It is important to remember when selecting your new floor that no two species of hardwood are alike. Today, there are literally hundreds of different species of hardwood flooring that homeowners can choose from. Here are a few factors you may want to consider when shopping for your new floor.
The most important factor is how it looks to you. Because many species of wood have distinctly different colors, grains and character, it is important to initially pick the one you like. After you have picked one that you like, begin asking questions to determine whether your selection is right for you. For example, what species is it, is it hard enough for your lifestyle (kids, dogs, etc.), does it come in different widths and colors, are there similar woods that you should consider. All of these questions are designed to make sure you select the right floor for you. Not every wood is a good choice for every family, so it is important to ask plenty of questions to make sure you are purchasing exactly what you want and what you need.
Here are a few brief descriptions of some of the hardwoods out there today that should get you started.
American Black Walnut
Origin: Native to the eastern United States and as far west as Texas.
Appearance: There is a distinct difference in color between the nearly white sapwood of walnut and the heartwood which ranges in color from a deep, rich, almost chocolate brown to a purplish black. The wood often has a purplish cast with dark streaks. However, there is a wide variation of color, figure, and grade within the species. For example, select grade walnut is very uniform in color and character, while rustic or character grade will bring in vast differences in color and grain. The grain of walnut is mostly straight and open, though some boards may have a grain pattern that is burled or curly. In fact, the wood is especially valued for its wavy, curly, and mottled figures. The wood surface is generally fairly dull, though it may develop a lustrous patina after many years in use. This is one of the most prized North American hardwoods. Black Walnut is also prized for its ability to work in settings from modern to country when done with a caring eye.
Janka Hardness: 1010 Although one of the most beautiful floors, Black Walnut tends to be slightly softer than Oak and may not be suitable for an active family unless done in a hand-scraped or rustic fashion.
Origin: North America
Appearance: Prized for its rich color and fine graining, American Cherry is commonly seen in American cabinetry and furniture. The fine, satiny texture of the wood is uniform and frequently wavy, with distinctive gum veins and pockets. The lustrous heartwood ranges from light to dark reddish brown, contrasting sharply with the sapwood, which may be light brown to pale with a light pinkish tone. There may be significant color variations between boards, or even within boards. The wood can take on an elegant look, or a casual country look, depending on the setting. American Cherry is photo-sensitive, so there is a strong color change and darkening over a short period time when the wood is first exposed to light. This is when American Cherry begins to show its natural beauty. But don’t worry, it will reach a natural balance before you know it. Areas that have not been exposed to light (under rugs for example) will retain their original appearance until exposed to light. Once exposed, they also will balance out and blend perfectly with older areas of the floor. Be careful not to expose to direct sunlight, however as it can show fading over time from over exposure to sunlight.
Janka Hardness: 950 While considered one of the prettiest woods, it is a wood that is not commonly used for high traffic areas or active families unless they are willing to accept the natural beauty that daily living can add to the floor.
Origin: North America
Appearance: The sapwood of white ash is creamy white, while the heartwood ranges from light tan to dark brown. The grain is bold and straight, with an occasional wavy pattern. The wood has a lustrous appearance, and the grain is dominant, much like oak.
Janka Hardness: 1320
Origin: North America
Appearance: While the sapwood is generally pale white, the heartwood of the American beech is mostly reddish brown. There is often a moderate to high color variation between boards. The grain of the wood is straight, and mostly closed, with a fine, uniform texture. Beech may sometimes have a silvery sheen. Its fine grain offers a distinctive contemporary look.
Janka Hardness: 1300
Origin: North America
Appearance: The sapwood of yellow birch ranges from pale white to creamy yellow, while the heartwood tends to be a light-reddish brown with a red tinge. By contrast, the sapwood of red birch is a light cream color, whereas the heartwood is dark brown with a stronger red tinge. Birch wood has an even texture with a straight, closed grain. It is among the most uniform and featureless of all North American hardwoods; but with its natural, pleasing colors, it makes for attractive flooring. Birch has a small degree of luster, making it seem almost dull in appearance. Because of its light color and uniform texture and grain, it is an excellent choice for the more modern look. Occasionally, boards may show curliness in the grain as well as some wavy figuring. Boards with these special features are highly sought after and are often culled out and grouped together to be sold as flaming birch.
