Understanding Engineered Wood Flooring For Chicago Area Homeowners

Q. Why are there different veneer thicknesses, why are they so thin and how does it affect the performance of an engineered wood floor?

The thickness of the veneer of engineered hardwood flooring basically has no effect on that board’s longevity or durability. Engineered hardwood floors get their long life and durability from the protective polyurethane finishes applied, the type of species used to make the veneer and the number of layers the boards are constructed out of.


What you must come to understand is that the protective coating covering your hardwood floors (3/4” or engineered makes no difference) whether wax, oil or polyurethane are the true shields or protectors of your wood floors veneer. You do not actually walk on the wood but rather on the protective coating. From a durability viewpoint polyurethanes are considered the toughest and longest lasting. Of course not all polyurethanes are equal. The two types that are particularly long lasting are those made with aluminum oxide or any that have Scotchguard protector as an additive.  By the way, factory applied coats are much tougher than any site finished applique.

Secondly, the species the veneer is made of also has an effect on the toughness of the board. By toughness we are referring to the density of the species; denseness is created by the trees growth cycle. The longer the growth cycle the denser the tree. Denser trees are more resistant to dents and scratches. This is often measured using the Janka hardness test. Click here to see the Janka hardness chart for comparisons. A word of caution about the usefulness of the Janka test: please note that the test is simply a measurement of dent resistance under extreme conditions and is frequently inapplicable to most home usage (unless you shoot ball bearings into your floor regularly). It should not be the sole reason you purchase a floor. In fact, we have found over the years that this test, in the end, has little bearing as to why you should or should not purchase a particular type of hardwood flooring.

Thirdly, in a word, layers. The single most important reason to buy an engineered floor (besides the environment) is that it is the most resistant hardwood product produced that resists the dreaded enemy of all wood floors, moisture. What greatly dictates that level of resistance is the number of layers used to construct that floor; more layers more resistant. Of course it also means more money.

As to the thickness of the veneer although today’s technology allows manufacturers to peel or slice any thickness they desire it has been found that most veneers thicker than 2mm are susceptible to “Checking”. Checking basically means that the face of the board is splitting; this can occur in both solid and engineered flooring as it is moisture on site that dictates this occurrence opposed to a manufacturing issue.

If properly taken care of and with no major moisture issues (death for all hardwood floors) almost all engineered floors will last for the lifetime of the house they are installed in. Any type of hardwood floor (after all its hardwood not concrete) can be scratched, dented or marred but as long as the owner is willing to screen and re-coat their engineered floor it will last for a lifetime. Any boards that are deeply gouged or damaged can be cut out and replaced, assuming you have saved a few extra boards for just such a contingency.

Q. So, if not veneer thickness, what is the most important feature(s) of an engineered floor?

– Engineered wood flooring is more dimensionally stable than 3/4” solid hardwood floors. In English that means it expands and contracts a lot less than 3/4” solid hardwood flooring, which means you don’t get those ugly gaps that eventually occur in almost all 3/4” solid installations over time in our Chicago winters and summers.

– It is the only hardwood flooring that should be installed over radiant heat

– Engineered wood floors can be installed over a concrete slab, such in basements

– It is the only type of hardwood flooring that should be installed below grade (it’s what we recommend for our Chicago customers).

– Ecologically friendly. What most people don’t realize and we as dealers don’t always explain well is that 2/3 or even a little more of any 3/4” solid wood can never be sanded and re-stained which means that it is wasted, tossed out, unused.  It also means that when comparing the veneer thickness of an engineered wood floor to a 3/4″ the difference of usable veneer is not very great.

– Finally, a lot of engineered hardwood floors can be stapled down which can, in the right circumstances, save you a lot of money by not requiring new sub-floors be installed or the usage of costly latex.

Q. Why do some engineered wood floors look different than a 3/4” solid wood floor of the same species?

rotary vs sawn cutBasically it is dictated by how the veneer was cut off the log. There are only two methods used to create veneer and they are either Straight Sawn Cut or Rotary Peel.

Rotary Peel is the most efficient usage of the log as basically 100% of the log is able to be used as a veneer.  The only negative that customers have pointed out with Rotary is that the veneer graining does not “look or match” same species 3/4” solid wood floor. This is true in that all 3/4” solid is straight cut so that the graining effect produced by Rotary Peel is noticeably different.

Is this a good or bad thing?


Only if you are trying to abut an engineered wood floor to a 3/4” solid wood floor of the same species does this become an issue. Rotary Peel is a common and an ecologically sound way to create veneer for a variety of applications while utilizing close to 100% of the log (straight cut utilizes considerably less that 100% of the log). Of course some manufacturers offer a straight cut engineered to match their 3/4″ solid visual appearance for this very reason.

When it comes to engineered wood flooring how thick the veneer or how it is cut have, for all practical purposes, little bearing as to performance but have a great impact on the “Look” you want to achieve.

To learn more and to see our actual engineered wood samples stop into any of our 12 Chicago flooring stores.

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