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The Journey of Wood Flooring – Part 1

European timber forest

A few months ago, the VidaSpace team had a webinar session with Simon Myatt from Havwoods, one of our Global Partners and suppliers, about the journey of wood flooring. This journey includes the story behind the growth of timber, the making of the engineered wood flooring and key points on specifying wood flooring for each project. The objectives are to identify the different flooring types, manufacturing techniques and the process of production and specifying and to understand the importance of how the wood flooring is sourced, the meaning of deforestation and its differences between being sustainably sourced.

Process of growing and harvesting

First of all, where does the wood come from?

Well, forests cover 31% of the Earth surface, being a total coverage of four billion hectares, the same as eight billion football pitches approximately. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2020, the countries with the largest forest areas are the Russian Federation and Brazil, followed by Canada, the USA, China, Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Peru and India, in that order. Besides, a large proportion of the forests is in protected areas, so 54% of the Earth’s total forest area is in the long-term forest management plan.

Likewise, there are around 60,000 wood species worldwide summarised into ten families and three main types with diverse characteristics mentioned below:

  • The tropical hardwoods grow in tropical environments like the Amazon rainforest, Southeast Asia and other areas near the Equator. They are strong and heavy timbers, resistant to pressure, temperature and humidity changes. They take centuries to reach maturity and a lot longer to reach peak harvest since they grow very slowly. Therefore, the layers grow closer together and the grain is more tightened, making the density of the timber harder, so they expand and contract less, being more stable than some other types and usually rich and darker in colour, such as teak and mahogany.
  • The temperate hardwoods have more mixed characteristics and are lighter colouring than tropical timbers, although they have similar levels of strength and growth type. These are timbers like oak, birch, beech and cherry.
  • The softwoods can grow in different environments, but more often, in colder climates. They are faster growing, so their grain and growth rings are wider apart, making them more malleable and workable, which also mean they are more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, such as douglas fir, pine and spruce.

To indicate the quality of timber to make wood flooring, the British Standard BS EN 350:2016 controls the suitability, durability, grading and resistance to external factors like humidity, fungus and temperature. So when we talk about the quality of wood flooring it is not only the certifications it holds but also the standards that control the quality.

The vocabulary of a tree

Furthermore, to familiarize with the different wood types, it is important to understand how a tree grows and its composition. A tree grows in layers and produces rings each year, so when looking at how close the growth rings of an oak tree are together, you can tell the number of years and the kind of weather it has been. For example, the closer the rings are together, the dryer it has been, with very little rain and water, and the further apart, it’s been a cold and wet summer.

From the outside in, the visible layer of a tree is the outer bark, which is the dead tissue that protects the inner tree from outside harsh conditions until it falls off. Below the outer bark is the inner bark, which acts like food transport and is part of the photosynthesis process until it dies off and becomes the outer bark. The next layer is the cambium layer, known as the growth layer, which produces the wood and grows out to become the inner bark and in to become the sapwood.

The sapwood is used for flooring and is part of the story of grading. It is the water pipeline, carries liquid up and down the tree. For this reason, it contains moisture, so it has a different chemical content from the structural heartwood, making it a lighter colour than the rest of the tree. Then there is the heartwood which is the hardest and more durable part of the tree. Although it doesn’t have a living function, it is the structural part of the tree, the framework for the tree to grow around, hence, the most used part for flooring and furnishings. Finally, at the centre of the tree, it’s the pith, which is the seed that becomes the rest of the tree.

Nowadays, the most common types of trees for wood flooring are:

  • Oak: Predominately used for wood flooring due to its malleability, durability and versatility, making it possible to create many different colours, shades and textures.
  • Birch: Great substrate for the base of engineered flooring for its stability and durability.
  • Fir: It is softwood, so it is not as durable since it requires care, but it can make beautiful wide planks.
  • Teak: Tropical timbers are great for flooring but difficult to sustainably source in commercial quantities, making the cost higher.

When choosing and deciding on the most appropriate timber flooring for a client or project, the combination of species and surface finishes is key. The main things to consider are the colour, texture and maintenance. For example, a heavily textured and darker floor will hide more scratches and be more forgiving than a smooth uniform light floor.

” Wood is universally beautiful to man. It is the most humanly intimate of all materials.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

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