How wide is wide?
Wide plank flooring is anything wider than 3” to 3 ¼”. Strip flooring, the opposite of wide plank, is all the stuff narrower than 3". I have seen wide plank flooring available today in widths up to 10” or 12”. As is typical with wide boards, the price goes up accordingly. Back in the old days, wider boards meant less work, for both the lumbermen and carpenters. Old growth forests were plentiful and large trees readily available. Once the board was milled, it could be used as is without additional machining to cut it into strips. The carpenter who was installing the floor had less work as well, as big boards covered more space quickly. Plywood was not available back then and many floors were built with planks for the sub-floor and the top layer. Simpler designs did not have a sub-floor and the flooring was set directly on the framing.
Is Wide Better?
Wide plank flooring definitely has its own appeal. Designers are incorporating it into many homes to provide a rustic or country look. The cost of wide plank flooring can reach upwards of $12 -$15 a square foot, which is about twice what strip flooring might cost. Strip flooring can use lesser grade lumber and still produce a product, while wide planks need to come from bigger trees. Wide planks are a bit more susceptible to wood movement than strip flooring, so maintaining a stable home environment can lead to better results. Wood is hygroscopic, which means it adsorbs and releases moisture as its environment changes. As moisture is gained or released, the wood will swell or contract. This wood movement can cause gaps, or cupping in the flooring. Some woods are more prone to this movement than others. Teak and white pine are better than red oak and beech. In strip flooring, this movement is distributed over more “joints” between the boards and is moderated to some degree.
Finishing wide plank flooring is not any different than strip flooring, More care must be used in sanding wide planks as grain patterns in strip flooring can often hide mistakes. Durability of the top-coat is what protects the wood below, and some manufacturers are using factory finishes that can boost the hardiness of the top-coat over field applied finishes. Engineered flooring is becoming more common these days and wide versions of many trypes of engineered flooring are available. Engineered products are inherently more stable than their basic predecessors, so the trouble that wood movement causes is negligible.
Wide plank flooring has a rustic look, and some manufacturers are producing products with distressed surfaces. This distressed look can give you feeling that your floor have been around for decades if not a century or more. Is the look right for you? It depends on your home’s décor and personal taste. I’m pretty happy with my 5” wide flooring, it’s the middle ground between strip and the 8” to 10” stuff of the past.