Types of Wood
The United States literally has hundreds of natural wood species
Many U.S.-grown species of wood can be used for home flooring purposes.
What follows is a list of the 10 most popular types of hardwood flooring that can be sourced domestically, with the exception of bamboo, which is a grass that primarily imported from China. While you certainly will have your own opinions when it comes to aesthetics, knowing what has a nationwide appeal or which wood is most durable (in a world where durability is already very high compared to many other flooring choices), at the very least, may be important when it’s time to pass the home ownership baton on to someone else.
Which brings us to the Janka hardness scale — a rating that was created by an Austrian-born American researched named Gabriel Janka, who wanted to create a way of measuring various types of woods’ resistance to wear and denting in order to determine their suitability for flooring purposes. Of course, despite any ranking given, other factors, such as where the flooring is actually installed (e.g., a home or a car dealership showroom) impact the quantity and frequency of foot traffic as well as other variables that “travel over” the flooring and impact how well it will hold up over time. The maintenance that is performed periodically — both minor (cleaning) and major (refinishing) are also factors.
According to Nicefloors.com:
“The Janka scale was developed as a way to standardize the hardness of different wood species. This allows consumers to have an idea of how well a floor might hold up to denting, scratching, and other wear. A Janka rating is calculated by measuring the amount of force it takes to embed a 0.444-inch steel ball halfway into a solid piece of hardwood.”
Let's See How the Various Wood Choices Stack Up
We have compiled a list, in descending order, of the top 10 most popular woods used for flooring purposes in the U.S. The order is as follows: oak (white and red), maple, hickory, American cherry, American walnut, pine, ash, birch, Douglas fir, and bamboo. The majority of floors in the U.S. are manufactured using one of the top five on our list. (Again, remember bamboo is technically not a hardwood, but it’s gaining popularity and becoming increasingly available, so we included it here.)
Read on to determine which flooring might work best for your environment, but also be sure to factor in the following stability variables:
Be Aware of How Much the Floor Will Expand
Consumers need to be aware of how much the wood will expand and contract under temperature and humidity changes, and take this into account when making a selection. Another important consideration when making a selection is the fact that all types of wood floors are photosensitive to some degree, which means their exposure to light leads to color changes, with some wood types getting lighter while others become darker. So no matter what type of flooring you choose, at the outset, new flooring recipients need to be careful not to obstruct major areas with light-blocking objects, such as area rugs.
Oak Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: White Oak 1360; Red Oak 1290
Red oak is the most common type of wood used for hardwood floors in the U.S. And because it grows abundantly throughout the country, it is typically reasonably priced. What’s more, as is evident from its Janka ranking, it stands up well to foot and other “traffic,” such as furniture that is moved around or pets who insist on playing enthusiastically in the house. There are several other reasons why oak flooring is ideal, including how well it holds a stain and allows stain colors to be altered over time, and how it tolerates expansion and contraction related to changes in humidity. The grain patterns are also typically more obvious, which allows scratches and dents to “hide” for longer.
The two types of oak available, red and white, have qualities that differ only slightly in terms of their color, grain, and hardness. As might be intuited by its name, red oak has more of a reddish hue, while white oak tends to be more golden, with some brown and grayish tones.
Maple Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: Ranges from 700 to 1450
The many species of maple, growing both in the northern United States and Canada, vary in grade, which means that consumers who settle on this wood for their hardwood floors must sort through a range of qualities, hardness factors, grain patterns, and prices.
Most maple types tend to have swirling grain patterns, some of which are more prominent than others; the more subtle options afford a more consistent overall look that is particularly striking if the consumer opts for a clearer finish.
With a hardness rating of 1450, maple flooring is ideal for high-traffic home environments as well as rough-and-tumble business premises, such as bowling alleys. Conversely, its hardness makes it less able to absorb stains, so they tend to damage any maple flooring that has not been properly sealed or whose protection has ebbed over time.
Maple’s natural color is generally full of lighter hues, such as those found in the beige and grey families.
Hickory Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: 1820
Hickory wood floors are more common homes and businesses that strive for a rustic look, but can certainly make a statement in any location. This hardwood choice is coveted for its obvious knotted grain pattern and color variance. It’s more commonly cut into wide planks because that strategy showcases its variability; smaller planks can result in flooring with a more complex outcome since the color of hickory can range from beige to brown to red on a single board.
With a Janka rating of 1820, hickory is one of the hardest U.S.- grown types of hardwood flooring. This durable and dent-and-scratch-resistant choice is perfect for high-traffic homes and businesses, including areas where pets or other “inconsiderate” visitors might be present. With proper care, hickory requires relatively low maintenance, with a need to refinish that is less frequent than other common woods such as oak.
The primary negative associated with selecting hickory is financial in nature: its installation, staining, sanding, and refinishing costs will be higher than other hardwood flooring types, as harder types of wood require more labor and skill for these tasks.
American Cherry Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: 950
In addition to yielding cherries, the American cherry tree, grown in the northern U.S., is harvested for wood floors that are usually installed as wide planks ranging from five to eight inches in diameter, thereby showcasing the eye-catching natural grain patterns. To further highlight these, most consumers use a clear finish to protect their investment.
