Today’s message is about finishing hardwood products, shipping into Costa Rica along with an attitude to push the envelope in construction methods/standards.
This subject centers around Tung Oil and how it deals with the brutal Tropical Climate. I doubt very few if any who read this will have any idea of what I am talking about, yet. We have two things that can dramatically affect the appearance/beauty of a tropical home. First off we have incredible hardwoods both those that are exotic like Ironwood, Rosewood, Tamarindo, Almand etc as well as plantation grown woods like Teak and Acacia. All are great woods to dress up your home to make it more elegant as well as a pleasant environment however anything that has any exterior exposure is in for a real battle to combat the affects of the tropical sun with it’s monstrously high UV factor and rain effects. To minimize damage as well as excessive maintenance one most certainly does not need to swear off the use of wood but it sure does require careful consideration for how you shall treat and protect such. Although all of our hardwood in Costa Rica is dramatically cheaper than anything like it in Canada or USA it still is a significant cost in a new home and one that we want to protect while maintaining the natural beauty and character of wood.
In that respect for exterior purposes any varnish, marine or otherwise or typical polyurethanes all of which not only do a dismal job of this they enslave you to your woodwork from the day the can is opened. I have seen such products destroyed in less than a year leaving a bleached out peeling mess so if you take but one lesson from this report just know enough to stay away from any product of this nature. Anything that is cheap (less than $60) will be a total disaster. So lesson one is if you are planning on applying a cheap finish from the typical paint department or store then do not even consider wood in the first place. I have only seen two products stand up here and that is SUR’s Laro Tek natural oil made from a linseed oil base. After two coats of this you then apply their wax top coat. It is this wax that will wear away with the weather in six months to six years depending on the degree of exposure. However the issue is if you keep on top of this you just rewax it when the wood is loosing its water shield and water no longer beads on it. Even if you completely let it go and the oil starts to deteriorate you can just reapply the oil since the finish is in the wood not on top of it there is nothing to peel. The draw back to this product is for decks as it has little resistance to foot traffic since you are walking on a wax which does not make a harder surface than the wood itself. Hence maintenance and caution is utmost in keeping the wood looking good.
The other product I have seen stand up on windows and doors is a polyurethane base made by Sikkens however this product is like $90 gallon so that would explain its higher resistance to our weather than anything cheaper. In fact this is exactly what is on the wood windows you see I recommended in my chapter on materials. This you can get a number of years out of prior to it needing a refresher coat. Now here is the problem with polyurethanes in general they add a more plastic look to the wood in the process of trying to shield the base wood from the weather hence there is a trade off in appearance for any polyurethane in the first place. Now cheaper versions of this line of products just simply will not get you through the year so I implore you DO NOT go down that path as it will be an abusive relationship as you become a slave to the wood you put this stuff on.
The second problem with polyurethane is that it turns white when scratched or starts to wear through. The third and bigger problem is that you can not do a decent patch since it will not stick to itself unless well sanded so you just cannot make a patch of a damage or wear area or it will stick out like a sore thumb. These natural characteristics make this line of products less than ideal for any kind of wood floor or deck but it is often the only solution offered or known by the home owner.
In the process of digging and constantly trying to find better methods and materials I was researching for better solutions of how to deal with a sun deck we are about to build so I was out researching other options. In the process of doing research on the Sikkens products that the window producer uses, since that is the only thing I have seen stand up, I stumbled upon an uncommon product called Tung Oil. I had used this product many years ago in my cabinet shop to coat wood bread boards with since it is natural and non-toxic where as all the other finishes just are not. However I did not know that the same base product was produced to do large projects like flooring and entire houses. I stumbled upon this brand called Waterlox. It is however a bit experimental as the Chinese have only been using this product since the 1400′s to water proof their wooden ships. Well you can’t get much uglier service than a ship can you? This particular company however is just a new kid on this block as they have only been producing their formula for 103 years in Cincinnati. The base oil comes from the nuts of the Tung tree hence it is indeed quite a natural product along with various resins to top off the formula. Now I have long had a love for oil products as in general all of them produce a massively more deep, rich and natural look to any finished hardwood by enhancing the appearance while protecting it. However all the other oils that I am familiar with provide little protection especially for a floor. Contrary to that scenario Tung actually protects yet is flexible so it moves with the wood as it goes through its natural gyrations that come about as the weather changes. That is the key, it moves along with hence stays stuck to the wood as it needs to be. That is exactly why a marine varnish is such a disaster as it is hard as a rock hence it is only going to peel when the wood under it moves with the seasons.
When a typical polyurethane or varnish finish goes bad you have but one choice sand it off and start all over again since new coats do not stick to old finishes. In the process of sanding the old finish you also remove wood along with it so your floor will typically only survive two sandings during its life before you are faced with replacement. Here is the huge key to this story…. Contrary to that Tung oil sticks to itself and in fact it is required that it not be sanded at all. Music to my ears. You simply clean and reapply a new finish once the old is getting tired which can only be predicted based on the amount of traffic so that could be five years or fifteen years all depends on the traffic. At any rate it is a simple and easy process. Also since it does not require sanding you can patch up an accident without it showing or dictating a full sand job. To say the least this is priceless in both creating the new floor and maintaining it through many generations of traffic from your family and heirs.
So the bad news in this scenario is that this product is expensive without a doubt but considering what it is doing in protecting your investment in a beautiful floor it becomes I guess a bit of a mute point. If you want a true natural look not a plastic finish, you want an easy clean finish and you never ever want to have to rip your house apart and throw out part of your floor with the next sanding then I would suggest this is the price of the insurance for a floor that will last into perpetuity. Our cost landed in Costa Rica along with 37% in taxes is $115 a gallon or $7.65 per square meter. This is easily double the price of any urethane but the appearance alone of the two products immediately dictates to most people just what they should use. Most who invest in real hardwood floors do so because they DO NOT WANT A PLASTIC LOOK. If they wanted that look they could by plastic crap phony laminate floors instead. You already know my view on that stuff.
Now with this being said the only reason I was able to get this price down to this level for a product manufactured in Ohio was by bringing it into Costa Rica by ship in a cube container along with other specialty products that we import. Any kind of land freight would add another $20 to $50 a gallon plus any air freight options aside from being atrociously expensive are not even an option as such products are not permitted on planes in the first place.
This is what I referred to as pushing the envelope. It is all about going out of our way to do the research and finding unique and superior products that are proven to improve both the quality of your home as well as the ease of maintenance of such. Just as critical is to also know how to expedite such at as low of a cost as is possible. Hopefully some day I will be able to demonstrate to you the big difference between such finishes in person.