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Hardwood Floor Articles:

Unfinished Vs Prefinished Wood Floors

Wood floors can be broken down into two main categories, prefinished and unfinished. Both floorings have their unique advantages and drawbacks, so it is essential to educate yourself on each. Both hardwood floor types can provide a beautiful look to your home décor; however, only you will know what's suitable for your house.

Pre-Finished wood flooring
Pre-finished floors have very visible bevels between the joints

Pros of Unfinished Wood Flooring:

This flooring is called unfinished because it is delivered and installed without any finish on it. The wood is in its raw state. Only after the installation is your floor sanded, sealed and finished. Because they are finished on-site, they are often referred to as “site-finished floors.” This type of flooring is not readily available on the consumer market and is almost always purchased by the flooring contractor.

The advantages of unfinished are:

  1. Seamless, uniform appearance
  2. Flexibility of design (it’s easier to incorporate borders, inlays and medallions)
  3. Almost limitless color selection
Seamless, Uniform Appearance

Because unfinished flooring must be sanded, all boards will be sanded even with the adjacent boards. After the floor is complete, you should be able to slide a nickel across the surface without it jumping around much (We don’t actually recommend doing that as you could scratch the wood). The idea is that the hardwood floor looks like a seamless surface.

Site finished wood flooring
Unfinished, site sanded floors don't have grooves or bevels in the joints
Flexibility of Design

It's much easier to incorporate design ideas into an unfinished floor, such as borders, inlays, and medallions. Whether you add a border of a different species or tie in perpendicular transitions to doorways, those areas of differences get sanded flush while still adding an accent to the seamless appearance. It's not that you can't have accent features with prefinished floors; however, the bevels on prefinished products and the fact that the floor never gets sanded make it more challenging to achieve the desired effect.

Wood floor border design
Unfinished floors can have custom designs added much easier
Almost Limitless Color Selection

After an unfinished floor is sanded, you can choose to have it stained to change its "natural color." Within any quality stain brand, you will find dozens of colors, which can be mixed to achieve even more color variations. Mixing colors is often used to color match furniture, base, or existing flooring. Some species take stains better than others, which should be considered when choosing a species.

Stain samples
Unfinished floors can be stained any color you like

Cons of Unfinished Wood Flooring:

There are two main drawbacks to using unfinished flooring::

  1. Sanding and finishing can be time consuming
  2. Without proper dustless equipment, it can be messy (check out Our Dustless Sanding page)
Time Consuming

After the floor is installed, unfinished flooring must be sanded and finished. The sanding and finishing can double the length of time for the project. It typically takes a few extra days to complete a project to get the results you desire, but it's something you should consider.


Everybody knows that sanding floors creates a lot of dust. With a high-quality "dust containment unit," designed especially for hardwood floor sanding, the sanding process will be cleaner than removing the carpet or installing the floor. These systems add time to each job for setup, so expect dustless services to be a higher per square foot price than those without. If a clean installation matters to you like it does to us, dustless sanding is worth the investment.

Dustless hardwood floor sanding
Dust needs to be contained with unfinished flooring

Pros of Prefinished Wood Flooring:

Any flooring with all the finish coats applied before the installation process begins is referred to as "prefinished flooring." Because prefinished products are more readily available to consumers, you can expect to find a wide range of quality on the market. But this also allows you to shop for and purchase the product yourself. The advantages of prefinished are:

  1. No onsite sanding or finishing is needed
  2. The finish is applied in a factory-controlled setting
  3. Higher-end products can have an extremely durable finish
No Onsite Sanding

Because the flooring has gone through the finishing process before installation, the floor is complete when the installation is done. This saves on the time that it would typically take to sand and finish the floors, not to mention there will be no dust from sanding. Of course, there might be some dust, especially if saws aren't hooked up to vacuums, but it won't be nearly as cloudy as if you had the floors sanded.

Finish is applied in a controlled environment

When the finish is applied in a controlled factory setting, you don’t have to worry about airborne dust or debris being coated into your floors. These controlled settings allow for an almost flawless finish application, which is especially helpful when the desired sheen is semi-gloss or gloss.

Potential for an extremely durable finish

These finishes add to the cost and aren’t found on the cheaper products

Since the finish is applied in a factory-controlled setting, special finishes that would be impractical on a "site finished" floor can be applied. Finishes such as aluminum-oxide and UV-cured urethanes are significantly more durable than those typically used for "site finished" floors.

However, these finishes add to the cost and aren’t going to be found on the cheaper products.

It must also be noted that some manufacturers will apply one coat of aluminum oxide to market the flooring as having an aluminum-oxide finish. If you have any questions about the durability of your floor coating, talk to the supplier or ask us when you request a free estimate.

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