In a time not far gone, restoring old hardwood floors or finishing wood floors on site was the bulk of wood flooring contractors’ projects. But in the last two decades, a curious phenomenon has changed the wood floor industry. The interest in having floors sanded and finished has been rapidly taken over by an overwhelming preference for throwing out the old and installing prefinished engineered wood.
The change seems strange to the old-school, real wood flooring artisans who understand that the beauty of professionally restored or finished-on-site hardwood floors is unmatchable, and who cannot come to terms with the customers’ reluctance to choose this path. But this is not a class of professionals who have much time for marketing their craft or explaining the value of sanding and finishing to unconvinced home and business owners. They simply find themselves in less demand and are left wondering what happened to their art.
Is sanding and finishing wood floors becoming a lost art?
We live in a society that manufactures and consumes at record speed and is perfectly at ease with throwing away the old and replacing it with the new. But the diminishing demand for hardwood floor sanding and finishing jobs has other causes that don’t have to do with the flaws or virtues of society. Here are some of them, the way that we have seen them play their part in our industry.
Unprofessional Jobs Give the Craft a Bad Name
We could call this section The Proliferation of Non-professionals. Many times, the reluctance to sand and finish wood floors comes from the highly circulated opinion that, nowadays, it is impossible to find a good sander and finisher. This happens because some wood flooring contractors who lack the certification, expertise or interest in doing a good job give the craft a bad name. Sometimes, they simply do a buff-and-coat job, convincingly call it “hardwood floor restoration”, then leave the customer uncertain about the result and wondering if this wood floor refinishing deal is worth the money.
Customers are right – excellent sanders and finishers start to look more and more like an endangered species. But they do exist, and their exemplary work saves many hardwood floors and lots of customers’ money.
Wood Floor Contractors Take the Easy Path
Wood floor sanding and finishing is not a job that everyone can do. You cannot learn it by reading, looking or taking notes. Extensive experience under the knowledgeable eyes of a wood floor craftsman is the only way to go. For this particular reason, the job of installing prefinished hardwood floors and the tendency to avoid sanding and finishing is more attractive not only to customers, but to the wood floors contractors as well. It is an easier job for them, too.
Of course, such wood flooring contractors do not have any interest in explaining to customers that their uneven floors would be better off with customizable, unfinished planks. That their prefinished wood floors will be harder to sand later, when they would have lost their initial luster. Or that, one fateful day, their engineered planks may very well be discontinued. So they end up convincing their customers that sanding and finishing are things of the past, and, because they are the professionals, customers believe them.
Lack of Good Marketing
While anyone could understand why installing prefinished hardwood floors is preferable, it takes knowledge, experience and a little appetite for conversation to show someone why sanding and finishing on site is a good idea. But sanders and finishers like sanding and finishing – and not necessarily doing exposés or gathering arguments. As a result, few customers are told, for instance, that investing in wood floors that are finished on-site might have a better return on investment than choosing prefinished wood. This is because solid hardwood floors are considered part of the house structure, while prefinished engineered wood is seen as a simple floor covering.
In conclusion, less and less wood floor contractors help customers understand the value of sanding and finishing on site. With the bulk of wood flooring jobs concentrating on the installation of prefinished woods, the general attitude starts to creep in that good sanders and finishers are a species on the verge of extinction and that avoiding sanding and finishing increases the chances of a successful job. The demand for sanders and finishers decreases, and their number follows.
And so the vicious circle continues, while sanding and finishing jobs dwindle down, causing the diminishing number of professional wood floor craftsmen to wonder what happened to their art.
Our hope is that, with a little effort on educating our customers, they are going to see the value of saving and restoring their old hardwood floors. Armed with a little bit of knowledge, they will more often choose the refinishing path or the finishing on-site option, the only one that can give them customized, unique and truly spectacular results.
Indeed, responding to the declining demand, less and less people do this job well. But wood floor professionals that offer excellent wood floor restoration services are still at hand. In addition, with a resurgence of the desire for customized looks and for restoring the beauty of antique floors, such jobs are likely to come back.
Finally, the National Wood Floor Association offers a certification directed exclusively for sanders and finishers. This is a clear sign that sanders and finishers need a very particular set of skills that wood floor installers may simply not have. For customers, this means that requiring their contractors to have such a certification increases their chance to see their floors perfectly restored to their original glory.