Tinting Recoats

Two coats of matte StreetShoe with a yellow HyperTone tint were used to match up the two floors.

How many times have you been asked to change the color of a floor without taking it back to bare wood? My guess is at least once, probably many times. The truth is many of us are hesitant to do a recoat at all.

Recoating hardwood floors has been taboo for many contractors, primarily due to concerns about adhesion. Whether it is a prefinished floor with an unknown coating, or the fear of contaminants due to poor choices in maintenance products, add a color change request, and I’d say most would run from that project.

Our market is full of situations where recoating a floor is the better or possibly the only option for the homeowner. There are floors with very little wear layer left, and the budget does not allow for a new floor, or the homeowner wants to spruce up the floors to help sell the home. It even may be needed to correct minor wear and tear on a few spots where the rest of the floor is in good condition. Most of these situations have color-related scenarios that the homeowner would like resolved.

Hardwood flooring professionals have tinted floor coatings for many years. Dyes, universal pigments, and stains are some examples of the products being used to tint our finishes today. Every project seems to offer a new mountain we need to conquer to satisfy our customers. We have become tailgate chemists to make our customers happy, but have we been taking risks not knowing whether or not these products are compatible, if the manufacturer will support us modifying their products, or if we are even doing it correctly?

The newer refinished area wasn’t matching the existing yellowed finish, even though the exact same stain color was used.

Many of us were taught to use certain products, and we have stuck with what we know. What I have found interesting is that I was using products together that the manufacturer did not recommend. For example, it is not recommended to use TransTint with 2K finishes. When I think back, I wondered why it looked odd. We all are guilty of thinking, “It worked before; it should work again.” The question we should be asking is, “What are the right products to use for the job?”

Every manufacturer provides instruction guides for product use, as well as warnings regarding incompatibilities. Start there before you mix products together. One manufacturer offers a simple test with a glass jar. Once the products are mixed together, the glass reveals visual indicators that help you know if there is incompatibility. Following manufacturer guidelines help ensure a successful outcome.

Dyes vs. Pigments: They both can be used to tint finish, but is one better than the other? They both have pros and cons. Some dyes naturally are soluble in water, whereas pigments are not. Pigments have a longer life span and are more durable, meaning they are more fade-resistant. It all goes back to compatibility with the coating. The other factor is simply will it yield the results you are looking for?

The first step for any project is to set customer expectations. To do that, you need to know what you can expect to achieve with the products you plan to offer. Do as many test samples as needed to make sure you can achieve consistent results.

Contractor laced white oak into an ash floor by mistake.
Once realized, the contractor had to find a solution. They taped off the white oak, then used toned finish on the ash flooring to match the tone of the white oak flooring.

Most manufacturers making products used for tinting suggest limits on how much should be used. Using too much color can make it very difficult to keep an even appearance during application. Start with a small amount. It is easy to add more. If you’re looking to make a heavy change in color, the smart choice is to achieve it through multiple coats, versus all-in-one.

Another important factor is ease of application. Applying tinted finishes can be very challenging. Verify the best applicator that produces the results you are looking for. Rolling a heavily tinted finish may leave an undesirable pattern in the floor. A good rule of thumb is you can roll the finish on for light tone effects, but if you need a more aggressive color change, consider pulling the finish with the T-Bar or cut-in pad.

Take care of how you prep the floor. The most important task when recoating a wood floor is to make sure it is cleaned thoroughly prior to anything else. Reactions to contaminants can be exaggerated greatly with tinted coatings.

Next is proper abrasion. There are many choices of abrasives on the market today. Some do an incredible job of preparing the coatings for good adhesion, but also may be too aggressive. Always use the same grit throughout the floor and change the abrasive often enough to keep the pattern consistent. If the scratch pattern is too aggressive or inconsistent, the colorant may highlight the scratches.

A white oak floor had been stained with an oil-based stain and then coated with 2K finish. Unfortunately no tannin-resistant sealer was used. The finish pulled tannin leaving an undesirable color.
The contractor used HyperTone White in StreetShoe to create the bright white look the homeowner desired.

Be sure to take control of the jobsite environment to ensure you have the best chance for a successful project. All the steps you take to create that perfect final coat of finish is even more important when doing a tinted coat. Vacuuming and tacking when you’re attempting to apply a tinted finish coat is critical. If you don’t, you may find a sticky note nightmare waiting for you the next day. I suggest setting up an air scrubber; even a simple box fan and furnace filter can do the job. Living in the upper Midwest during my contracting years, winter brought those dry days where lint floated around, just waiting to fall into my finish.

Tinting finish has become more common in the hardwood flooring industry. As challenging as it may sound, it can help resolve situations that traditional stain and finish cannot. Like every process we use daily, once learned and practiced, it can be done successfully.

Tim Nathan is a market specialist for Basic Coatings in Bowling Green, Ohio. He can be reached at tnathan@basiccoatings.com.

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