“Friday I was in a bookstore. I started talking to this very French-looking girl. She was a bilingual illiterate—she couldn't read in two different languages.”—Steven Wright

Hardwood flooring people have our own language. Have you ever typed or texted anything hardwood-floor-related and spellcheck wants to slap you silly?! Only recently have I been able to text “prefinished,” “refinish,” “quartersawn,” and “Eurosawn,” and the last two are STILL getting the red squiggly line under them! In Australia, hardwood flooring is called “timber flooring” and blind-nailing is called “secret-nailing.” We all speak our own language, so doesn’t it jump right out at you when someone doesn’t speak that language? Even hardwood floor language long forgotten?

The way we talk about abrasives is just one example of wood floor pro talk others might not understand.How about sandpaper alone? “Steve-O! I need a roll of 3 and a ten-cut of half, you got ’em?” Now, I know this language, but it’s old-school, and luckily most edger discs are boxed and labeled with two systems: CAMI & FEPA. FEPA, the Federation of European Producers of Abrasives, goes back to when many abrasives were produced in European companies. This is where (in my example above), “3” is 24-grit, “half” is 60-grit and a “ten-cut,” by the way, was a short roll you could get about 10 “cuts” and save money by not buying a 50-yard roll you may never use again. The more familiar CAMI (Coated Abrasives Manufacturers Institute) made it all simple with basically 12, 16, 24, 36, … 220 grit—what we all are familiar with today. I still like to yell, “CUT IT WITH HALF!” I am not that old-school, but it sounds cool.

A short note while we’re on the topic: The “ought” system does get thrown around, as well as “micron,” but ought is more commonly used today in terms of steel wool, and micron is typically extremely fine and has a vellum-type backing. We’ve probably all heard of 3-ought steel wool, for example.

I may have blogged about this before, but for those who weren’t around for my first floor-guy rant, I like when someone walks in and you KNOW they are not in ANY WAY a flooring professional. But they want to impress you and see if they can buy direct, save a little coin. The pro shop doorbell dings, but you don’t see anyone yet—your first sign that they are a homeowner, browser, janitorial guy. How do I know? This is how my usual customers announce they have arrived:

“Hey $4!thead! Four cases satin, box of 120 screens, one case sealer, one bundle 3 1/4 red. Get me outta here; I don’t have time for your little stories today! I got a lady up my a$$ to finish this thing by Friday. Chop chop! Oh … thanks for helpin’ me on that last one. I think that house was built over an ancient burial ground.” I GET HIM! He speaks OUR language. I bet you do, too. Clear as a bell, right?

On the other hand, sometimes people walk in who are the “acorn” people: They want you to start with the acorn and tell them the entire story of wood flooring, from the tree’s germination to the time it became a floor. Who has time for that?! Then you find out one of your best customers sent them in. Of course it’s 15 minutes before closing on Friday, and let’s get back to “the language.”  I can read French, swear in Italian and German a bit (I’ve been around). But, they don’t speak floor guy! “How you doin’, you Steve? Yah, so what yuh got here? What’s this Prego? Lillian look they got that Prego!” Prego? What are they looking for, spaghetti sauce?! Do you mean Pergo? No! It’s called “wood.” It comes from a tree, ever seen one? Then more language: “So, we’re thinkin’ about that prefab. You got the prefab right? What’s on that stuff, latex, right? You got that latex prefab flooring?” God … please kill me. A mild heart attack, bolt of lightning, somethin’. I am sure these are wonderful people, but please send me ANY hardwood floor speaking person now, God, please! So, I got this …

“Nick! Would you mind helping these folks out? Let them look over the showroom and I think they are looking at prefinished. They can get their pricing from XYZ once you have it all worked out. Excellent, thanks, Nick. I’ll be in my office if you need anything. Nice meeting you folks, take your time.”

I get back to my office, guilt-riddled. I have 48 emails, reports due, text and phone messages … I can talk a buzzard off a $4!T truck, but a dissertation on “The Forest To The Floor” won’t get anything done for “my” regulars and my company. “Latex.” “Prefab.” “Prego?!” Oh look, it’s 4 o’clock. “’Night, guys, phone’s on if you need anything. Peace! Cut it with HALF, BABY!”


Stephen Diggins works for Wood Pro Inc. in their Salem, N.H., branch as manager and training director. He has many years of installation, sanding, finishing, gymnasium design and technical consulting experience, which he uses to assist his flooring customers on a regular basis. With almost 30 years in the flooring industry, he has been a freelance columnist for magazine, newsprint and online medias and has conducted product seminars ranging from wood flooring to luxury vinyl tile.