It’s so easy to buy products without knowing where they came from and the path they took before they landed at our door step. Without really knowing where, knowing something deeper than a label that only says, “Made in ______.” Without knowing how the products were made, and how that sets them apart from similar products.
For many goods – T-shirts, frying pans, screwdrivers (flat, Phillips or with OJ) – it hardly matters. That information often has little to do with the final look and performance that sets it apart from any other T-shirt, pan or screwdriver. Not so for hardwood floors.
The cut of wood, the angle of how boards are cut from a tree, affects the final appearance of the wood flooring. It affects board widths, graining and character revealed. It affects a floor’s performance, how it responds to wetter and drier seasons, and climate regions.
Proper drying of the wood is significant for successful performance once installed as a floor. Those climate regions and seasons have an impact on the drying process – and acclimation to a specific home or business environment where it's to be used.
Accurate milling is critical. Correct grading is essential. Care of the wood flooring, from its production steps all the way to its installation, is important.
It all starts with that first cut, deep in the forest.
How Wood Goes from Forest to Floor
Well-managed forests include being selective about which trees to cut, when to cut them, how and why. These five broad steps describe the process of producing flooring milled from wood cut from mature trees in a managed forest.
Step 1. Trees are cut down when they have reached maturity or beyond. The trees are cut into sections at specified lengths. Wood flooring commonly is used in lengths up to eight feet, though it can be found in even longer lengths. The tree’s branches are cut off, and the tree is delivered to the mill.
Step 2. At the mill, the bark is removed. Rounded edges are removed to cut square logs, which are cut into slabs. The method maximizes lumber. It’s trued and trimmed square, and turned into lumber board. Boards are sorted by quality and classified by grade.
The highest grade wood is used for furniture, cabinets and musical instruments, followed by wood selected for wood flooring, construction and shipping pallets. Bark, saw dust and other wood fiber often are used for other purposes, such as being formed into pellets to be burned as fuel for heating a home.
Step 3. Boards are stacked to facilitate air flow that air dries the wood, reducing moisture content of the wood. The goal is to reach 18-30 percent moisture content.
Step 4. Kiln-drying uses heat (100 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit) and air flow to further reduce moisture content, to limit wood shrinkage and damage. The heat in the kiln also sterilizes the wood, eliminating insects and fungi. The wood is dried to six to nine percent moisture content.
Step 5. Lumber is cut to desired length. Boards with knots and flaws are pulled out, according to grade. The board edges are milled for tongue and groove. The board faces are planed, and the backs are grooved. Tongue-and-groove tolerances are evaluated. The board ends are milled for tongue and groove. The wood flooring receives final grading, then it’s packaged, stored in a controlled environment and, ultimately, shipped.