When it comes to wood flooring, end grain tiles comprise a very small percentage of the millions of square feet installed. Part of that reason is due to its rarity, as this type of flooring is typically not stocked at flooring centers and big box stores. The second issue has to do with the complexities of its installation. End grain floor tiles are “tiles” and unlike their plank cousins have a completely different type of installation.
Bring on the Adhesive
End grain tiles are set much like ceramic or porcelain floor tile with a trowel on adhesive. But due to these tiles being wood, the adhesive needs to be urethane-based. Using a water-based mastic or cement-based thin-set will cause swelling of the wood fibers and lead to premature failures. End grain tiles lack the tongue and groove profile of most wood flooring and therefore are not interlocking or “mechanically” attached to the sub-floor or substrate, via nails or staples. The adhesive is the only thing keeping these tiles in place, and it needs a proper cure. Without an interlocking profile, each tile will have a small gap between itself and its neighboring tile. These gaps can be filled during the sanding phase or “grouted” later in a similar way to traditional tile. This grout. like the adhesives used, is best when urethane or epoxy based. The grout needs to remain flexible for the best and longest lasting performance.
As with any flooring installation, the base or substrate needs to solid, flat and free of debris. Because end grain tiles are set with adhesive, setting them on concrete is just as easy as setting on a wood sub-floor. If set on concrete, the concrete needs to be fully cured and not releasing any moisture. This can often be months after its original installation.
- Design the layout, with tiles spaces, pattern, etc.
- Set tiles with urethane-based adhesive. Tiles can be individual pieces or “engineered” sheets.
- Allow adhesive to fully cure. This can range from 24 to 48 hours or more.
- “Raw” end grain tile will need to be sanded. Initial sanding can be completed with a drum or large belt sander. Engineered tile may or may not require sanding.
- Apply filler and or grout if needed.
- Finish sand using disc or orbital sanders. Higher grit sanding results in a smoother finish.
- Stain if desired.
- Apply 3 to 5 coats of a good oil-based sealer.
Grouting an End Grain Tile Floor
Grout and fillers are perhaps the most varied with an end grain floor. Some folks use putty fillers, some a mixture of sawdust and poly, some glue and sawdust, cork and sawdust with linseed oil -- the number of recipes is pretty big. Commercial flexible grouts are usually a synthetic polymer blend that often contains a cork or sawdust type filler. Some of these are applied before sanding; others after. It depends on the material chosen. The success of an end grain floor will depend on the grout’s ability to withstand wood movement, and this can vary widely with your local climate.
Test the Finish First
Wood grain is a bit like a bundle of soda straws, and end grain wood can absorb more stain and finish than plank flooring. As with any wood working project, testing the stains and finish on some scraps will ensure your end results are satisfactory.
Kevin Stevens is a Hometalk - http://www.hometalk.com - writer. Read more articles like this one - http://www.networx.com/article/end-grain-hardwood-floor-tiles - or get help with your home projects on Hometalk.com.