2019’s Popular Hardwood Flooring Species in North America

Continued from yesterday…

Brazilian Walnut is also very rich looking and has similar smooth graining to Brazilian Cherry, but it is brown in tones. Brazilian Walnut is often called Ipe or Lapacho (spanish) and it is extremely hard…one of the hardest hardwoods ~3,600 on the janka scale (almost 3 times as hard as red oak).

Brazilian Walnut is typically grown in Central and South America. Sometimes, it’s challenging to visually distinguish Brazilian Walnut from Brazilian Teak (Cumaru) as they do look similar (and both are very hard and dense woods. Brazilian Walnut tends to be darker than Brazilian Teak. It also lacks the subtle vanilla/cinnamon scent that can detected when the wood is cut. Because of it’s strength and low shrinkage, it’s often used in high end decking.

Brazilian Walnut also has large color variation and like Brazilian Cherry, it darkens significantly over time. Brazilian Walnut is generally more expensive than Brazilian Cherry and both are significantly more expensive than oak.

Pine is on the softer side of the hardness scale. It’s a soft wood, although its hardness varies by species. Most range from 380-870 on the Janka Scale. Notably heart pine (which is the heartwood and hence hardest section ) is much harder (1225). Softer pine tends to dent more easily from furniture and high heals.

Pine is a character wood. This gives the wood its authenticity and helps hide dents and imperfections. Notably, in our area of Westchester County, many older homes (from the 1920’s and earlier) have pine floors. In Westchester, we also have many homes from the 1800’s and even several from 1700’s and these undoubtedly has some form (and more often forms) of pine. Pine was used in older homes as it is softer and the tools and milling capability wasn’t as strong. Older homes in Westchester tend to have Douglas Fir, Yellow Pine, and Eastern White Pine. Many of the boards were both wider and longer. Older homes tend to also have face nails.

Heart pine is the hardest of the pines, and its hardness (1225) approaches that of red oak (1290). Heart pine has a lot of character and knots, and it tends to come in long and often wide planks for a rustic look. While it is slightly softer than oak, the character nature of the knots and grain helps hide the dents. This is a very stylized and rustic look. The floor has a lot of beautiful character and patina. Because of that, it can be the center focal point, and it’s important to make sure the room does not have too many other distractions in it so that it doesn’t look too busy.

A heart-pine floor will resist dents and deep scratches better than a pine floor made from sapwood. These floors naturally have a reddish-golden tone. Those that prefer their character and authenticity prefer to go natural (i.e. no stain).

Douglas Fir is a beautiful soft wood. It’s a type of pine, and it’s also known as Oregon Pine or Douglas Spruce. On the janka hardness scale, Douglas Fir is only 660, so it dents very easily. Douglas fir beautiful with radiant gold an red undertones, and it’s usually with a vertical grain. We typically find Douglas fir in older homes in Westchester County, especially on upper levels of homes. They’ve often been there for 80-100+ years (so they’ve witnessed a lot of history)…many from the turn of the 20th Century and before.

Douglas fir is grown in the coast regions of the US, especially the Western US from California to Washington. They are also grown as far up the coast as British Columbia. It used to be a very popular wood because it yields more timber than any other North American tree. In older homes, most of the planks are very long, and longer than what is typically milled today. The picture on the left shows newly installed Douglas fir without a stain (i.e. natural). But, typically, in most older homes with Douglas fir, it naturally looks darker as the wood has aged.

Douglas fir tends to darken a bit more than oak, and because the wood has often been in place for over 100 years. When repair is needed, it’s a bit more challenging as fir is cut in different widths nowadays (so it needs to be custom milled down to size) and the new wood is lighter as it hasn’t aged for 100+ years. Generally, Douglas fir is installed unfinished and then refinished on site. It is rarely sold as a pre-finished hardwood. I generally advise my customers with Douglas Fir to use an oil based poly as it will hold up better. And, as many of these woods have been in place for a while, there may not be many sandings left.

