In the world of high-end construction and remodeling, wide-plank flooring jobs are on the rise. Planks with widths of twelve inches or more make sense for bigger rooms, where narrow planks can make them look too much like bowling alleys — which is probably not the ambiance you’re after. As the trend toward hardwood flooring goes mainstream, wider planks join reclaimed and rustic lumber in offering upscale clients the unique sophisticated look they’re after. With the distinctive beauty of wide-plank flooring come a few difficulties — some related to obtaining and milling suitable lumber.
Just like longer boards limit the options available, large amounts of wide flooring planks are only available in a limited number of species. Since large rooms are the ones to which wide-plank flooring is best suited, the high number of boards needed can cause a problem, especially when matching color and grain patterns is a must. Some inconsistency is inevitable, but a well-chosen finishing technique can color the wood and blend the variations.
To understand this issue better, let’s consider the ever-popular Walnut lumber. The deep chocolate tones make this species a favorite, generation after generation. However, this species seldom yields more than 1 or 2 good wide boards per tree. Defects make it workable if you’re looking for a rustic appearance, but even then, shorter lengths may be the only way to secure the number of wide-plank boards you need. The exotic species Wenge can be a suitable alternative, since it more readily offers wide planks. Another alternative to Walnut would be to use another species but to stain it darker brown. Of course, whether you choose to import Wenge or stain another species, the project cost will be directly affected.
Wide planks are usually created from complete cross-sections – the widest points of trees. These boards are also typically flatsawn for a maximum width yield. Coming from the center of the tree in order to use the entire trunk diameter means that the board will have two edges with the ultimate stability that comes from quarter- and rift-sawn grain; however, you’ll also have the volatile center area of the tree in the middle of those ideal edges. While the quartersawn edges will respond to changes in moisture levels by expanding and contracting across the thickness of each board, the central point in your boards will expand and contract across the width of each plank. The problem that can result is the creation of a hinge-like effect in which the outer stable edges cup around the central area.
Other than reducing the width of each board, you cannot avoid including the central pith. The following steps can be taken in order to reduce such stability issues:
• Carefully drying the wood for optimum moisture control
• Slowly and steadily milling and re-milling the boards for ultimate acclimatization
At J. Gibson McIlvain, we’re committed to providing our clients with properly dried and milled wide-plank flooring options and are happy to discuss further benefits and concerns regarding this new trend in high-end hardwood flooring.