Janka Hardness: 1260 – While relatively hard, it does tend to show dents and dings a little more then floors with a heavier grain pattern.
Origin: From southern Mexico throughout Central America and the West Indies, to northern Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru.
Appearance: While the sapwood of jatoba is streaked with grey from minerals, the heartwood tends to be salmon-red to orange-brown color when freshly installed, becoming russet or reddish brown with dark streaks when seasoned. With its inherent beauty, rich coloring, and extreme hardness, this species is understandably one of the most popular exotic woods. It goes well in almost any setting featuring red tones. Brazilian Cherry is photo-sensitive, so there is a strong color change and darkening over a short period of time after the wood is first installed and exposed to light. But don’t worry, it will reach a natural balance in about 90 days after which little color change will occur. Areas that have not been exposed to light (under rugs for example) will retain their original appearance until exposed to light. Once exposed, they also will balance out and blend perfectly with older areas of the floor.
Janka Hardness: 2350 – Jatoba is one of the hardest and most stable choices for wood flooring
Brazilian Teak (Cumaru)
Origin: Central and South America.
Appearance: The sapwood of Brazilian Teak is very similar to the heartwood, which ranges from tan to deep brown in color. Over time the color of Brazilian Teak will mellow slightly. The species has an irregular, slightly interlocked grain and is coarse and wavy in texture. Because of its predominately brown tones, this wood goes well with almost any room setting with brown hues. The wood is known for its hardness, however, it has a propensity to shrink considerably if proper relative humidity is not maintained.
Janka Hardness: 3540 (Renowned as one of the hardest woods used for flooring, but when used in homes in the Northeast it can show considerable expansion and contraction including gaps between boards.
Brazilian Walnut (Ipe)
Origin: Brazil and throughout tropical South America and parts of the lesser Antilles.
Appearance: The heartwood and sapwood of Brazilian Walnut ranges from golden brown to ebony, including tones of olive, copper red and coffee brown. Clearly it is one of the most dramatic woods because of its wide range of colors working together to create a warm and rich look. Brazilian Walnut has a fine to medium texture and a grain that ranges from straight to very irregular.
Janka Hardness: 3684 As a flooring option, Brazilian Walnut is incredibly hard and durable wood species. Almost three times as hard as White Oak, Brazilian Walnut can withstand even the most active family.
Origin: Africa Cameroon
Appearance: The sapwood of doussie is pale yellow to white, while the heartwood ranges from light brown to reddish-brown. The grain is straight and slightly interlocked. The wood has a medium luster, and the texture is somewhat course. Similar in color to Brazilian Cherry it is popular with homeowners and designers seeking an elegant floor with a red base color. No longer commercially available because of logging restrictions.
Janka Hardness: 1810
Origin: North America
Appearance: These related species have a similar appearance and characteristics. Hickory heartwood is tan or reddish, with white to tan sapwood. Pecan heartwood tends to be reddish brown with brown stripes, and the sapwood is white or creamy white with pinkish tones. The open grain of pecan, which is wavy or irregular, contrasts nicely with the closed, rough-textured grain of hickory. Traditionally, flooring mills mix hickory and pecan together. Generally, used in casual settings although with the right touch it can take on an elegant look when contrasting with black cabinets.
Janka Hardness: 1820 (One of the hardest Northern American hardwoods, it is a favorite for active families.
Origin: Throughout most of North America. However, most valuable species are concentrated in the eastern United States and Canada, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and Lake States.
Appearance: The sapwood of maple is a warm creamy white, while the heartwood ranges from creamy white to light reddish brown. Grading is very important to maple, as a high grade (clear or select) will have a uniform creamy white color, while lower grades allow more mineral streaking and variation in color changing the look dramatically. This wood has a closed, subdued grain and a uniform texture, with medium figuring. The figuring is variously described as quilted, curly, “bird’s-eye,” and “fiddleback.” During the grading process, interestingly figured boards are often culled from the group and sold at a premium. Due to its light color and durability, maple is a popular choice when a “contemporary” look is desired for a wood floor.
Janka Hardness: 1450 – Although hard we do no generally recommend for high traffic areas.