Birch is also native to the US. It looks similar to maple in terms of color and graining. It’s a big softer than oak and maple. It’s a 1260 on the hardness scale. Birch is often mistaken for maple and it does stain similar (it has the same challenges that maple does when it comes to staining and closed pores). Like maple, it takes some of the brown stains and it turns them gray for a very stylish look. Many of the manufacturers use birch for that look, but as a less expensive substitute vs maple.

Birch is often used as a filler wood in engineered hardwoods and some plywoods. It is rarely used as an unfinished wood that is sanded on site. There are multiple species of birch. There is paper birch and this is softest – only 910 on the janka hardness scale. Yellow birch is stronger – about the same hardness as red oak. Sweet birch is hardest variety with a 1470 on the hardness (vs. maple which is 1450). There is also “red birch,” but this is just the heartwood of yellow birch. As the name implies, it has more red tones. Also, there is a unique type of birch that has a waviness or shimmer. It almost looks like flames (or waves) in the wood as the cuts are perpendicular to the grain (similar to quartersawn oak). It’s a characteristic of particular birch trees, not for all trees of the species. This is usually advertised as “flame birch” (or sometimes “curly birch” and more often seen in furniture than in flooring.

Ash is pale in color. The color is similar to the lighter pieces of white oak flooring and the graining is reminiscent of red oak, but a bit smoother and a bit more consistent. It is 1320 on the Janka hardness scale, so the hardness is in between these 2 species of oak. Ash absorbs and hold stains well.

Ash belongs to the Olive Family. It’s grown in Eastern US, and generally grows 80 to 120 feet tall, typically 2 to 5 feet in diameter . Ash is used for baseball bats, hockey sticks, garden tool handles and skis as it’s a hard and sturdy wood. Ash is also used in food containers as it has no taste. Natural ash is typically lighter than it appears in this picture…think baseball bats. It has good shock resistance (hence its use in tools and baseball bats).

American Cherry is a beautiful wood that reddens with age. While it’s beautiful (and expensive), it’s rather soft and dents rather easily. It’s only 995 on the Janka hardness scale. Many get Brazilian Cherry and American Cherry mixed up. Brazilian cherry is rather hard and is darker/redder and has more color variation than American Cherry. Both American Cherry and Brazilian Cherry have a lot of color variation and they tend to darken and redden over time. They are much more photo-sensitive than oak (sensitive to both natural and artificial light).

American Cherry belongs to the Rose family and is mainly grown in the Northern and Lake states. The average tree is 60 to 70 feet. The wood has a fine uniform, straight grain, satiny, smooth texture, and may naturally contain brown pith flecks and small gum pockets. American cherry is a bit challenging to stain and can turn out blotchy. Be careful with area rugs – it’s ideal to wait 6 months before putting these on top of American Cherry. Because the wood darken from light, it’s typical to see the areas under the area rug as much lighter. Most of the darkening happens during the 1st 6 months; therefore, waiting 6 months before adding the rugs. Please note that American Cherry gets redder than the sample at the right shows.

American Walnut is another US hardwood that is beautiful and tends to be more expensive. Sometimes, it’s called Black walnut, or simply walnut. The color varies from a lighter pale brown to dark chocolate brown. Colors on some boards can have undertones of purple, gray or even a reddish cast.

Like American Cherry, American Walnut is rather soft – only 1010 on the hardness scale and many get this confused with Brazilian Walnut which is one of the hardest hardwoods (around 3600 on the Janka Scale). American Walnut is also very photosensitive, and often gets lighter over time. Walnut is often used as an accent in older, more traditional homes of Westchester that have borders. It contrasts well vs oak and maple.

Black Walnut is grown in the Eastern U.S., but principally region in the Central states. The average tree height of 100 to 150 feet. The tree trunk diameter is usually only 2-3 feet wide. The roots of the walnut tree release a toxic material which may kill other plants growing above them. The wood develops a rich patina that grows more lustrous with age. The wood is generally straight-grained, but sometimes with wavy or curly grain for more visual intrigue. This species produces a greater variety of figure types than any other as there a wide variations in both color and graining.

7 thoughts on “2019’s Popular Hardwood Flooring Species in North America

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