Wood is a popular flooring choice for both decorative and practical reasons. Wood floors add a natural warmth and shine, and they are solid, durable and easy to clean when properly sealed. They suit just about any room, and present a neutral background to build a design around. Wood flooring is made from a wide variety of wood species, each of which has something different to offer in durability and style.
Wood floors have been used in the U.S. since colonial times. During the 1700s and 1800s, they were most often crafted of pine, as it was plentiful and inexpensive. In the 20th century, oak became a more popular flooring choice, although pine was still used as subflooring. People favored carpet from the 1950s through the early 1970s, but wood floors made a comeback the late '70s, and have increased in popularity ever since.
Domestic vs. Exotic
Today's wood flooring species fall into two broad categories: domestic and exotic. Popular domestic species like oak and maple are warm and familiar, and offer a cozy feel to a space. Exotic wood species like bubinga and ebony are rich and colorful, and are used for a high-end, custom look.
The durability of wood depends on it hardness, density and strength. Harder woods are more resilient and more resistant to scratches and abrasions.
Northern red oak is the most commonly used wood for flooring in the U.S. and is the benchmark for comparison of the hardness of other woods. It is stiff, dense and wear-resistant; it's easy to sand and it takes stain well.
Hickory is 41 percent harder than northern red oak. It's hard, tough, strong and stiff, and good for high-traffic areas.
Hard maple is 12 percent harder than red oak. It's highly durable, very dense, and most often used for bowling alleys or dance floors.
Brazilian cherry is 119 percent harder than northern red oak, and Brazilian maple is 185 percent harder. The hardness of both of these exotic woods can make them difficult to work with.
Woods like Southern yellow pine, which is 47 percent softer than red northern oak, and cherry, which is 26 percent softer, are sometimes used for whole floors, but because they are less durable, they are more often recommended for design accents.
Maple, pine, white ash and Australian cypress have a pale gold to cream base color with darker lowlights in the grain.
Beech, birch, hickory, red oak and white oak have a medium-gold base color with both lowlights and highlights.
Walnut, black cherry, Brazilian cherry, mesquite and walnut have a dark brown base color with gold highlights.
Walnut burl, bubinga, mahogany and cocobolo can have a variety of hues, from reds, to purples, to yellows, and can have rich and complex grain patterns.
The properties of a wood species can change with the sub-species, a specific tree's maturity, and the section of the tree the wood was taken from. Additionally, there are several different wood-quality grades available for each species. It's important to find a knowledgeable vendor, and to research your options thoroughly.
- Photo Credit Celine Nadeau: Flickr.com
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