Origin: Merbau grows in the Indo-Malayan region, as well as in the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, and many of the western Pacific islands.
Appearance: When freshly cut, the heartwood of merbau is a yellowish to orange-brown color, but then darkens to brown or red brown. The grain of this coarse-textured wood varies from straight to interlocked or wavy. One of the distinctive properties of this wood is that surface of the boards may have yellow “flecking” in the pores caused by naturally occurring silica; thus, when finished, the wood may appear almost flecked with gold. No longer commercially available.
Janka Hardness: 1712 – Merbau is one of the most stable and durable wood floor options.
Origin: The commercial domestic species of red and white oak are widely distributed throughout the United States. Higher quality woods come from the Northern portion of the Unites States and into Canada, also referred to as “Northern Growth.” Softer and less expensive Oak used by many manufacturers comes from Southern regions because of its longer growing seasons. These woods are less dense and do not wear as well as Northern Growth oaks.
Appearance: The heartwood and sapwood of red oak are similar in appearance, which is light-colored with a reddish tone. It is slightly redder in color than white oak, which can have a white cream to light brown color. The grain of red oak is open, and also somewhat coarser, and so more porous, than that of white oak, which tends to have longer rays. These distinctive rays are what make white oak so prized for construction of “Mission” style furniture and woodwork.
Depending on whether the wood is plainsawn, riftsawn, or quartersawn, the wood can take on a dramatically different look. The grain of both plainsawn red and white oak can have a plumed or flared appearance, also referred to as chapels. While rift and quartersawn are straight grained with a “flake” pattern that is referred to as “tiger rays” or “flecks.” Whited oak boards can show a pronounced variation in appearance depending region in which it is grown and other factors; red oak, however, shows much less variation. White oak is slightly harder than red oak. Both woods have commonly been used for flooring for centuries and remain the most popular choice for homeowners. Generally used in homes seeking a warm, rich feeling, both woods are an excellent choice for flooring because of their hardness and ability to hide life’s little “oops.” Rift and quarter sawn white oak is common in historic settings such as homes built in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Janka Hardness: White oak has a ranking of 1360, while red oak is 1290. Red oak is considered the standard for determining other wood’s hardness.
Santos Mahogany/ Cabreuva
Origin: Wide distribution, from southern Mexico southward through Central America down to Argentina.
Appearance: The very fine and even texture of this well-known and popular hardwood, along with its striped figuring, complements the attractive colors and hues. The white sapwood is sharply demarcated from the heartwood, but often separated from the heartwood in high quality floors. The heartwood is deep reddish brown to russet color. Similar to Brazilian Cherry in color, but with much less variation in color and little or no mineral streaking common in Brazilian Cherry.
Janka Hardness: 2200
Teak (True or Burmese)
Appearance: The sapwood of teak is white to pale yellow, while the heartwood is dark golden-brown with darker chocolate-colored brown streaks. The species has a straight, occasionally wavy grain and is fairly coarse and uneven in texture. This species has a dull luster. Used in non-traditional settings such as modern designs and eclectic layouts, Teak offers a warm rich look to many different room types. True Teak or Burmese Teak is known for its dimensional stability and resistance to water. It is, however, expensive and rare, so unscrupulous manufacturers will substitute alternative woods to the unsuspecting buyer. Considered an endangered wood in many countries you should not be purchasing it unless is is reclaimed.
Janka Hardness: 1000
Origin: Upland forests ranging from Mexico to Central America, including Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala.
Appearance: Tigerwood is noted for its bold, characteristic striping. The color of the heartwood ranges from golden brown to russet, with narrow to wide irregular stripes. As the wood ages the stripes become nearly black. The sharply demarcated sapwood is marked by mineral streaking and notably brownishâ€“white. The grain varies between straight to wavy, and the uniform texture ranges between fine to medium.
Jamka Hardness: 1850
Origin: Central America and Brazil
Appearance: The sapwood of timborana is creamy yellow, while the heartwood is light golden brown with hints of a reddish tone. The species has a straight or interlocked grain, sometimes wavy. Texture is generally considered medium, with a shimmering luster. As it ages it has a warm russet tone, but much lighter in color than Brazilian Cherry or Santos Mahogany and therefore highly sought after.
Janka Hardness: 1570