You want a wood floor for your shop. You want it basic and you want it cheap. But you keep coming up empty. What are your options? Rated from worst to best, here are 6 options, with the 6th option being the clear winner.
6. Laminate: Highly Damage-Prone
Laminate isn't wood; it only looks like wood. Slippery and easily damaged. No.
5. Engineered Wood Flooring: Expensive, Easily Damaged
Eliminate any type of engineered wood from your thoughts. Engineered wood's thin, top wood veneer isn't the best protection against falling hammers. Expensive and a poor choice. No.
4. Pre-Finished Wood Flooring: Hard To Refinish
At one time, if you wanted solid hardwood, you got it unfinished and it was your responsibility to site-finish it. Better techniques evolved for pre-finishing wood flooring. Urethane-based coatings meant that manufacturers could impregnate the wood with a nearly shell-like finish, enabling the finishing process to happen in a factory, not your home.
This expensive option, usually $3.25 and up, is better suited for living areas than a shop. I have dropped hammers on pre-finished and the result is not pretty.
As Dan McMillan of Carlisle Floors told me, one problem with pre-finished flooring is that this urethane finish must be chemically stripped before you can refinish it.
3. OSB: Ugly, Cheap
Orient strand board, that amalgam of resin-bound wood chips, is a cheap and dense option for your shop floor. But it chips off easily and swells with prolonged contact with moisture. Not only that, the rough surface is hard to sweep. OSB is good only as a sub-surface for another flooring. Not recommended.
2. Plywood: Durable, Cheap, Splintery
Plywood is a stronger and more dependable choice than OSB. The bad part is that plywood loves to splinter. Recommended for areas of heavy use (storage of lawn mowers, shovels, sledges, etc.). Yes, you can use it for a workshop, but be sure never to walk in bare feet!
1. Rustic Grade Unfinished Wood: Cheap, Durable, Attractive, But More Difficult To Install
Lower grades of hardwood flooring may be best suited for your shop. They straddle the line between cheap/rough and nice/acceptable. In the end, it's all a matter of personal preferences and needs.
Rustic hardwood isn't the cheapest of the bunch. But its surface is perfect for a shop. It can be sanded and sealed, and it's smooth enough that lost nuts and washers can easily be found. With its low number of openings and knot-holes, it sweeps off well.
This flooring goes by several different names; in any case, it is a lower grade of hardwood than rustic-grade.
The catch is that you need to floor-staple it down, and for that, you will need to rent a stapler.
- Rock-bottom cheap (but remember to factor in unusable boards and floor stapler rental costs).
- Unfinished--keep it raw or finish it the way you like it.
- Refinish it numerous times.
These defects are part and parcel of any utility grade wood flooring:
- Closed knots, but in great numbers.
- Open knots.
- Broken-off tongues.
- Minor splits.
- Boards that are excessively short.
- Burn marks from the saw.
- A high rate of unusable boards--up to 20%.
Also, the utility grade wood floor may need to be special-ordered.
Lumber Liquidators supplies rustic and utility grade oak flooring that runs between $1-$2 per square foot (July 2011). It does come with the defects listed above, plus blue marks that buyers find difficult to remove. Still, the product is relative to its price and application, so it gets good marks from buyers.
Hurst Hardwoods supplies unfinished red oak in short boards for around the same price as Lumber Liquidators. Check out the "Contractors Specials" on their site.
Moving away from oak, another utility grade flooring is Lumber Liquidators' Clover Lea Pine. Pine, while softer than oak, allows for the manual face-nailing that you would not be able to do with oak. The chief value of this pine is that the boards come in eight-foot lengths; thus, less piecing together of small boards.