Take another look at wood block flooring

An old standard is reborn with new options to meet the changing needs of today's plants.

By Ron Garapick, The Jennison-Wright Company

When it's time to decide what kind of industrial flooring to put down, whether it's for a new installation or a retrofit, you'll find that there are a number of excellent choices on the market—a product to suit nearly every need. The selection you make should be one you'll be satisfied with for a long time. So it may be time to take another look at wood.

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Wood block flooring has always been, and still is, a popular choice. It is more comfortable and durable, quieter, and warmer than most other types of industrial flooring. Many original wood block flooring installations from the 1940s and 1950s are still in service today. In recent years, however, users have been asking for replacement flooring materials that not only offer these same advantages, but that are easy to maintain and environmentally-friendly as well.

In response to such customer requirements, the industry developed several new kinds of wood-block flooring solutions. To find the one that fits the demands of a particular application, you'll need to take into account performance, cost, durability, installation and maintenance.

Meeting new needs with new technology

The variety of wood block flooring products currently available for in-plant use offers a suitable choice to fit most applications. Creosote, or other fuel oil-based, chemically treated wood-block products have long been acceptable for many operations. Today, however, newly developed wood-block flooring products provide the greater comfort and energy absorption for which wood block has always been known, as well as increased durability, dimensional stability and environmentally friendlier treatment options.

Solid end grain wood blocks made from southern yellow pine heartwood or upland oak are suitable for basic industrial use. Yellow pine block floors are resilient and best suited for areas that receive light to medium abrasion. For areas subjected to heavy abrasion, oak block floors offer greater resistance.

It is important to note that end-grain blocks must be treated with a solution to replace the moisture that was removed from the lumber during the drying process. Treating the blocks with an approved solution lubricates the cell structure of the wood block to provide greater resiliency over the life of the block as well as resistance to unwanted moisture absorption.

Where needed to meet today's stricter environmental requirements, blocks made from the same pine or oak wood may be treated with a new clear non-toxic compound, specifically developed for end grain blocks. This results in an odorless, environmentally-friendly flooring product that still delivers traditional wood-block performance, comfort, safety, and economy. Like all wood block flooring, it absorbs impact and compacts under heavy loads with no spalling, chipping or cracking. The floor is easy to clean and maintain, with warmth and resiliency underfoot to help reduce worker fatigue.

Another recent development is the creation of a polymer-wood composite flooring block that is lightweight, resilient, abrasion-resistant, and environmentally sound. Its nonporous composition makes this flooring block highly resistant to moisture, oil, most chemicals, solvents and other corrosive materials. And, unlike polymer-concrete blocks, these blocks won't chip or crack. The blocks are square, with no specific top or bottom. When installed, the blocks lay tight against each other eliminating voids and preventing future damage that may be caused by hammering of an open joint by rolling traffic. Polymer-wood composite flooring is dimensionally stable, clean, quiet, safe and long lasting.

Which block to choose?

End grain wood blocks are available in a variety of sizes and thickness. The two-inch deep blocks are best for light to medium loading applications such as metal working, tooling, assembly or printing.

Blocks that are two-and-a-half-inches deep support medium to heavy load applications such as stamping plants, aluminum plants and heavy metal working. The three-inch deep blocks are for areas subjected to heavy-duty loading such as steel foundries, die drop areas, forging and heavy equipment maintenance shops.

Wood block offers a number of advantages over other flooring materials:

  • substantial savings in equipment-moving and relocation costs,
  • wear tends to improve smoothness without reducing energy absorption,
  • non-dusting blocks require no special coatings,
  • energy absorption reduces machinery noise and vibration, and reduces damage to accidentally-dropped tools or parts,
  • less fatiguing to workers; may reduce time off, workers comp claims,
  • performs as well or better than other flooring materials under uniform loading; exhibits much less wear under bouncing loading,
  • non-conductive wood eliminates danger of struck and static sparks on floor,
  • absorbs impact and compacts under load; no spalling, chipping or cracking, and,
  • treatments and coatings add durability and longer life.

Solid end grain wood blocks treated with new, non-toxic solutions offer the following additional advantages:

  • completely odorless,
  • no hazardous chemicals used; eliminates environmental concerns and facilitates simple disposal of used blocks,
  • non-toxic composition eliminates personnel concerns, and
  • repairs require much less preparation, labor and down-time.

