Although over 90% of wood flooring that Jeffco sells is red or white oak, many other options are available for your flooring. American walnut has become a popular option because of its warm rich brown tone and beautiful patina with age. But how does the specie desired affect the long-term performance and appearance of your new floor? All wood floors scratch and dent (compress). The finish on your floor is just as hard as the wood under it. Do not think for a second that more finish will make your wood floor harder. It just doesn’t work that way. Most polyurethane finish systems perform best with only one to three coats applied to unfinished flooring. If you desire a floor that does not scratch, then consider luxury vinyl plank (LVP), a composite material with an image of wood on top. The domestic hardwoods in order of hardness, from softest to hardest are as follows: AMERICAN CHERRY, AMERICAN BLACK WALNUT, RED OAK, BEECH, ASH, WHITE OAK, MAPLE, and HICKORY.
Exotic species are generally much harder than domestics, are more costly, and offer fewer color options. Most exotic species are dark. From softest to hardest are as follows: AFRICAN MAHOGANY, TEAK, AUSTRALIAN CYPRESS, SAPELE, ROSEWOOD, TIGERWOOD, SANTOS MAHOGANY, BRAZILIAN CHERRY (twice as hard as domestic oak), AND BRAZILIAN WALNUT (IPE).
Other common wood flooring species include BAMBOO, RECLAIMED ANTIQUE HEART PINE, CARIBBEAN HEART PINE, WHITE PINE, and SOUTHERN YELLOW PINE. Vertical and horizontal bamboo are similar in hardness to oak, but the newer stranded bamboo, which offers a completely different look, is extremely hard. Reclaimed antique heart pine and Caribbean heart pine are about as hard as oak. Although used in some restaurants, white pine and southern yellow pine are extremely soft.
This may be too technical for most selecting a wood floor specie, but everyone needs to be aware that all species were not created equally. The differences you can expect between specie may be noticed in the depth of compression marks in the wood from dog claw scratches, a pot being dropped on edge in the kitchen, or the depth of high heel compression marks from a guest with worn off heel caps. Compression will occur, but the depth of the compression mark is determined by hardness of species. Finish wear will occur regardless of the species.
As discussed, solid wood flooring expands and contracts as humidity levels change. Species differ in stability as they do in hardness, and the wider the plank, the larger the seasonal gap will be in the heating season. Antique heart pine and American cherry are the most stable with respect to seasonal movement. Oak, walnut, and ash are average, but hickory and beech are the most unstable of domestic hardwood species. Don’t allow wood flooring stability to affect your specie selection though, the differences are minor. As an example, comparing 4” American cherry to hickory, in the dead of winter when the heat system is cranking, a large seasonal gap in the cherry flooring may be the width of a dime, and the gap in hickory might be the width of a penny.