The Solid Oak Flooring wood versus Engineered Oak Flooring debate is one we hear a lot, but there isn’t a definitive answer because although the two products appear very similar after installation, they have some very different qualities.
If we were asked which product we prefer to supply, then surprisingly for some we would say ‘engineered’ because the truth is that engineered oak ‘behaves itself’ a lot more than solid oak flooring in most situations.
That’s not to say that we don’t like solid oak, because we do… we love it!
However, there is a definite place or situation where both products come into their own and are most suitable. Please also bear in mind that there are situations where neither solid wood or engineered wood are suitable due to site conditions.
This diagram shows that the solid oak flooring is machined from one single piece of wood, and the engineered oak flooring is an ‘engineered’ or ‘constructed’ board consisting of a ‘face’ or ‘wear’ layer of solid oak, pressure bonded to a plywood base or backing.
Engineered board is sometimes referred to as laminate. However, laminate is simply embossed MDF or similar and is inferior compared to natural oak both in appearance and durability.
There are also engineered boards available with softwood or MDF backing, but these are not as strong as the plywood boards and do not provide as much stability and strength after installation.
Solid oak boards are cut and gauged from a log, which is then dried and machined to the section required. When you look at the end of any solid piece of wood, you’ll see the direction of the grain, and this normally determines how that piece will respond when subjected to heat or moisture.
Wide solid boards are known to ‘cup’ in some situations, and this is simply the wood becoming drier on 1 side than the other. This is one reason why we only supply solid oak up to a maximum width of 150mm. If you want an appearance of wide oak floor boards, then choose from our range of engineered oak, which includes sizes up to 380mm in width!
Engineered boards experience a few more processes during manufacture than the solid boards. Firstly, their wear layer of oak is cut, dried and machined, before being bonded under pressure to the plywood backing. This structure makes it possible for this type of board to be manufactured much wider than a solid board without the risk of cupping or dimensional movement in most installation situations.
To save on cost, some other companies supply engineered boards that are made by gluing a sawn wear layer of oak to the base, which can sometimes provide an unsuitable bonding surface (being slightly rough) that over time can cause de-lamination between the oak wear layer and the underside or backing.
Our engineered boards are sawn and then calibrated to create an accurate and smoother bonding surface, which reduces the risk of air pockets between the two, thus creating a much stronger adhesion for better board stability.
Why Does Engineered Oak ‘Behave Itself’ Better?
With our engineered boards, the oak layer is pressure bonded to the plywood, which has multiple layers each running in the opposite direction to the next. All these layers are bonded together with boil-proof glue, creating a cross-grain structure, so that when the wood fibres within are forced to either ‘take on’ or ‘give off’ moisture and expand or contract, each layer is restrained by the other, thus providing incredibly strong dimensional stability.
As a result, engineered oak flooring is far less likely to be affected by changes in humidity and/or moisture and can be installed at virtually all levels of the home as long as the correct procedures are followed and maintained.
Solid Oak Specification Details:
- Made from one piece of solid oak – with very low machining tolerances for easier fitting
- T&G 4 sides
- Micro-bevelled 4 sides
- Approx 8% Moisture Content on delivery
- Available in a variety of finishes
- Available as 120mm or 150mm widths
- All 18mm thick
- Sealed underside for better moisture protection (except for the unfinished)
- Not recommended for use with UFH (underfloor heating)
Solid Oak – Fitting/Installation:
We recommend that all solid oak is fixed down to the subfloor. We recommend installing by glue-down with a flexible adhesive like Sika T54 or by the ‘secret nail’ method when installed onto a timber subfloor or onto battens. It can also be ‘stuck down’ onto Self-Adhesive Underlay which ‘floats’ on top of the subfloor, although this is a more ‘specialised’ method.
We advise that wider boards over 150mm are also face fixed and plugged to reduce the risk of the boards ‘cupping’ after installation. It’s because solid oak tends to experience more dimensional change than engineered oak when produced in wider widths, that we only supply solid oak flooring up to 150mm wide.
