Floor Finishes

Final Coats are Armor

Applying finish is the last step in the finishing process. Finishes affect the floors appearance and give it protection. Usually 2-3 coats are needed for adequate protection of the floor. Manufacturers spend a lot of money trying to develop finishes that have great durability without sacrificing the appearance of the floor.  This has led to thousands of finish products being introduced to the market, which can make it difficult to know which finish is right for you.

Here some terms you will see describing finishes:

  • Oil-modified urethane
  • Water-based urethane
  • Acid-cured
  • Moisture-cured
  • UV-cured
  • Oxygen cross-linked
  • Two-part catalyzed
  • Penetrating oil
  • Swedish
  • Conversion varnish

There is just way too much information to give detailed accounts of each type of finish. Instead let’s just focus on what information matters to you.

Oil-Modified Urethane (OMU):

OMUs are easy to apply, give a warm, amber color and are moderately priced. They also offer a fair amount of durability, but have strong odors and can turn yellow or orange overtime. The longer dry time makes them easier for a novice to apply, but can delay a professional from applying multiple coats in a day. Although quality OMUs have a beautiful look they are becoming less popular with the growing advantages of water-based products. OMUs typically cost less than water-based products, but that cost can be offset because of the additional time it takes for installers to apply it.

Bottom line: OMUs are ideal for the do-it-yourselfer because of their low cost and slow dry time

Water-Based Urethane (WBU):

WBUs are fast drying, non-yellowing, have very little odor, offer great durability and can give your floor an excellent look. Their fast dry-time makes them very difficult to apply without prior experience, but allows them to be easily coated twice in a day by a professional. Several finish manufactures offer two-part catalyzed WBUs that are extremely durable while maintaining a great appearance. Theses finishes are often used as only the top-coat to keep the cost down and still provide durability. Although they are often marketed as a “commercial finish,” they are becoming very popular for use in residential homes. Compared to OMUs, you can expect to see a higher price per square foot for WBUs and an even higher price for the two-part catalyzed (commercial) versions.

Bottom line: WBUs are ideal for professionals. They cost more, but are more efficient to apply. 

Penetrating Oils (Buffing Oil):

Penetrating oils, or Buffing Oils, such as Rubio Monocoat and Magic Oil are becoming very popular.  They offer a very unique, natural look with a variety of color options while maintaining great durability.  When it comes to their durability, the have some distinct advantages or normal urethans, but have some drawbacks also. 

UV Cured:

Although, UV Cured Finishes have been on the market for quite a while, they have been notoriously difficult to apply and quite expensive, even for professionals.  However, a few companies such as ProCoat and Loba have developed great UV finishes that have a great appearance and surpass the durability of even the commercial waterborne products.  Most flooring companies dont offer UV due to the expense of the lights and equipment.  For those companies that do offer it, except the price to be quite a bit higher for this service in comparison to normal urethanes.

Moisture Cure:

Moisture cure is an “old school” finish with fantastic durability.  Many of the floors done 20 years ago with MC still look great today, with one big drawback.  This finish tends to yellow quite a bit, especially with natural light.  The other large drawback that has cause most finish companies to quit using this finish, is that it was very toxic.  Homeowners were required to leave the house during the process and airing the house out afterwards was a must.  

Finish Sheen

Think of sheen in terms of “shininess.” There are more or less, three types of sheen: gloss, semi-gloss and satin. Sheen will have an impact on the appearance of your floor. Be sure you know what you’re getting.


Gloss is the shiniest sheen and has a “wet” look. It is often thought of as having a very high-end appearance (think French Polish). However, it can be very difficult to achieve satisfactory results with gloss when finishing on-site due to its high amount of reflection. Gloss is harder to maintain because it shows dust, scratches and scuffs more easily. As a result, it is seldom used in a residential setting. Gloss is usually only recommended in unique circumstances.


Although semi-gloss is less shiny than gloss, it still maintains a fair amount of shine. Many homeowners with site-finished floors choose semi-gloss for its compromise of shine and maintainability.


Satin has the least shine of the three and gives floors what’s called a matte appearance. This is a popular choice for homeowners. It has a silky appearance and is the easiest to maintain out of all three finishes.  Satin has a wonderful ability to “hide” small surface scratches and scuffs. This is the most common sheen for site-finished floors.


Matte finishes are become much more popular as people are desiring a more natural look combined with a finish that is easy to take care of.  Matte finishes are extremely low sheen and would include finishes such as buffing oils such as Rubio Monocoat and commercial urethanes such as Traffic HD Matte, DuraClear Max Flat and Loba Invisible.

  • 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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