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Making Sense of Wood Species

The top hardwood flooring species are red oak, white oak, maple, walnut, hickory and Brazilian cherry – and they’re all beautiful. 

Different species have different hardness levels that can affect their performance. 

Exotics woods, and the newly labeled “domestic exotics” (which are not really exotic at all but are finished to give the look of exotic species) are always popular, albeit more expensive options. Other common choices are ash, birch, beech and heart pine. 

There are also on-site finished floors that are stained and finished to your spefications and can make any unfinished hardwood you choose look like another, and hardly anyone will know the difference.

Red Oak is the standard against which other floors are measured coming in at 1290 on the Janka Hardness scale (see below). That hardness ranking will tell you a lot about your floor's resistance to dents and damage but may not be a good indicator of how it wears.

Your hardwood floor's ability to stand up against scuffs, scratches and dirt is more about the wear layer than it is about the actual hardness the wood. If specie is important to you, check the label to make sure you're getting what you want since many hardwood floors come prefinished in a wide range of stain colors and surface treatments that can make any wood species look like another. 

That said, hardness is an important consideration, especially in busy households. Avoid softer woods like pine and American cherry for active spaces and opt for something further up the hardness scale.

Janka Hardness Scale - Domestic Hardwoods

According to the Janka Hardness Scale which measures impact resistance of various species, the following ratings have been established. 

Hickory/Pecan     1820

Maple                        1450

White Oak              1360

Ash                              1320

Beech                         1300

Red Oak  1290

Birch          1260

Heart Pine         1225

Black Walnut  1010

American Cherry     950

Other Species

(from the National Wood Flooring Association)

bamboo flooringBamboo hardwood flooring  Iroko 

 hardwood flooring  Mahogany hardwood flooring  Mesquite

hardwood flooring  Merbau  hardwood flooring  Antique Pine Heart

hardwood flooring  Purple Heart  hardwood flooring  Padauk 

 Beech                 hardwood flooring  Sapele 



- Sandy






hardwood flooring Red Oak

hardwood flooring White Oak 

hardwood flooring Hickory

hardwood flooring Maple

hardwood flooring Brazilian Cherry 

hardwood flooring Birch

hardwood flooring  Ash



Photos courtesy of the National Wood Flooring Association (nwfa.org).
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