A Guide to End-Grain Flooring

Learn how to create beautiful, unique floors out of reclaimed materials with this simple guide to end-grain flooring.

| April 18, 2012

When you build with secondhand materials, you save money and reduce pressure on your local landfill. You also help curb the consumption of brand-new materials that need to be manufactured from raw resources and shipped across the country or around the world. But perhaps best of all, when you use reclaimed materials to build your home projects, you get unique results and original outcomes that satisfy you in a way that new stuff just can’t. Building With Secondhand Stuff (Creative Publishing International, 2011) by Chris Peterson is a valuable resource for getting the most out of reclaimed materials. This excerpt about end-grain flooring is taken from the chapter “Reclaiming Heritage Wood.” 

Spend enough time searching through old industrial buildings and once-grand turn-of-the-century homes, and sooner or later you will come across the interesting and potentially gorgeous wood flooring known as end-grain flooring. Also called “wood-block” flooring, end-grain floors are made of tiles cut from timber ends. Because the cuts are made across the board, the end grain is exposed on the face of the tile, just as it would be on a chopping block. And, as with chopping block, the surface of an end-grain tile is incredibly tough and durable.

That durability is why the first uses for these wood-block tiles were as a street paving material (and some of those streets are still in existence today), and as floors for industrial facilities. Chances are, you won’t find a tougher home flooring material.

But that toughness belies an incredibly beautiful side. End-grain pattern is more intense and visually dynamic than any other wood grain, and was stained, painted, and finished natural. The look of reclaimed end-grain tiles varies with the type of wood used and where the tiles were installed. Depending on the look you’re after, you can refinish the tiles to create a shiny end-grain floor that looks almost like polished brick, or lay a satin-finish surface with hypnotic patterns unlike any other type of flooring. You can also take advantage of the time-seasoned appearance of your reclaimed tiles, worn as they will be from many years of foot (or tire) traffic. Not only do the tiles present a vast number of potential surface finishes, the arrangement of the tiles can be varied from a simple brick pattern, to a herringbone design, to a more random pattern. You can also leave spaces between the end-grain blocks to be filled with flexible wood filler, or you can butt each tile up against the others to create a solid-surface appearance. Either way, the surface must be sealed to prevent dirt and moisture from penetrating.

The floors are laid somewhat like other tile floors, although the adhesive is different; the surface of an end-grain floor is either sealed with a clear polyurethane after cleaning and a very light sanding (if you want to keep the aged appearance) or it is sanded in much the same fashion as a hardwood strip floor is, if you’re looking for a completely new surface appearance. But given the potential complexity of the floor’s pattern and the work required for laying it, end-grain floors are usually limited to smaller spaces and those areas that don’t require complex adjustments to the pattern to accommodate built-in fixtures. Either way, end-grain flooring is more difficult to install than other wood floors, requiring patience and attention to detail. The result, however, is usually well worth your trouble.

End-Grain Tiles: Cut Your Own

You don’t necessarily have to purchase reclaimed end-grain tiles to have a wood-block floor; you can make your own. Use a bandsaw to cut inch-thick slices from a 2x6 or other piece of reclaimed lumber (such as the antique pine timber in the Image Gallery being sliced into 6" x 6" tiles)

12/7/2016 8:20:18 PM

So you go across the grain to knock of rough edges and then finish with the grain to smooth it out.

10/18/2014 6:59:37 AM

I know wood expands/contracts but don't understand that i n relation to tiles that are glued down. Also don't understand sanding instructions 'across the grain' and 'with the grain' when the wood to be sanded is end grain. And what about using random-orbit and straight-line sanders, which are now made for floor use?

10/18/2014 6:53:03 AM

i have salvaged some fine 80-year-old beams here in NYC. They're Doug fir, I think, and 6x6. Will that size be OK for floor tiles? If so, how thick should they be?

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