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When shopping for hardwood flooring there are many factors to consider. Clearly, the appearance is the main factor, but what about the species, the finish, or even the hardness of the wood. Does that stuff really matter? The answer is yes. The species, the finish, and the hardness are factors you need to take into consideration because they will help you determine what type of hardwood will be the best for your lifestyle.


Deciding on a hardwood species all depends on what you like and which will work best for you as well as your budget.  A combination of qualities should be weighed upon when selecting a species for flooring 1.) appearance-related attributes such as texture, grain, and color; 2.)  as well as mechanical properties such as dimensional stability, durability, and ease in finishing; and 3.)  finally, availability and cost.

1.)  Appearance Attributes

Many different elements, from the nature of the living tree to the way the lumber is sawed, affect the way the finished floor will look.

HEARTWOOD, SAPWOOD: Heartwood is the older, harder, central portion of a tree. Most of the time, it has various deposits of material that frequently give it a darker color than sapwood. It is denser, less permeable, and more durable than sapwood.

Sapwood is the young softwood in the outer portion of a tree that is between the layer below the bark and the heartwood. It is more permeable, less durable, and usually lighter in color than that of the heartwood.

The amount of each heartwood and sapwood that go into a flooring batch may affect the way it accepts stain and finish, and therefore, the finished appearance of the floor. Generally, quartersawn and riftsawn flooring will contain less sapwood than plainsawn flooring and will tend to have a straighter grain and more even look to it.

WOODGRAIN AND TEXTURE: Grain is often used in reference to annual growth rings, as in “fine” or “coarse” grain; it also is used to indicate the direction of fibers, as in straight, spiral, and curly grain.  Annual rings are produced when the tree is grown in temperate climates, they show the difference in density and color between wood formed early and that formed late in the growing season. The inner part of the growth ring, formed first is called springwood; the outer part formed later in the season is called summerwood. The direction of the grain, as well as the amount of figuring in the wood, can affect the way it is anded and sawed. Grain can also be used as describing the size of the pores such as being “open” or “closed,” which affects the way it takes stain.

Texture mostly refers to the finer structure of the wood. Sometimes it is used to combine the concepts of density and degree of contrast between spring wood and summer wood in the annual growth rings.

 TYPES OF SAW CUT: Lumber is either plainsawn, quartersawn, or riftsawn. Plainsawn is the most common and most wood flooring is cut this way.

Plainsawn is the most economical because it provides the widest boards and results in the least waste. Since most of the lumber produced by plain sawing is flat-grained, with some vertical grained wood included, plainsawn lumber will tend to contain more variation within and among boards than quartersawn lumber, in which nearly all of the wood is vertical grained. The physical difference to consider when choosing plainsawn lumber rather than quarter sawn is figure patterns resulting from the annual rings and some other types of figures are usually brought out more conspicuously by plain sawing.

In quarter sawing, lumber is produced by first quartering the log and then sawing perpendicular to the growth rings. It produces relatively narrow boards, nearly all vertical grained, and creates more waste making it more expensive than plainsawn. The physical factors to keep in mind when choosing quartersawn lumber over plainsawn is it twists and cups less, it splits less during seasoning and in use,  annual growth rings do not appear as pronounced, it wears more evenly, the sapwood only appears at the edges, and it is limited to the width of the log’s sapwood.

Riftsawing is similar to quartersawing, with many of the same advantages and limitations. It creates more waste than quartersawing, making it more expensive.

quartersawing-rift-sawing-and-plain-sawing-explained_01 (2) quartersawing-rift-sawing-and-plain-sawing-explained_01

2.)  Mechanical Attributes

MOISTURE CONTENT AND DIMENSIONAL STABILITY:  Moisture plays a large part in how wood behaves, both during the machining process and after installation. Moisture content is defined as the weight of water in wood expressed as a percentage of the weight of oven-dry wood. In trees, the moisture content may be as much as 200% of the weight of the wood substance. After harvesting and milling, the wood will be dried to the proper moisture content for its end-use. Most solid wood flooring will contract during periods of low humidity, sometimes leaving noticeable cracks between boards. To minimize the effect, users should stabilize the environment of the building through temperature and humidity control.

HARDNESS AND DURABILITY: Probably the most important strength property for wood used in flooring applications is its side hardness, also known as Janka hardness. Common domestic species Janka rating is listed below.

INSTALLATION AND NAILING: When nailing some of the denser woods with hand or air nailer, installers may encounter splitting tongues, as well as failure to secure the fastener even after repeated attempts. This can sometimes be corrected by changing the angle of the nail’s point of entry or by blunting the ends of fasteners may also help.

hardwood splitting

Example of hardwood tongue splitting

SANDING: Some wood species are highly resinous and tend to clog sandpaper. When working with these species, it may be necessary to use a coarser grit of sandpaper than normal and change the sandpaper more often.

FINISHING: Some woods, especially imports, contain oils and chemical compounds that may adversely react with certain types of finishes to inhibit drying, dramatically change the color of the wood, or both. Some imported species may weep natural oils for an extended period of time, possibly causing finish problems at a later date.

Water-based urethanes tend to leave wood lighter in color. They also tend to adhere well to most woods, including exotics, whereas some solvent-based finishes have adhesion, drying, or color change problems.

3.)  Availability

Just as every individual wood species is dynamic and prone to change in response to its environment, so too is the market for all wood flooring species.

