Unfinished vs. Prefinished

Two Main Types of Hardwood Flooring

Wood Floors can be broken down into two main categories, prefinished and unfinished. Both floorings have their unique advantages and drawbacks, so it is important for you to educate yourself on each. Both hardwood floor types can provide a beautiful look to your home décor; however only you will know what’s right for your house.


This flooring is called unfinished because it is delivered and installed without any finish on it. The wood is in its raw state. Only after the installation is your floor sanded, sealed and finished. Because they are finished on site, they are often referred to as “site-finished floors.” This type of flooring is not readily available on the consumer market and is almost always purchased by the flooring contractor. The advantages of unfinished are:

  • Seamless, uniform appearance
  • Flexibility of design (it’s easier to incorporate borders, inlays and medallions)
  • Almost limitless color selection

Seamless, Uniform Appearance:

Because unfinished flooring must be sanded, all boards will be sanded even with the adjacent boards. After the floor is complete, you should be able to slide a nickel across the surface without it jumping around much (We don’t actually recommend doing that as you could scratch the wood). The idea is that the hardwood floor looks like a seamless surface.

Flexibility of Design:

It’s much easier incorporate design ideas, such as, borders, inlays and medallions into an unfinished floor. Whether you add a border of a different species or tie in perpendicular transitions to doorways, those areas of differences get sanded flush while still adding an accent to the seamless appearance. It’s not that you can’t have accent features with prefinished floors, however the bevels on prefinished products and the fact that the floor never gets sanded, make it more difficult to achieve the desired effect.

Almost Limitless Color Selection:

After an unfinished floor is sanded, you can choose to have it stained to change its “natural color.” Within any quality stain brand, you will find dozens of colors of which can be mixed to achieve even more color variations. Mixing colors is often used when trying to color match furniture, base or existing flooring. Some species take stain better than others and this should be taken into consideration when choosing a species. 

Two drawbacks to using unfinished flooring:

  • Sanding and finishing can be time consuming
  • Without proper dustless equipment, it can be messy (Check out Our Dustless Sanding page)

Time Consuming:

After the floor is installed, unfinished flooring has to be sanded and finished. The sanding and finishing can double the length of time for the project. It typically takes a few extra days to finish a project in order to get the results you desire, but it’s something you should take into consideration.


Everybody knows that sanding floors creates a lot of dust. With a high quality “dust containment unit,” designed especially for hardwood floor sanding, the sanding process will actually be cleaner than removing carpet or installing the floor. These systems add time to each job for setup, so expect dustless services to be a higher per square foot price than those without. If a clean installation matters to you like it does to us, dustless sanding is worth the investment.


Any flooring that has all the finish coats applied before the installation process begins, is referred to as “prefinished flooring.” Because prefinished products are more readily available to consumers, you can expect to find a wide range of quality on the market. But this also gives you the opportunity to shop for and purchase the product yourself. The advantages of prefinished are:

  • No onsite sanding or finishing is needed
  • The finish is applied in a factory-controlled setting
  • Higher end products can have an extremely durable finish

No onsite sanding:

Because the flooring has gone through the finishing process prior to the installation, the floor is complete when the installation is done. This saves on the time that it would normally take to sand and finish the floors, not to mention there will be no dust from sanding.  There might be some dust, especially if saws aren’t hooked up to vacuums, but it won’t be nearly as cloudy as if you had the floors sanded.

Finish is applied in a controlled environment:

When the finish is applied in a controlled factory setting, you don’t have to worry about airborne dust or debris being coated into your floors. These controlled settings allow for an almost flawless finish application, which is especially helpful when the desired sheen is semi-gloss or gloss.

Potential for extremely durable finish:

Since the finish is applied in a factory-controlled setting, special finishes can be applied that would be impractical on a “site finished” floor. Finishes such as aluminum-oxide and UV-cured urethanes are significantly more durable than anything that is typically used for “site finished” floors. However, these finishes add to the cost and aren’t going to be found on the cheaper products. It must also be noted that some manufactures will apply one coat of aluminum-oxide so they can market the flooring as having an aluminum-oxide finish. If you have any questions about the durability of your floor coating, talk to the supplier or ask us when you request a free estimate.

  • What our customers have to say…

    “We so appreciate Jim’s professionalism, honesty, respect, eye to detail, and woodworking skill. He is a perfectionist not only with the install but also with the cleanup at the end of each day. Our beautiful new floors have dramatically changed the look of our home and everyone who comes to visit will comment on the change. We are extremely happy with our new floors.”

    Ron and Carol Halverson, West Fargo, ND

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