Let me start by going back to a puzzle that was posted on the Wood Floor Business Facebook page with these photos:

 

But wait, what does it have to do with that disappearing floor?! Inquiring minds need to know! Read on…

So, to catch everyone up, Mystery 9 involved a woman who claimed her floor “disappeared,” meaning the stain disappeared:

Obviously, the color faded and that’s why it took nearly three years to file a claim, right? Well, remember the dude we started with last time who was dead with his pack on in the desert? Remember that “Things are not always as they seem”?

I had to be certain my hypothesis was accurate, so I Googled “What causes dyes and stains to fade?” I found James Bernard’s article explaining how sunlight, PH levels, and chemicals can cause fading in everything from cars to clothing. Of course I’ve seen discolored hardwood flooring, mostly on site-finished material and exotic species, but what would cause a prefinished floor to lose all its color?

Recall that I wrote, “Hint … it’s oak!” For the folks online who identified both red and white oak in that floor, good work. It’s common to produce a Gunstock color specifying the wood type as “oak,” but I have never come across a prefinished natural-colored floor that was a mix of red and white oak. This was dark-stain-graded flooring, commonly offered in a few dark tones that effectively mask the color variations between red and white oak.

What about the fading? Did they change the stain formula? Maybe working on an eco-friendly, “green” stain? This product has been made for decades, so surely something changed? I emailed the manufacturer’s tech department, and while awaiting a response, I called Jim Bernard, VP of Colorants at First Source Worldwide. He and his team pored over my photos, asked me a lot of technical questions and began to apply their expert knowledge while I began testing sample pieces for photo degradation.

I wrapped several pieces of the flooring and placed them in the rear window of my car. Others I suspended under fluorescent lighting. This began last fall, so I had a decent amount of time to measure any effects. The waiting was killing me so, I went into Mad Chemist Mode. Could I create a short-term reaction that might prove this factory stain was in some way defective? Two words: Microwave oven! This board that puzzled floor pros on WFB Facebook was, in fact, nuked! I know, I know, I cheated. But online readers were correct that the massive separation in the wood was the result of extreme moisture loss. I had no idea the board would begin steaming at 28 seconds and explode the medullary rays in under 60! I did learn this: Nothing happened to the stain. Guess what else? Months of light exposure had no effect, either.

Theory busted! This floor’s color fading through chemical use or various light exposure was debunked between the team at the FSW Lab, the manufacturer, and myself. Sadly, there was no disappearing floor to report. (No Old Man Withers in handcuffs groaning, “I would have gotten away with it too! If it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their dog!” Unfortunately, RUTT RHO!)

The truth: The flooring had been produced, boxed and installed that way. The manufacturer reported back to me that they had purchased a run of white oak with a lot sapwood, adding this: “That stuff doesn’t take stain well.” Remember the small circles in the photo at right? They highlight where the stain hadn’t disappeared, it simply failed to mechanically and chemically bond consistently.

This leaves us asking: If the floor was installed that way, why would it take nearly three years to report a claim?! The rep that did the initial legwork received a call from the original retail flooring dealer, and he asked this question. They were very excited to share what they had learned. The claim happened after the daughter of the woman with the disappearing floor visited. The daughter had not been home in a long time and asked her mother what was wrong with her floors. Her mother thought they were fine. Turns out … the mother was color blind. Until the daughter mentioned it, she had no idea there were color variations in her floor. Today, the claim is still being negotiated.

Go back and look over the hints and clues … they should all make sense now. Things are not always as they seem, not even in hardwood flooring. Way to go, online floor pros! More flooring mysteries and puzzles are in the vault. Stay tuned!

See more wood floor mysteries from Stephen Diggins:

Wood Floor Mystery #1: The Spreading Black Spots

Wood Floor Mystery #2: The Poly That Wouldn't Stick

Wood Floor Mystery #3: The Tale of the Half-Cupped Floors, Part 1

Wood Floor Mystery #4: How Did This Floor Get Like This?

Wood Floor Mystery #5: The Uniform Gaps

Wood Floor Mystery #6: The Case of the Crawling Finish

Wood Floor Mystery #7: The Case of the ‘Burned’ Floor

Wood Floor Mystery #8: Is This Floor Fungus Among Us?

 


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 34 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.