones and grit, even nature and its innovators need a helping hand!

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