Hardwood flooring has no shortage of esoteric terminology. Grade, strip number, thickness, durability, texture—it’s enough to make your head spin.
As far as we’re concerned, however, there are two terms whose importance rises above the rest when it comes to understanding the beauty of natural wood floors: character and variation. They’re two words you’re likely to hear often when shopping for your floors. But do you know what they mean?
In what follows, we’ll take a look at the meaning behind both character and variation, and how each of these concepts is integral to the unique beauty of each board that makes up your flooring.
You probably have a sense of what’s meant by a wood’s character. At the highest level, character is the unique complexity of the wood—the same way you would refer to a person’s character.
More specifically, character refers to the elements that make up the overall look and feel of your flooring. These elements include the amount and size of imperfections in the wood. And these imperfections can be natural—such as knots or natural cracks—or produced—such as scraping or wire brushing.
Knowing what to look for when it comes to character will help you make an informed decision on the best hardwood floors for your home. Three of the most important factors to understand are grade, production method, and surface treatment.
Grade is essentially the measurement of a wood’s character. While there is no universal grading system and you’re likely to come across different terminology for each grade, there is general consensus on what each grade entails. (The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) does have an established grading system, but it is limited to certain domestic species. To see photos of the different NWFA grades, click here.)
The four grades assigned to wood are:
1. Prime (also called Clear or AB)
2. Select (also called ABC)
3. Natural (also called Character, Aged Character, #1 Common, or ABCD), and
4. Rustic (also called Barn, #2 Common, or CD).
Each grade is determined by a wood’s character, which itself is influenced by sap content, color variance, and number of knots. Prime grade wood has minimal sap with uniform color and very few knots. Rustic grade has the most sap with a large range of colors and many knots.
At DuChâteau, we offer two primary grades of wood flooring: Select Grade and Aged Character.
Select grade wood makes for a smooth, uniform surface. Its modern look is free from the distressing you’ll find in aged character grade wood. Select grade wood offers an even consistency in grain, minimizing differences in color and texture between planks.
By contrast, aged character grade wood is more reminiscent of an old-world floor. This grade is designed to highlight the patterns, knots and cracks in the wood’s free-form natural grain.
In addition to the natural imperfections measured by grading, a wood’s character is also determined by the way it’s produced. At DuChâteau, we use four different production methods for the floors we offer, each of which imparts different character to the wood.
1. Distressing: For a vintage look and feel that doesn’t compromise the uniformity of installation, wood is distressed by hand-scraping with a metal edge to remove the surface layer. This gives the wood greater texture. Hand-sculpting takes the process further, yielding more natural distressing around raised knots and enhancing the organic contours of the wood.
2. Smoking: When smoked, the tannins in the wood react to heat and create darker grey shades. The longer the treatment, the deeper the color. Since tannins vary from plank to plank, the color will vary across the floor, resulting in an authentically rustic character.
3. Brushing: Wire-brushing creates extra accentuation by removing soft wood and further highlighting its texture. This process also increases the floor’s durability and resistance to impact. As a result, scratches and imperfections become less apparent over the years, revealing even more of the wood’s unique character.
4. Carbonization: This unique process exposes the wood to alternating extreme heat and freezing temperatures. The carbonization that results naturally strengthens the wood while dramatically aging its appearance.
One final element that’s important to determining the character of your hardwood floors is the texture imbued during surface treatment. A variety of textures exist, each of which highlight a wood’s natural contouring, as well as the milling process itself, in its own distinct way:
- Smooth with chiseled bevel
- Smooth with micro-bevel
- Wire-brush with micro-bevel
- Wire-brush with chiseled bevel
- Hand-sculpted with pillowed bevel
- Pronounced wire-brush
- Cross-grain sawn with micro-bevel
- Hand-sculpted with pronounced wire-brush
- Hand-scraped with wire-brush
- Hand-scraped with pillowed bevel
Part and parcel with your hardwood floor’s unique character is its variation. Variation refers to the differences in color, texture, lightness and darkness that occur both across your floors and among individual planks themselves. Because wood is a natural product, no two floor boards will ever be alike. Variation—of both coloring and the shades within that coloring—is integral to the beauty of your wood.
Variation is determined by many factors. Three of the most important are the naturally occurring variation in the wood itself, the finish used to bring out the wood’s range of colors and textures, and finally the time and use of the wood over the years.
A range of factors affect the natural variation of wood that goes into your floors:
- The tree species
- The climate and character of the location where the tree grew
- The time of year the tree was felled
- The sawing and drying process
- Whether or not the wood was milled
- The length of time it was stored
Even boards from the same tree will accept a stain differently, however. Generally, lighter stains allow more of the wood’s natural imperfections to show, so you can expect to see more variation from plank to plank. Dark stains, meanwhile, tend to mask imperfections, resulting in a look that is smoother and more uniform.
Variations in Finish
When it comes to hardwood floors, there are many different types of finishes to choose from, each of which can dramatically affect variation within the wood.
DuChâteau Hardwoods use a hard-wax oil finish rather than the typical high-gloss polyurethane finishes. Hard-wax oil provides a much subtler matte aesthetic that results in a natural look and feel. The finish we use is all natural and free of pollutants, toxins, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as biocides, benzene, and preservatives.
Instead, it’s made from purified and renewable natural ingredients including natural waxes and vegetable oil. Apart from making it environmentally friendly, its natural ingredients give hard-wax oil finish an open grain structure, which allows the floor to breathe. This regulates moisture and contributes to a healthy room climate.
Variation Over Time & Use
One final contributor to variation is naturally occurring time and use. Over the years, most floors will darken into richer shade variations than those they had on the day they were installed. Some species may lighten, however. Again, this natural process is just one of the unique characteristics of wood flooring.
The advantage of a wood floor, in fact, is that it gets better with age. Both the character and variation become richer and more complex, telling an increasingly interesting story about the origin of the wood and its life within the walls of your home.
At DuChâteau, this is why we love natural wood flooring. Character and variation ensure that each board is a unique work of art, resulting in a floor that is the centerpiece of a living, breathing, luxury design environment.
Contact us today to learn more about the character and variation of our many hardwood styles, colors, and finishes. 1.888.382.4283