Finally, polymer-wood composite block continues to provide most of the features of solid end grain wood block and offers these additional benefits:

  • dimensional stability-won't swell or shrink,
  • resistance to moisture absorption, including most chemicals, solvents, acids and grease,
  • contains no preservatives or hazardous chemicals,
  • completely recyclable,
  • resists wear and abrasion better than most other materials,
  • easy, faster installation, even when done by an inexperienced crew,
  • installation and repair cause little or no interruption in the work flow; the finished floor is ready for immediate use, and
  • fit snugly together without joint fillers, and are faster to install with no top or bottom, blocks square on all sides.

Weigh the advantages of different wood block products against your unique performance objectives to decide which product is the right one for your particular application. The results of independent laboratory testing, shown in the next section, is provided to help the decision-maker in the selection process.

Some hard facts

Independent laboratories conducted tests on various wood block flooring materials to determine wear and abrasion resistance as well as indentation resistance. The labs also tested and compared wood block against other kinds of flooring materials in terms of reparability, comfort, rolling-load wear and energy absorption. As you can see, wood does very well when compared with the performance of concrete, asphalt block or other hard surface flooring.

In comparing wood block products to non-wood materials, there were four important areas for which testing was done. These are maintenance/repair, comfort, traffic and energy absorption.

Maintenance and repair - The most important aspect of industrial floor maintenance is the ease of repairing the surface of the flooring. Comparison tests showed that wood block flooring requires less preparation for repair, less interruption of operations, and less expertise on the part of the crew.

Furthermore, wood block flooring repairs are more effective and the repaired areas are usable more quickly than in the case of concrete floor repairs.

Comfort - The labs considered two criteria of comfort: temperature and stress. Tests determined the comparative thermal resistance of flooring types, as well as the average areas of muscle activities when walking on various surfaces. Results showed that workers are less fatigued at the end of the day and energy savings are significant with wood block. The following charts contain the results of these comfort tests.

Traffic - Experts also compared the amount of wear and damage traffic causes to various floor materials. Test revealed that wood block flooring shows less tendency to vary in wear than other flooring products. It resists the chipping and cracking that affects poured concrete and polymer-concrete block flooring, as well as the rippling wear that was evident when testing asphalt block.

Energy absorption - Finally, researchers tested the ability of flooring products to absorb energy, both in terms of noise and vibration control. Again, wood block flooring fared well when compared with asphalt block or concrete. The resilience of wood block flooring allows it to dampen the sound and damage produced by dropped objects. It helps reduce the noise of machines by absorbing their vibrations. This ability to absorb vibration not only reduces the shock pulse generated when dropped objects hit the floor, but also reduces the damage done to the objects hitting the flooring.

Help for the bottom line

Wood block flooring provides many performance advantages over other flooring materials traditionally used in manufacturing facilities. These advantages translate into cost reduction, increased productivity and worker comfort and health benefits.

Costs are reduced in a number of ways. Wood block floors are easy and quick to install or repair with little or no interruption of workflow or downtime. Block floors requires minimal time for drying, curing or setting before they can be used. Regular in-house maintenance personnel can often do the installation. Finally, when repairs are necessary, individual blocks can be removed and replaced without tearing up large sections of floor. In addition, the facility realize savings from the increased insulation that wood provides in cold climates, as well as the frequent reduction in worker injury, lost time, and workers compensation claims attributed to muscle fatigue and strain.

Along with the comfort factors associated with wood-block floors, there are some other factors that enhance worker health and well being. Wood-block produces no dust. Newly developed non-toxic treatments produce block with no objectionable odors, that are resistant to chemical and other spills, and that clean up easily.

Choosing a wood block flooring supplier

The two most important characteristics to look for in a flooring supplier are product knowledge and product availability. The more your supplier knows about various flooring products, the better your chances of getting exactly the right flooring for your purposes. Also, be sure to choose a supplier who carries more than one or two flooring types. Today, there are many very good types of industrial plant flooring—wood-block, asphalt block, steel tile floor plate, and polymer-concrete block—yet each of them has limitations. Remember that a supplier with only one product in stock is much more likely to think it's the right choice for your application.

Finally, look for a supplier who has genuine expertise when it comes to flooring installation and maintenance. In addition to the correct materials, this is one of the primary requirements that make your flooring last longer and perform better from day one.

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