Though it’s a softer wood on the Janka rating scale than some others discussed so far, cherry is harder to work with, so the flooring associated with it more expensive overall. With its softer wood making it more susceptible to dents and scratches, it’s better suited for lower-traffic areas such as bedrooms and in-home office or craft spaces. On the other hand, shrinkage and expansion driven by changes in humidity and temperature are not as severe as with some other popular flooring choices.
The beautiful natural deep reddish color and distinctive grain pattern of a cherry hardwood floor account for much of its appeal. Interestingly, the wood surface’s sensitivity to light leads it to darken, typically within its first 6 months as flooring, so wise consumers wait at least that long before obstructing sunlight from large areas, such as those that would be covered by area rugs.
American Walnut (aka Black Walnut) Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: 1010
Like cherry trees, which are producers of both a food and wood that can be used for consumer purposes, walnut trees yield a popular snack food item (in this case, walnuts) and are harvested for wood that serves as a popular flooring choice. Growing readily in the central and eastern U.S., American walnut trees should not to be confused with Brazilian walnut trees, which afford a much harder type of wood.
And like its cherry “partner” in this article, walnut is an expensive and softer hardwood that remains popular due to its elegance but is more suitable for lower-traffic uses. Interestingly, its color varies from lighter to darker brown, depending on the part of the tree from which it is sourced, but the final product usually has a very consistent look due to the variations within a plank not being dramatic.
Pine (aka Eastern White Pine or Southern Yellow Pine)
Soft and Hard
Janka hardness rating: Ranges from 690 to 1225
Pine grows rapidly and commonly in the U.S. and Canada, making it another sustainable choice in terms of our ecosystem. Its hardness will vary depending on the species of pine as well as the part of the tree it’s from, with the hardest pine being the heart variety, which comes from the center of the tree and has a Janka hardness rating of 1225. Softer types of wood such as pine are more common in older homes, which is a nod toward historic times when wood mills were less capable of dealing with harder woods, making this flooring a common choice for people refurbishing vintage properties.
Most of the pine flooring that is available comes from the eastern white (from the northeastern states) and southern yellow species (from the southern states), which is much softer and prone to dents and scratches. Pine floors have less dimensional stability and require more skill and labor to refinish. Advantages of pine include its traditional look filled with unique grains and character-filled knots and the fact that its appearance improves with age. Pine flooring colors range from yellowish white to tones of brown, yellow, and orange.
Ash Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: 1320
Ash trees grow widely across the U.S. It’s less expensive than oak and has some similarities that make it a good flooring choice. It’s medium hardness and unique grain resemble oak, making it good for foot and other traffic. And when it comes to its installation, staining, and refinishing, it handles well. Ash wood floors are known for their lighter colors in tones of white, yellow, tan, and brown.
Birch Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: Ranges from 910 to 1470
The birch tree is another source of U.S.-grown affordable hardwoods. Its resulting product looks similar to maple in terms of color and grain, but it’s less expensive in most cases than those options and many others. As with maple, consumers must be careful to avoid stains. This is a popular prefinished hardwood option, with a range of hardness that is dependent on the species and part of the tree. There is also a range of colors that are tied to the tree type (e.g., red birch has gold and red tones while yellow birch has yellow and white tones).
Douglas Fir Wood Floors
Janka hardness rating: 660
Douglas fir trees grow mostly along the West Coast and, like the hickory option in this piece, as a hardwood flooring option, its look makes it mostly popular in older in homes. Because Douglas fir is one of the softest woods used for wood floors, with a hardness rating of only 660, it’s only suited for low-traffic areas, such as craft or in-home office areas, bedrooms, and lofts.
But Douglas fir falls into the list of top 10 due to its lower price point and because it yields a finished look that sports a uniform texture, consistent color range, and subtle grain. Douglas fir darkens with age, and is available in hues of red and orange as well as gold and brown. Unlike many other options on this list, Douglas fir flooring is rarely available prefinished — it is usually finished on-site.
Janka hardness rating: Ranges from 1200 to 1400
In the past 20 years or so, bamboo flooring has become an increasingly popular player in the hardwood flooring game. Since bamboo is technically a type of grass (and not a hardwood), compressed strips of bamboo are manufactured into floor planks that are suitable for foot traffic, with most of its production being in China these days.
Bamboo’s popularity can be attributed to a two main factors: With some species growing as much as three feet per day, it is lauded as a renewable resource because it grows so quickly, drawing environmentalists and other like-minded people toward this choice, and with over 1,000 species, it is in abundant supply. The flip side of this scenario, though, is that there is a wide variation in quality, so when considering this option, it is important to be wary and to ensure a good warranty is included in the purchase contract.
Various species can be as soft as pine or harder than maple. Much of the available quality bamboo has a hardness Janka rating that is comparable to oak. In fact, strand-woven bamboo, which is the most durable, is harder than red oak. But it is not as easy to stain or refinish as other choices, so installing prefinished flooring is usually the wisest choice. What’s more, this type of “hardwood” can only be refinished two or three times in its lifetime, which means its overall durability is shorter than other options.
Call Us Today to Discuss Your Custom Hardwood Flooring Needs.
Now it’s time to take all of the preceding into consideration and then apply a “dose” of personal preference, look at your budget, and contact us with your thoughts and questions. We would be happy to help you design and achieve the space of your dreams.