Brazilian cherry (jatoba)Australian cypressBrazilian teak (cumaru)Antique heart pine
Hard mapleBambooJarrahBubinga
Red oakBirchSapeleMerbau
Southern yellow pineBlack walnutSpotted gumMesquite
White OakHickory/pecanTasmanian oakPurpleheart
Brazilian walnut (ipe)Teak, Thai/BurmeseWenge


purpleheart tree

Purpleheart tree

Our top 3 best-selling domestic hardwood species are:

  1. Oak the most common type of hardwood in the United States. It is usually the hardwood that you find in most homes today. When you are talking about flooring 2 types of oak come up Red Oak and White Oak. The Red Oak varies from White Oak due to the fact that it has pinkish undertones, whereas White Oak has golden/brownish gray undertones. Oak flooring is very practical due to it being economical and because of the strong graining of oak, it helps hide the scratches and dents better than most other hardwoods. Examples of some great traditional oak hardwood: http://warehousecarpets.net/btt-flooring-solid-hand-scraped-hardwood/
  2. Maple – found mostly growing in the northern regions of North America and Canada, maple hardwood flooring is a very pale, creamy white color with slight shade differences from board to board. Depending on the grade chosen, maple flooring can contain minimal to a lot of brownish/black mineral streaks.
  3. Hickory/Pecanone of the hardest domestic wood species and is highly popular because of its natural color variation and unusual graining. Coloring for hickory hardwood flooring can range from creamy whites to medium browns (with even darker browns in some rustic grades). Hickory is most popular in wider planks rather than four inches and under

Our top 3 best-selling exotic hardwood species are:

  1. Tigerwood – this hardwood gets its name from its striped graining and warm color. Tigerwood is generally harvested in Africa or regions in South America – especially Brazil. Tigerwood is also known for being oily, which makes it slightly more resistant to water damage than dryer hardwoods.
  2. Brazilian Cherryis one of the most commonly used exotic hardwoods, as it is beautiful, durable, and plentiful. As the name suggests, this hardwood is harvested in Brazil and it brags a deep, reddish color that can instantly warm up any room. One thing that makes this hardwood stand out is its exceptionally high Janka rating: it scores 2,350, meaning that it is very dense and very durable.
  3. Ipe – otherwise known as Brazilian walnut. Ipe is commonly found in dark, chocolate tones and is great for creating a sleek or sophisticated look. It is by far one of the densest woods on the market.



brazilian cherry hardwood

Brazilian Cherry



The finish will protect the floor beneath just as bark protects the wood in nature.

  1. Best Hardwood Floor Finish: Acid-Cured  –  Acid-cured finish stands as the top pick for hardwood floors. This professional application uses alcohol and acid for a varnish that dries in a snap and holds up beautifully. Once complete, it shows off all the character in exotic species like Brazilian Cherry. This type of finish might last up to 10+ years with good care.
  2. Most Durable Hardwood Floor Finish: Aluminum Oxide  –  Aluminum oxide is the finish you buy when you don’t want to deal with it at all. It comes already installed on the best-prefinished hardwood flooring. Rated to last up to 25 years in a single application, it makes the surface much less likely to scratch or fade. Although this type offers supreme durability, it’s difficult to refinish.
  3. Best Way to Finish Basement Floor: Water-Based Polyurethane  –  Water-based polyurethane is a standard choice for many environments, but especially those with more moisture. Homeowners often find this finish easy to apply, making it a reasonable DIY project. It dries clear in a few hours, so you can put on multiple coats in one day. Although it’s not as durable as oil-based options, it has low VOCs. That makes it a better choice for the basement or other rooms with minimal ventilation.
  4. Best Hardwood Floor Finish for High-Traffic: Oil-Based Polyurethane  –  Oil-based polyurethane offers middle-of-the-road durability at an affordable price. The cheapest of the modern finishes, this type adds a warm glow to popular wood flooring options like white oak or maple. Unlike the old-school oil sealer, it dries hard with several hours between coats. It’s cheaper than water-based polyurethane, and usually needs fewer layers for the same finish.
  5. Best Wood Floor Finish for Kids and Pets: Moisture-Cured Urethane  –  Moisture-cured urethane provides an extremely durable surface perfect for families with a lot of heavy traffic. The preferred option for bowling alleys, this finish can take whatever you want to throw at it without a scratch or scuff. Moisture-cured urethane dries in 1 to 2 hours, making it difficult to apply.
  6. Best Hardwood Finish for Historic Homes: Penetrating Oil Sealer  –  Although newer finishes make most of the old approaches obsolete, many owners of older homes still love the penetrating oil sealer. This traditional product typically uses tung oil, which absorbs well into wood and gives a low-gloss shine. Oil sealer serves as a simple DIY project for patient people. It takes as much as 1 to 2 days to dry between coats. It’s not as durable as modern options, which means you may need to touch it up every 2 to 3 years.


The hardness of your hardwood floor will determine how it holds up to dents, damage, and stains. It also affects the pricing. If you anticipate heavy activity on your hardwood floors and dents & damage are a problem for you the hardness of the species will be a major factor in your final decision.


Wood hardness is measured using the Janka Hardness Test. (pronounced ‘yay-nka) It measures the force required to drive a steel ball into the wood until half of it is embedded into the wood. So, the higher the force, the higher the Janka rating and the more durable the wood. In the following chart, I have included a few different species and their Janka rating.







Hickory, Pecan


Good dent protection, excellent choice

Hard Maple


White Oak


Very Durable, Takes Stains Well

Red Oak


Very Durable, Takes Stains Well

Yellow Birch


Black Walnut


Deep Color, Ideal for Rooms with warm tones

Soft Maple










Like most flooring, what you need depends on your needs or better yet, your room’s needs.

The hardwood you put in the hallway might be different than your living room. And the wood in your living room might be different than your kitchen.

Without considering appearance and cost, I’d go with the hardest wood you can. You’re less likely to get frustrated, and it’s going to last longer. But there are many times when a softer Pine or Cherry wood looks awesome, and it saves you a bunch of money. In conclusion, when shopping for hardwood flooring go with something you love and that works for your lifestyle!

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