Under the Microscope – Water and Oak Flooring

If you’ve ever wondered about the science of hardwood flooring, you’re in luck. Hardwood Flooring Magazine has an interesting and informative article series about how the scientific properties of hardwood affect the installation and maintenance of wood flooring. The following are some highlights from the article, “Installation – Under the Microscope”, in which the author examines how water affects the installation of such products and white oak flooring or red oak flooring.

Oak Flooring
Oak flooring's water absorption rate has everything to do with chemistry.

“Under the Microscope”
The variations in cell type are the cause of differing visual characteristics of hardwood. The authore elaborates:

“Cells formed early in the growing season—earlywood—usually have larger diameters and thinner walls. Cells growing later in the year—latewood—have smaller diameters and thicker walls. Several layers comprise the cell wall, but most of the structural properties are dominated by the thickest layer, called S2.”

“Where the Water Goes”
Water occurs naturally in the hollow center of living wood cells. After wood dies, the water leaves the cells and the wood is vulnerable to changes in humidity:

“Along the sides of the cellulose molecules there are locations where water molecules can attach with a chemical bond. When relative humidity (RH) increases, more water molecules adhere to the sides of the cellulose—it gets fatter but not longer. The result is that the cell walls get thicker, causing the boards to expand. However, there is almost no change in cell length, so there is almost no change in the length of the board. When the humidity goes down, the process reverses: Water leaves the cell walls to go into the air and the wood shrinks.”

Curious about other ways water affects the chemical make-up of oak flooring? Read the full article here.


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