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What Kind of Wood?

Wood flooring is made from many species of hardwoods and softwoods, each with a different degree of hardness. Each kind of wood comes in a number of grades that reflect specific quality assessments. Color is another issue, which depends on two factors:

  • The wood's natural color, which is different for each kind of wood (see the followingdescriptions of commonly used woods)

  • The stain and finish applied to the wood floor

Woods Commonly Used for Floors The woods below (listed in order from hardest to softest) are all extremely durable and suitable for floors. Oak and maple are the woods most commonly used for hardwood flooring. Note that the hardness of a certain wood should not be your main concern. All wood flooring offers similar durability, and any floor made from the woods listed below is tough enough to stand up to everyday use. Choose your floor by its appearance.

WOODS COMMONLY USED FOR FLOORS

 

MAPLE & BIRCH

Whitish in color with light brown grain lines, which provide a clean, modern look

Bright floors that lighten dark rooms

Very smooth with closed pores

Professional finishing recommended, since surface burns easily during sanding

Clear finishes with no stain are most popular

ASH

Very light brown in color; similar to oak in appearance

Generally difficult to finish

Special order

OAK

Light brown in color, with pronounced black grain lines and open pores

Easy to finish

Usually stained to be somewhat darker than natural color

Traditional-looking floor

TWO TYPES:

Red oak: A slight pink tinge

White oak: Somewhat browner than red oak; grain more subtle than red oak

BAMBOO

Technically a grass, not a wood

Roughly the same hardness as oak

Available pre-finished as engineered planks

 

WALNUT & CHERRY

Walnut is brown, has open pores and finishes easily

Cherry is a lighter reddish brown and has closed pores; the surface tends to burn when sanding

Both woods are easy to work with, attractive and stable

Tough, but softer than oak

Can be expensive
Special order

PINE, HEMLOCK & FIR


Evergreens (or softwoods) which can dent easily


Softwoods currently used are softer than those of the 1930s, 40s and 50s


Pine is easy to finish, but not as durable as older pine floors


Country look; mostly informal use; not often found in formal dining rooms


Special order

 

What Grade of Wood?

Each kind of wood comes in several grades, indicating its general quality. The top grade is FAS (First and Seconds), which indicates clear, knot-free wood. Lower grades include common #1, #2 and #3. In these grades you may find a less uniform color and some small knots. Even low grades of wood can make an attractive and durable floor, and they're often less expensive. When checking prices, be sure you're comparing woods of the same grade.

 
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