The board walk

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Wooden floors are beautiful, natural, healthy, and get better with age – and are ideal almost everywhere in the house, says Katherine Sorrell

Sand back your old floors
If you are renovating, the simplest and cheapest option is often simply to sand back the boards that are already there. Not every floor is worth sanding, however. The effort of removing copious amounts of nails may be too much, or the floor may be riddled with woodworm, be too uneven, or made of such poor quality wood, that replacing would actually be better.

If you are planning to sand, the first job is to mend or replace any boards that are damaged, hopefully with matching second hand boards (if you use new boards you will have to stain them later to match). Make sure you hammer down protruding nail heads before you start sanding.

Using reclaimed floors
The aged patina of reclaimed boards is absolutely beautiful, but such authenticity does not come cheap – do not expect to pay substantially less than for new boards, while common problems include woodworm, ingrained dirt and stains, dents and splits, variations in thickness or colour, broken tongue and groove, and the need to remove or countersink thousands of old rusty nails.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Ask where the wood came from and how it has been stored since it was reclaimed – timber that has stood outside for any length of time may be useless, and would certainly need to dry out considerably before it could be used again. The rule of thumb is that pine is cheaper than oak, and narrower boards are cheaper than wider ones.

Fitting a new timber floor
New timber floors can be fitted anywhere in the house, on solid or suspended floors, though they’re often not advised for bathrooms or other wet areas. This is because wood expands and contracts according to the humidity of the room. Can you fit a timber floor if you want underfloor heating? The answer is yes, though timber does not give quite as high a heat output as a concrete floor. When retro-fitting, it may be possible to lay new boards over old ones – but only if they are very even, and usually covered with 18-20mm of ply to give a substantial base. Bear in mind that you will raise your floor level and that, when fixing the floor down, you’ll need to avoid any pipes and wires that may run beneath the existing floor.

Types of timber
The main choice you’ll be faced with is between solid wood, engineered wood and laminate.

Solid wood is just that – whatever type of wood it is goes all the way through, so it looks entirely natural and can be sanded again and again. It’s available in the form of boards, strips (less than 10cm wide), blocks (extremely strong, laid in patterns such as herringbone and basket weave) and parquet (like blocks, but thinner).

Engineered wood (sometimes called multi-layer or, confusingly, laminated) is made from layers of solid timber or a veneer of solid timber on top of MDF, plywood, chipboard or softwood, with a balancing veneer beneath. Most are made up of either three or five layers, cross-bonded for greater stability. A top layer of at least 5mm allows for limited sanding if necessary.

Laminates generally comprise a resin-impregnated decorative paper surface layer (with photographs of real wood) bonded to a thin MDF or chipboard core. With cheap versions it’s easy to spot the pattern repeat and they’re not awfully durable, but more expensive versions are incredibly tough and come with long guarantees.

Timber floors are given ‘grades’ describing their appearance (nothing to do with quality or durability). They vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but are often called ‘select’, ‘natural’ and ‘rustic’ or ‘country’. As you might imagine, they therefore range from very even in colour and grain to rather gnarled and knotty. ‘Rustic’ grades are the cheapest and ‘select’ the most expensive.

They are beautiful, natural, healthy, and get better with age – wooden floors are ideal almost everywhere in the house, says Katherine Sorrell

Sand back your old floors
If you are renovating, the simplest and cheapest option is often simply to sand back the boards that are already there. Not every floor is worth sanding, however. The effort of removing copious amounts of nails may be too much, or the floor may be riddled with woodworm, be too uneven, or made of such poor quality wood, that replacing would actually be better.

If you are planning to sand, the first job is to mend or replace any boards that are damaged, hopefully with matching second hand boards (if you use new boards you will have to stain them later to match). Make sure you hammer down protruding nail heads before you start sanding.

Using reclaimed floors
The aged patina of reclaimed boards is absolutely beautiful, but such authenticity does not come cheap – do not expect to pay substantially less than for new boards, while common problems include woodworm, ingrained dirt and stains, dents and splits, variations in thickness or colour, broken tongue and groove, and the need to remove or countersink thousands of old rusty nails.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Ask where the wood came from and how it has been stored since it was reclaimed – timber that has stood outside for any length of time may be useless, and would certainly need to dry out considerably before it could be used again. The rule of thumb is that pine is cheaper than oak, and narrower boards are cheaper than wider ones.

Fitting a new timber floor
New timber floors can be fitted anywhere in the house, on solid or suspended floors, though they’re often not advised for bathrooms or other wet areas. This is because wood expands and contracts according to the humidity of the room. Can you fit a timber floor if you want underfloor heating? The answer is yes, though timber does not give quite as high a heat output as a concrete floor. When retro-fitting, it may be possible to lay new boards over old ones – but only if they are very even, and usually covered with 18-20mm of ply to give a substantial base. Bear in mind that you will raise your floor level and that, when fixing the floor down, you’ll need to avoid any pipes and wires that may run beneath the existing floor.

Timber floors are given ‘grades’ describing their appearance (nothing to do with quality or durability). They vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but are often called ‘select’, ‘natural’ and ‘rustic’ or ‘country’. As you might imagine, they therefore range from very even in colour and grain to rather gnarled and knotty. ‘Rustic’ grades are the cheapest and ‘select’ the most expensive.

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