The Quebec province of Canada is held in high regard for producing some of the finest hardwood floorings in the world. World renown brands such as Mercier, Mirage, and Lauzon are trusted brands in the flooring industry.
What are the Canadians flooring companies doing differently that sets them apart from the rest? In May of 2019, I was invited to an exclusive mill tour of the Mercier facility to learn about the secret behind the prestigious Canadian manufacturing process. I was only allowed to take photos of the exterior due to some proprietary manufacturing process which Mercier wants to keep hidden from the competition.
Day 1: Saw Mill
We arrive into Montreal Airport around 11:00 am and our hosts from Mercier Wood Flooring greets us at the terminal. First stop, Mercier sawmill, which is located 60 miles from Montreal. Upon arriving it’s impossible the miss the sheer number of logs in the yard. It takes 9 truckloads of logs to produce a single truckload of flooring. We put on our hardhats and safety glasses and head out to the yard where the logs are stored. Our guide explains how the logs are sourced from the Northeastern region of the United States which is known for having some of the best soil conditions and growth cycles making for the most beautiful wood. The logs are sorted into piles by wood species before heavy machinery comes along and picks them up individually to be sent into the debarking process. It’s noted that nothing goes to waste here. After the wood is measured and debarked, all the byproducts such as sawdust and bark are sent to partner facilities for processing into other goods. The wood is then milled and dried to exact specifications using state-of-the-art machinery. Mercier’s engineered hardwoods have a higher production cost than their solid wood, the reason for this is because of a thick 4mm sawn cut veneer, the bonding process, and the Baltic Birch plywood core. Baltic birch plywood is imported from Russia and Finland and this region of the world is known for producing the absolute best grade of plywood. This creates a more uniform appearance and improves the stability of the wood in harsh environmental conditions.
Throughout the tour it’s apparent Mercier has invested heavily in technology. Due to a shortage of labor in the region and difficulty keeping up with increased demands, automation continues to play a huge part in this operation. Our guide points out stations which were once manned by several line workers are now fully automated. This has also led to more consistent grading which once required the human eye to decide if the wood is Select Grade or Character Grade now is programmed into the algorithms of a computer. The key takeaways from this process are control and consistency. Everything from selecting the best region of the logs to the grade of the cut wood is in the hands of the flooring manufacturer. These are powerful forces when it comes to controlling the look and feel of a finished product. Each night the wood is carefully loaded into semi-trucks to be transferred to the finishing facility.
Day 2: Finishing Line
Near Quebec City is where the finishing facility resides. In the 1980 Marcel Mercier the founder of the Mercier brand was a cabinet-maker and innovator who found it odd that the flooring installers of that time would endure the inconvenience and inconsistencies of sanding and finishing their products onsite while all of his cabinets were finished before installation on the job site. Mercier started out as a finishing company for other flooring mills and prides themselves on their ability to has the greatest finish on the hardwood flooring market. Like many good things in life, Mercier stumbled into this soybean finish by accident. Due to increased pricing in petroleum leading to an unstable cost in petroleum-based finishes and a slowed global economy, Mercier started experimenting with soy-based finishes and never looked back. Mercier saw no reason to return to a petroleum finish due to all the benefits of their soy-based finish.
While most flooring finishes are petroleum based, we learned about Mercier’s now patented soybean finish. Children and seniors with weakened immune systems, when exposed to strong emissions of VOC, are 4x more likely to develop asthma. This soy-based finish is the only aluminum oxide flooring finish which claims zero-VOC. This along with their commitment to sustainability has made Mercier floors a recipient of both the highest level of Green Guard certification and LEED certification.
Today Mercier’s soy-based finish has 120g per sqm of aluminum oxide. This scores 1200 rotations on the abrasion test which is the highest amongst residential hardwood flooring manufacturers beating out every other petroleum-based aluminum oxide finish.
Further down the production line, the Canadian commitment to excellence is highlighted in the final step of the process. Each plank is carefully inspected for defect before ever leaving the factory. If a tiny imperfection is found the planks are set aside in the reject bin to be repurposed.
Later in the evening, we ended our tour with a visit to Quebec City which has a rich history with much French influenced architecture dating back to 1608. The region is very well-kept and has a heavy focus on sustainability and preservation which is apparent in the ethos of all industries from the Quebec region.