Natural Wood Finish

Vermont Natural Coatings is one of the leading green wood finishes out there. Most of the time we mix oils and bases from staple ingredients like tung oil, linseed oil, whey pigments and citrus solvent, but sometime the situation calls for a more “conventional look”. This is when we might use Vermont Natural Coatings.

Here is a sub-floor floor that has had the irreparable top floor removed and our natural oil mix applied to it:



The natural oil application gives a deep matte tone. It brings out the details of the wood more than any other finish because it seeps into it so much. It literally changes the property of the wood. A normal poly mostly sits on top of the wood and brings out it’s character very much like a dry seashell comes alive when it is wet with water. The water sits on top of the seashell and creates a prism over the surface.

The oil seeps into the wood and changes it from within. There is no gloss on top of the wood, thus the matte finish, but the wood itself does come to life since the oil seeps into its fibers and hydrates it, bringing out its natural marbling. One is not better than the other. It depends on the application.

We really enjoy restoring the old wood floors in Brooklyn Brownstones. We expecially enjoy turning the sub-floors into usable flooring. Probably more than any other green contractor in Brooklyn we have restored a large number of sub-floors. They were never intended to be the top floor when they were laid a hundred years ago. They are usually butt ugly when you rip the rotten top flooring off. 99% of Brooklyn contractors simply put new flooring over it or rip the stuff out and replace it with new plywood sub-floor.

But we see the sub-floor as diamonds in the rough. They are often pine and even though they are old growth they are still softer than a really hard wood from today. Yet by now they have aged to perfection and have more charm than any “natural hand hewn” fake you can buy today. They just need a skilled flooring expert to bring them to life.

The one issue is sound proofing. The sub floor planks, although beautiful, do have wide seams that let air and noise down into the floor below. A solid sub-floor with wood on top does a much better job at soundproofing. To remediate this we do two things.

In some cases we take the sub-floor up, blow lots of cellulose insulation in between the bare joists in the floor and then lay a new sub-floor under it out of salvaged plywood. We then lay recycled cotton mat padding and then put the old subfloor back on to be used as the refurbished top floor. On the ceiling below that floor we would put two layers of sheet rock with sound proofing green glue in between.

This multi faceted approach creates a good sound proofing barrier. In the case of the sub-floor above that is what we did. It sounds like a lot of work but it comes in at the same price as buying and installing a new floor, which would cut down more trees.

The second option we do is less effective. We leave the floor alone and from below blow in cellulose by cutting holes in the ceiling. We then put several layers of sheet rock on the ceiling with sound proofing green glue.

In terms of wood floor finishes sometimes we use our own oil mixes and other times we use more conventional natural coatings depending on the situation. Vermont Natural Coatings Poly Whey is more “conventional” because it goes on and looks very much like your typical floor varnish.

It basically looks like any semi gloss or matte finish which in some case is more appealing to people. The big difference is in the health and ecological benefit of the product since it has barely any VOC, is water based and is made largely from post production waste (the whey).

We have their wood finish in our show house and it has stood up well under a year of hard trafic:


It has a simi-gloss sheen which looks a little glossier than it really is in the picture below because the light from outside is so strong:


The trick to a nice Poly Whey finish is really in the application. You need to understand the product to do it right. We have learned this and thus proudly call ourselves natural flooring experts when it comes to applying Vermont’s products on Brooklyn brownstone floors. Poly Whey is not like normal poly finishes that are completely see through. The Vermont Natural Coating PolyWhey floor finish has a little milkiness to it. To avoid the floor finish showing this you need to apply it in a certain way (or is that whey?!).

The trick is to keep the applications really thin. The first one can go on pretty thick since the wood will soak it up. Then you give it a light sand, vacuum and damp mop. Then the other coats need to go on really evenly and really thin to give a perfect finish.

The end result is not as glossy or clear as your toxic poly but this shouldn’t be interpreted as bad. The look of Poly Whey has its own charm and beauty. I’m really splitting hairs anyway since most people don’t notice the difference. The best way to describe it is that Poly Whey is a little more down to earth and doesn’t have the synthetic super vibrancy you can only get with the toxic finishes.

Either way the natural coating has a lot of benefits that more than make up for any differences from what people are normally used to.

In terms of durability it works well. It is hard and retains a good even sheen.

Vermont Natural has recently come out with an exterior version which is basically the same but has some natural mildewside and UV Resistance to protect the wood from wet and sun. I’ve not tried it yet. It has a 2 year guarantee on decks but I suspect it will last without problem for longer than that.

Natural Wood Flooring Finish Option

We’ve been using PolyWhey Natural Wood Finish from Vermont Natural Coatings for a lot of our salvaged floors and we are very happy with their product.

First of all you can apply it in a closed room without barely any smell. It is really low VOC and the VOC that is present is not noxious at all. As the name applies it has whey in it, a creative use of the extra whey from all the cheese manufacturers in Vermont.

Here we are applying it to an old beat up floor that we salvaged and sanded down.


Here is how it looks when dry:


Brooklyn is full of great wood to be salvaged. Vermont Natural Coatings Polywhey is a good natural wood floor option because it really adds to the natural feel of the salvaged wood. If it is a green renovation of a Brooklyn brownstone where you are salvaging subfloors or old floors then the Polywhey brings out the character of the wood in a really good whey, uh, I mean way.

Another thing we like to do with the Polywhey is to first cover the floor with tung oil, which seeps deep into the wood. Once the tung oil is dry about a day later we then put the Polywhey over it as a top coat on the wood. This provides a great combo for a natural wood finish. You have the deep penetration and the hard protective cover happening at the same time.

Here are some salvaged southern pine we cut into planks and turned into stairs. We left them unsanded to accentuate the grain in the wood which you can feel when walking barefoot. We love those green building touches where the design brings the person closer to nature, albeit subtle.

To get finish we wanted first we put a couple coats of tung oil and then capped them off with a couple coats of PolyWhey. We used the satin finish but it looks shiny here because the PolyWhey is still wet.


Below are the stairs once dry and after some use. Notice the rich grain and deep colors that held because of the finish. Without the finish after some wear you don’t see the grain or color as intensely any more.


But we only do the tung oil if we have the time. Another practical thing about Polywhey is that it dries in a couple hours. You can put three coats of the stuff on in one day. In New York where small living space is the norm the clients might not be able to stay off the floor for 24 hours. Eight hours might be all they can do. With Polywhey this is not a problem because you can have the whole floor done by the time the owners come home from work.

And when they do come home they won’t have to endure any toxic smells. Sure the finish is just recently applied but that does not mean there is any smell left. It is surprising if you can smell anything at all once it is dry. This is great for people with sensory overload, something common in NY.