Solid Oak – Notes:
Solid wood is a natural product and is susceptible to dimensional changes when subjected to varying levels of heat, humidity, and moisture. If you prefer wide boards, please see our engineered oak boards, which are available up to 380mm in width and look exactly like solid oak after installation.
When being glued down as a method of installation, flexible adhesive MUST be used so that the oak is allowed to move as and when such a natural product requires to do so. Wider boards over 150mm are more susceptible to ‘cupping’ unless the thickness is increased from 18mm, which obviously increases cost and requires more depth on your floor. We recommend wide solid oak is also face fixed.
Engineered Oak Specification Details:
- ‘Constructed’ by pressure bonding a face of oak to a plywood base
- Oak wear layer of either 4mm or 6mm, with the plywood backing forming the T&G, and a balancing veneer to the underside.
- All our engineered flooring is plywood backed for better stability and strength after installation – we can also supply 100% Birch backed boards that have been specifically designed for use in areas where even more stability is required
- T&G 4 sides
- Approx 8% Moisture Content when delivered
- Micro-bevelled 4 sides
- Available in a variety of finishes
- Available as 189mm and 240mm widths from our ‘standard’ stock range (240mm as unfinished only)
- Available as 380mm width in our ‘Long & Wide’ range (up to 3900mm long)
- Available as 15mm and 21mm thickness
- Suitable for use with underfloor heating (our 15mm board performs better than the 21mm because of its lower thermal resistance – please see our Fitting Guidelines for more info)
- Our 15mm and 22mm ThruFlow Engineered Oak Flooring has been specifically designed for use with Under Floor Heating, and it’s finish is Brushed & Natural Oiled (our most popular finish and the colour can easily be changed by simply applying more waxoil in the colour of your choice)
- Simple tests have proven our unique and exclusive ThruFlow engineered oak flooring improves efficiency by 25-35%
Engineered Oak – Fitting/Installation:
Engineered oak can be installed secret nailed, glued, or floated (not fixed to the subfloor but just glued together).
Being suitable for fitting by ‘floating method’ over a suitable underlay makes this product very popular because it’s a simple and clean process that most people can successfully complete, as long as acclimatisation and maintenance guidelines are followed.
Engineered Oak – Notes:
The extra stability provided by engineered oak flooring compared to solid oak allows it to be fitted in situations where solid may not be suitable.
When installed, the engineered oak looks exactly like a solid oak floor but requires much less dimensional movement allowance. It can be much faster and cheaper to fit than solid oak because it can be ‘edge-glued’ and floated, whereas solid oak requires ‘fixing’ down to the subfloor.
When considering sustainability issues, 3x as many engineered boards can be made from one oak log when compared with solid oak boards of the same size.
Engineered oak flooring is usually more expensive than solid oak (which may seem strange to the less experienced wood floor customer) but when the advantages and construction method are explained properly, the reasons become clear and understandable; Engineered oak flooring requires more preparation and production than the solid oak flooring does.
Something to remember when considering which product is best for your situation is that when using the floating method for installation above a subfloor that’s not perfectly flat and level, the 15mm board can sometimes ‘give’ a little when walked on, which can make the floor feel unlike a solid oak floor. However, this can usually be overcome by using the heavier structural grade 21mm board when floating, which because of its extra strength and thickness, always feels like solid oak no matter how it’s installed.
When it comes to Solid Oak Flooring versus Engineered Oak Flooring, there will always be a tendency for some people to prefer solid oak to engineered oak because it is just that, solid oak. The words ‘solid oak’ portray strength and durability when you hear them.
However, as knowledge of wood species grows and global sustainability challenges increase, we believe that the demand for engineered oak will increase as the general public become more aware of the many advantages it offers.
Currently we see the demand as 70/30 in favour of engineered oak flooring, but as the popularity of under floor heating increases and when more people start to realise that engineered oak isn’t a laminate but a high quality natural product, designed and constructed to perform better than solid oak after installation but with the same durability and beauty, we can see the demand changing to as much as 90/10 in favour of engineered over the next 5-8 years.
If you would like to speak to us in more depth about which type of flooring is best for your home, don’t hesitate to call us on 0800 043 3073.