Real wood flooring is available either in its natural solid state or in a manufactured or "engineered" form. Laminate flooring is a type of plastic flooring that has been described, wrongly, as "engineered" by retailers for quite some time. So it is little wonder that there is confusion with the buying public. Hopefully this article should go some way to redressing this confusion.
Solid Wood Floors
Available in various thicknesses, solid wood flooring is exactly what the name implies - solid. There is nothing added to the wood by any manufacturing process, e.g, extra layers or sandwiched layers, the timber is cut straight from the tree, plained and maybe treated or stained, and then sold. There are differences in the grain of the wood, and this is covered in another article. Where the buying public do get confused is with the so-called "engineered" real wood floors, so it is worth explaining the difference...
Engineered Real Wood Flooring
The term engineered refers to the fact that the floor has been manufactured from different timbers. For example, if you look at the picture on the right you can see that there are actually two layers of wood, one a top layer that may be a hard wood like Cherry, Oak, or Maple and a lower layer that is a softer wood. The purpose of this is twofold - firstly, this is a much cheaper and resourceful way of utilizing the available timber and second, the flooring material can be specifically tailored to suit situations where conditions would be unsuitable for solid wood flooring, e.g, where under floor heating has been installed. Engineered wood will stand up to the constant temperature changes better than solid wood. The great advantage is that the floor looks (and effectively is), the same as the real thing but it can be fitted in different ways, such as glued, floated or nailed.
Laminate flooring is actually a sandwich of soft timber, a plastic image layer and a plastic top surface. These layers are fused together under extreme pressure to create a similar looking finished product to that of wood, tile or indeed any material you can mention. You can even embed photographs into the surface and many laminate floors are made this way. A big problem is that if damaged, they are not easily repaired, and may be irrepairable if the damage is too deep. In some cases the quality of the finish is so good that at first glance you would not know whether you are looking at a laminate or solid wood floor. They are obviously cheaper than the real thing but sometimes lack the natural look of real wood due to the "flawless" look of the surface. One thing to be said for real wood floors is that no two floors are exactly the same. That cannot be said about laminates.
So which type should I buy?
Every situation is different - however there are a few guidelines that might help you make a decision between laminate or solid wood flooring. Ask yourself a few questions about what you are hoping to achieve with your new floor, remember the cheapest is not always the best option!
Your Final Decision!
So are you closer to making your decision? If you are still undecided, perhaps I can give you my honest opinion. The first floor I ever fitted was an absolutely beautiful Sydney Bluegum secret nailed floor. This was for my own home and so, naturally I wanted it to look great - and I wasn't disappointed. Having fitted it I had a choice of floor finishes; highly polished, matt, semi-gloss or simply oiled. I chose oiled which entailed sanding the floor to a very smooth finish in the first place, but applying the oil finish was a breeze, and it didn't smell! I worked hard on making sure the floor was properly glued and nailed down and there were no gaps visible. The oil gave a fabulous look to the floor and everyone that viewed it loved it. A bonus was that any scratches could be easily fixed up.
I then fitted a laminate floor to a smaller property and was also suitably impressed with the finish and overall look. On reflection, the choice I made for both properties was right because the Sydney Bluegum was fitted in a very large and prestigious home, while the laminate was fitted to a much smaller terraced propery. Bluegum would have just looked out of place (in my opinion).