Do-it-yourself flooring refinishers can get a lot done with a basic, functional grasp of wood and the moisture content (MC) measurement process. With a basic understanding of some simple concepts, any installer can provide a strong, safe new generation of wood flooring.
Refinishing treatments can be partially defined by the type of wood used when installing these floors. Wood species fall into three general categories: hardwoods, softwoods and exotic (or imported). Therefore, it is crucial to know and recognize the
distinct moisture content (MC) characteristics of each type of species.
The type of wood also provides aspiring flooring refinishers with valuable
pliability information: what it’s like to saw, hammer, or nail during the refinishing phases. Some wood types, such as ponderosa pine (softwood), can easily be nailed and glued without splitting; others, such as red oak (hardwood), splinter and chip when cut against their grains. Flooring do-it-yourselfers prosper by researching these factors in order to prepare for successful wood floor installations.
Engineered or Natural
Engineered floors are manufactured having 3-12 multiple ply layers that are cross layered, glued and pressed together. The inner core layers are usually either a hardwood or softwood plywood type of material. The top thicker hardwood veneer layer is glued and pressed onto the top surface of the core.
Successful refinishing is anchored in one’s ability to test the flooring’s MC with a wood moisture meter. This is especially true of engineered flooring because the core layers may be composed of either a hardwood or softwood plywood material, which may vary significantly in MC from the top surface being refinished. In fact, only the top face of an engineered floorboard is made of the selected hardwood veneer. This means that the MC may differ between the core layers and the top hardwood veneer layer and can measure differently at different depths.
However, the same can be said of the MC on the top face of solid wood flooring versus the MC at the back (or bottom). An accurate wood moisture meter is a wise investment for both engineered and solid wood flooring, because it can utilize MC data to streamline the refinishing process for success.
A wood moisture meter is a powerful ally in that mandate.
Moisture Content Equilibrium
Equilibrium moisture content (EMC) is a balance between the MC of the wood and the relative humidity (RH) and temperature of its environment. Lumber mills try to optimally dry their products to reach its EMC prior to shipping, but wood can continually gain or lose MC until it is in balance with its surrounding environment. Excessive MC can destabilize the wood flooring’s future performance standards.
Wood moisture meter technology helps refinishers to monitor the wood’s EMC while refurbishing a wood flooring surface. In effect, users can deploy a wood moisture meter to measure and assess the flooring’s MC. Pinless-style meters can measure the MC usually from 1/4″ – 3/4″ thick, depending upon the manufacturer. Pin-style meters can measure even deeper, although for flooring it is generally unnecessary because flooring boards are not very thick. Wood moisture meter readings inform refinishers if the engineered or solid wood flooring is dry enough for sanding and re-buffing.
Changes to the ambient RH in the surrounding environment also influence the moisture levels of the flooring throughout the refinishing process. This is a natural, ongoing process and does not indicate a flaw in the wood. Therefore, users can instantly run a pinless moisture meter along the surface for instantaneous MC readings. Pin-style meters give the same information, of course, but take more effort and also leave marks in the flooring. When the MC is verified, refinishers can then safely proceed with sanding and/or buffing of moisture-stabilized wood flooring in need of refinishing.
The Finishing Touch
Flooring finishes are diversifying with more eco-friendly ingredients. However, self-motivated refinishers need to match manufacturers’ specifications for both the wood flooring and their finishes. Here again, MC is crucial. Incompatible products may produce chemical reactions, which can jeopardize the wood flooring or the final finish appearance or performance.
Wood flooring, including subfloors, may contain MC legacies of the past, good or bad. The key is to measure and verify the MC of the wood flooring previous to refinishing to ensure that the flooring is good to go. When it is, refinishers are free to engage the appropriate treatment to restore wood floors to their prime conditions for optimum strength and performance levels for many years to come.