European hardening oils, also known as natural oil finishes, are frequently used to coat hardwood floors in high-end homes and buildings, and they’re great to use on wide plank wood floors.
First, we’ll explain what a European hardening oil finish actually is, and how it compares to other types of hardwood floor finishes. Then we’ll explain the various benefits of using this type of finish on your wide plank hardwood floors.
What is a natural oil finish?
European hardening oil is also known as a natural oil finish or a European-style oil finish, and is primarily composed of hard-pressed vegetable oils and hardening oils. This type of finish penetrates the wood, bonding with it at a molecular level, and hardens to form a protective surface that is remarkably durable.
Natural oil finish is quite different from surface finishes like those composed of polyurethane, which you are probably used to. It also offers a number of unique benefits compared to its alternatives, namely:
#1: Doesn’t detract from the natural appearance of the wood
European hardening oils elevate the natural appearance of the wood rather than covering it up like other types of finish tend to do.
Whereas traditional polyurethane-based oil finishes can lend the wood a “plasticky” look, a European hardening oil finish simply enhances the appearance of the wood without adding anything to it. It accentuates the wood’s natural beauty while protecting it.
This is an especially important factor when working with wide plank hardwood floors because you want to make sure the finish you choose exhibits the beautiful natural graining and markings, rather than covering them up.
Although one of the main benefits of a natural oil finish is the fact that it doesn’t drastically alter the appearance of the wood, custom colors are available. You can select natural finishes that add certain effects to the floor, like a weather-worn patina or antique lye.
#2: Matte appearance
Natural oil finishes create a matte look in the wood which, as we covered in our blog post about 2017 wide plank flooring trends, is becoming an increasingly popular look in homes and high-end luxury settings alike.
A matte appearance creates a low-sheen, low-luster floor that is naturally elegant — it doesn’t have to brag! This makes it a great choice for reclaimed wide plank floors because it accentuates the natural character of the wood without adding a distracting sheen.
#3: Increased durability
Whereas other types of finish sit on top of the wood to create a protective wear layer, a natural oil finish actually bonds with the wood at a molecular level. As it cures, this type of finish actually becomes part of the floor, providing lasting durability.
Scratches will usually just blend in with the texture of the wood since there is no surface layer to contrast with. And if any serious damage does happen, a floor with natural oil finish is easy to touch up.
Since it penetrates the wood instead of sitting on top of it, European hardening oil has an additional benefit: it allows the wood to breathe.
If you’re looking for your next project to be more eco-friendly, look no further than a natural oil finish. Most natural oil finishes–including those manufactured by WOCA–are free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), or have a very low VOC count.
This makes them great to use in projects with vulnerable populations, and helps you do your part in saving the planet.
Plus, the fact that a floor covered with a natural oil finish will rarely need to be refinished goes a long way towards saving the environment. You won’t have to use polyurethane finishes (which often have high VOC counts) or refinish the floor–instead, just touch it up.
As such, many natural oil finishes can contribute LEED points to your projects, making them a great option for architects or interior designers who are interested in green building projects or like to use their eco-friendly approach as a selling point for clients.
#5: Easy maintenance and touch-ups
If you have a household with a lot of foot traffic from children, pets, and guests, European hardening oils are a great choice. They offer increased durability compared to other finishes from the get-go, and if they do become damaged, they are a lot easier to repair than a traditional polyurethane-based finish.
Rather than refinishing the entire floor in order to repair one damaged section — as you would have to do with a traditional oil-based polyurethane finish — simply apply a wood-friendly cleaning solution and re-oil the affected area.
Over time, a natural oil finish produces a patina that ages with the wood, so it never acquires the dull, outworn look that can sometimes occur with surface finishes.