Trying to decide how to stain/finish some new oak hardwood floors. What are the pros and cons of various options like stain+poly, tung oil, etc. I'm wondering about lifetime cost, durability, ability to make small repairs, and work involved.
I have done both a refinish and a new install, and did a bunch of research before choosing. These are my generalized conclusions about the different choices:
Linseed / Tung Oil
- Easy to apply
- Relatively durable
- Quick curing and drying times
- Will darken with age
- Provides very little protection against wood damage
Oil based polyurethane
- Low maintenance
- Long dry times in between coats (~8 hours)
- Long time to fully cure (~30 days).
- Yellows over time
- Strong odor during application and cure
- Requires some skill to apply correctly
Water based polyurethane
- Low maintenance
- Easy to apply
- Short dry time (~3 hours)
- Short cure time (~7-10 days)
- Short dry time requires a "wet edge" when applying.
- Provides less protection than Oil polyurethane
I don't have personal experience with the Tung/Linseed oil approach. Both of the areas which I was working are relatively high traffic, and I did not want to have to worry about damage to the wood surface.
I have seen the Oil-based poly done, and it is a production. It usually results in evacuation from the house because of the VOCs in the finish. The long cure times made it a deal breaker for me, because the areas in question were main walkways in my house.
So, in my case, I chose to go with the water based poly. It is durable, comes in several finishes (satin to high gloss), and is maintenance free for many years. It is easy to apply, and dries very quickly in between coats. It can be applied without specialized brushes or equipment. You can sand, stain, and seal your floors over a weekend, and they will be ready for walking 24 hours later, and will be fully cured a week later. This is a really good choice for a DIYer, and I would not hesitate to use it again in the future.
I had polyurethane on my hardwood (tasmanian oak) and baltic pine floorboards for ten odd years. It wore very well but we don't allow shoes inside. The floors did yellow quite a bit over time which didn't matter for the pine, but the oak lost its lovely pinky hue.
We recently did extensions and re-polished our floors. We chose to use hard-wax this time since (allegedly) you can make repairs to small sections without having to re-polish the whole lot and (allegedly) it does not go yellow. It was more expensive that polyurethane (+30%). This has proven less than successful - the guy who polished our floors had to redo some sections and you can see where the repairs were done even though they were done less than a month apart. Furthermore, after just a few months you can see a change in colour.
BTW: This answer is probably way old for the question, but hopefully it will help someone else.
Stain+poly probably wins on durability, but I've never liked the look; and things like Waterlox come close in durability, and are much easier to repair or touch up. Personally I would go with tung oil just for the looks, maintenance costs or minimal in either case, unless you're dealing with extraordinary traffic or abuse.
Waterlox all the way. Best feel, can continue to tone it if you would like with stain (1qt to a gallon of original). I think the satin is nice but a bit finnicky when it comes to application. Touch up at will, do a light scuff and recoat every 5-8 years depending on traffic. In my opinion it is more functional than Poly (water or oil). It penetrates and home owner can touch up whenever they feel the need.