Intertech’s Wood Expertise on Display At Boston Consulting Group’s New Austin Digs
Wise words from Intertech Flooring’s Billy Chrzan, project manager, and wood flooring guru, and he should know. In his 30 years in commercial flooring, Billy has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of square feet of wood flooring installation.
It was that expertise that led to one of Intertech’s most recent, most challenging, and most impressive wood floor projects, this one for Boston Consulting Group’s new downtown Austin offices completed in January 2020.
“We learned a long time ago – wood doesn’t work with you, you work with wood. It is the boss, and we know that.”
End-Grain Wood Flooring: A Task for Experts
Boston Consulting Group wanted its new 25,000-sq.ft., 18th-floor space at 300 West 6th Street to have a consistent look to its home office in Boston. For some of the space, that meant specifying an unusual end grain wood manufactured by Kaswell Flooring Systems, which for 70 years has specialized in end-grain wood block flooring.
End-grain wood flooring products are highly durable and resilient flooring surfaces – but installation is much different from installing traditional wood planks.
“There just aren’t a lot of commercial flooring companies that have our level of wood expertise,” says Billy. “I had just completed a We Work project in Austin for the same general contractor, Novo Construction. It also used an interesting custom wood solution, so Novo knew Intertech was well-equipped to handle this job.”
What is End-Grain Wood Flooring?
Unlike other wood flooring that is made by taking a log and cutting it lengthwise, end-grain is made by continuously cross-cutting or slicing logs or cants into blocks or rounds, with the annual growth rings exposed on every piece, according to Kaswell.
The result is small pieces of wood whose density and durability far surpass other wood. Wood hardness is measured through what’s known as the Janka Hardness rating. The Janka rating for traditional-cut red oak is 1,260, for instance. That means that it takes 1,260 pounds of pressure to push a ½-inch steel ball to make a 200-mm indention in the wood. In comparison, says Billy, the Janko measure for white oak is 1,380 and for mesquite is 2,800 pounds of pressure.
“But when you turn the wood, and use it as an end-grain, the Janka rating goes up to around 4,000 pounds because all the grains are standing up and the wood is holding itself,” he says. “The end-grain gives the wood a very unique look, and while it is more expensive than regular hardwood flooring, the durability delivers a floor that lasts twice as long.” For this project, Intertech Flooring recommended using hemlock, which is in the pine family, due to its look, durability and price.
What to Know about Installation
Installing end-grain wood flooring takes about four to five times longer than traditional hardwood flooring for several reasons. First, says Billy, the small pieces – just 3 inches by 2 inches – are extremely fragile and brittle. They must be carefully handled until solidly glued in place, at which point they become harder than a white oak floor. “But, in your hand, you can shred it with little more than a thumbnail,” he says.
In addition, the wood must be sanded smooth and hand-oiled once in place, a time-consuming process.
Lastly, “it is critical that the installer understand and factor in for expansion as well,” notes Billy. “We put a 1/8-inch expansion between boards. It’s a little bit less with the end-grain since they are more stable, but it will grow. We had to convince the end-user,” he says.
End-Grain Combined with Custom Carpet
In addition to the 1,800 square feet of hemlock end-grain, Boston Consulting’s new Austin offices feature two custom 12 ft. x 18 ft. custom carpets manufactured in Denmark. One of the hand-dyed, hand-stitched designs greets visitors in the entry. The other is the focal point of an octagon-shaped conference room, framed by the wood flooring.
“The customer loves the look, and we already are talking with Novo about another project using the same wood,” says Billy.
Choosing an End-Grain Wood Installer
Using end-grain wood delivers a beautifully unique and durable floor. But it is not for every client, nor for every installer. Before choosing end-grain, Billy recommends:
If you are on a fast budget or fast track, end-grain is probably not a good choice. The Boston Consulting floors took 10 days to install and finish.
Be sure you have a qualified installer with experience in using end-grain woods. “Installing end-grain is what I would describe as the ‘heavy difficulty’ level,” says Billy. “If you don’t have a flooring company that knows what they are doing, you can have a lot of problems.”