Hardwood Flooring: What Wood Species Would Look Best in Your Home?

Hardwood flooring is a great way to beautify your home, and increase its market value. When investing in hardwood flooring for your home, you want to be sure to get the exact look that best reflects your tastes and interior design style.

Three main options you need to consider when selecting a hardwood flooring is wood species, board width and wood hardness. Although there are many options, this article will help you make the right choice.

Wood Species
Different wood species provide different looks. Each wood species has its own beauty and distinctive character with variations in color and grain structure.

  • Grain is a term used to describe direction of the natural fibers in wood, such as straight, spiral or curly, as well as fine or course grain patterns. Grain structure is determined by the way each type of tree tends to form annual growth rings. Walnut, red birch and cherry all have a tighter, even grain and provide a more uniform appearance. Consistent grain patterns easily adapt to both traditional and contemporary design styles. Grainy woods, like ash and oak offer a more casual than elegant design style. Hickory can be very dramatic with its very hard, tight grain, and usually some knots. A hickory floor works just as well in a country setting as in a modern one.
  • Color is another important aspect when selecting a wood species. Darker colors are most often used in formal or traditional interiors, while lighter colors work best in country, casual and contemporary settings. Walnut and cherry are popular dark wood choices. Some woods, such as hickory, have interesting gradations of color from light to dark all in one board.

It should be noted, that even within a specific species, there will be many variations that will affect the final appearance of a given species.

  • Wood is dynamic. Each board has unique details, making your wood flooring even more unique to your home.
  • Sanding and finishing techniques can change the natural look of any species.
  • Natural aging: As wood floors age, most species will develop a natural patina and change color. The majority of aging happens within 3-6 months, after which the aging process slows down, yet continues. Cherry is one species that has significant color changes as it ages. Starting fairly light in tone, it quickly ages to a medium to dark shade when exposed to sunlight. Be sure to allow for these natural changes in your room.
  • Wood grade is based upon the intensity of variations of its characteristics. Rustic wood grades contain knots and the most color and character variation. Select wood grades have few knots and are more uniform in color and character.

Board (Plank) Width
Board width plays a significant role in setting the tone for the final design style of your room. Enterprise Wood products offers widths of 2″ – 7″. How do you know which one is right for you?

Using narrow boards is a good choice if you don’t want to commit to any one design style. Narrow board widths of 2” – 3″ are found in many types of homes including traditional and transitional. Narrow boards are also found in contemporary settings, most often in species that are uniform in color and grain.

Wider boards can expand the look and size of a room, and are also used in all types of homes. Wide boards such as 5″ and 7″ are helpful in creating a rustic, antique or country look. Wider width planks are often used when applying a distressed finish technique.

Another option is to use a mix of different widths, creating a random pattern.

Wood Hardness
Of the characteristics and properties to consider when choosing your hardwood flooring, the most important is probably the relative hardness of the wood. A wood’s relative hardness is determined by the Janka rating system, which measures the force required to drive a steel ball into the wood until half the ball is embedded in the wood.

The Janka scale has become the industry standard for comparing the hardness of different species. Red Oak, long the industry benchmark for comparing the relative hardness of wood floor, has a Janka rating of 1290. Hickory has a Janka rating of 1820, while pine comes in at 420. With the Janka scale, the higher the rating, the harder the floor. Hickory and oak therefore are good choices for floors that will be subject to high traffic, while pine, a softwood, will scratch easily.

Even the hardest of floors though will scratch or dent with enough impact. Appliances and furniture will eventually leave dents on a floor. Always use pad protectors on any heavy object or those that have sharp points. Fortunately, even if you do scratch it, the natural beauty of wood floors and easily be restored with sanding and refinishing.

Summary
Although these factors can help you choose hardwood flooring that is associated with a particular home style, it’s important to remember that the same wood floor can often work in a variety of settings. Also, many wood species can be ordered in different grades, adding to its flexibility. Really, there are no set rules. The most important thing is that you be happy with your choice.

One of the greatest benefits of natural wood is that no two pieces look exactly alike. With hardwood flooring, your home will not end up with a “cookie cutter” look.


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Here are the Janka ratings of some of the more popular species used in hardwood flooring.

Janka Rating Species
1820 Hickory
1450 Maple
1360 White Oak
1290 Red Oak
1260 Yellow Birch
950 Cherry
900 Cedar
660 Doug Fir
1320 White Ash
1010 Walnut
420 Pine