Wide plank flooring can provide a striking visual statement, particularly in a large, open space. When most people think of wide plank flooring, they’re typically referring to planks 12 inches wide — or wider! While the effect can certainly be beautiful, installing wide plank flooring comes with some unique movement concerns.
Wood Species Selection
When you’re talking about boards that are 8 inches to 12 inches wide — or even wider — your species choices become a tad narrower. Sure, most species at least occasionally yield 12-inch-wide boards, but not all will easily allow for enough boards for an entire floor. Even those species that do yield enough wide planks will require many different trees, making color and grain-matching difficult.
You need to make sure your client is prepared for a degree of inconsistency, when it comes to the appearance of their wide plank flooring. The only alternative is to apply a finishing technique that will help blend the boards’ coloring.
With its rich chocolate brown tones and attractive grain, Walnut is understandably an extremely popular species used for flooring. Far from hearty, a single Walnut tree will yield only 1 or 2 wide boards. And they probably won’t be clear. Typically, Walnut is downgraded because so few Walnut boards would make it into traditional grading categories. If your customer wants a wide plank Walnut floor but is great with a rustic look, you can make it happen. However, you’ll still have to use shorter boards than are typically used for flooring.
If your customer requests Walnut but insists on longer flooring boards and/or clear lumber, you could recommend an alternative species instead of Walnut. Wenge offers similarly rich, dark tones and more easily yields many long, wide boards.
Milling with Movement in Mind
A wide plank poses unusual movement issues, since it is comprised of the entire cross section of a tree. For maximum yield, wide planks are flatsawn, and they come from near the center of the tree. What this means for movement is that you’ll end up with a highly volatile center area of your board, since it comes from the pith, or center, of the tree. The edges will have stable rift and quarter-sawn grain, which will expand and contrast across the thickness. The central area, however, will expand and contract across the width of each plank. The outer, more stable, wood will have a tendency to cup around the less stable, inner wood.
To lessen this hinge-like movement, you need to make sure that the wood is carefully dried, milled, and re-milled in order to provide for proper acclimatization. But then you still need to make sure to use tongue-and-groove joinery rather than ship lap, because each groove serves to trap the tongue of an adjacent board, preventing an uneven floor.
With some modifications, you can allow for movement without sacrificing the entire floor’s stability. As important as quality lumber may be, when it comes to wide plank flooring, proper installation may be an even more important part of the equation.
Continue reading with Part 2.