Hardwood Floors: Size, Shape, Finish and Grade

A Flooring Shoppers Guide

Wood flooring
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There are many different types of hardwood flooring that you can choose from. Aside from dozens of different species, each with unique characteristics, you also have different stain, finish, and decorative treatments that can be applied to the surface. This means that hardwood has nearly limitless potential as both a natural accent, and a canvas for your own creative endeavors.

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Hardwood Flooring Cut Options


The cut of a piece of wood refers to how the actual log is sliced in order to produce the material. Some cuts will produce stronger planks and boards, while others are more efficient, resulting in less expensive, but often less durable pieces of finished material.

Plain Saw: This is the most common wood cut found in flooring. It is produced by taking a log, and slicing through it vertically, straight up and down. This cut allows you to get the most usable planks possible from the log, making this the least expensive option. However the material produced is only moderately durable, and is suggested for low, to mid traffic level environments.

Quarter Saw: This cut is achieved by taking the log and slicing it down the middle horizontally, and vertically, to produce 4 even sized wedges. These are then sawn on the radius, perpendicular to the rings of the tree. This produces fairly uniform and consistent pieces, which are resistant to bowing, bending, and breaking. Slightly more expensive, quarter sawn hardwood floors will be more stable, and resistant over time.

Rift Saw: Here the log is quartered even again, and then the wedges are sliced at a roughly 45 degree angle. This produces a lot of wedge shaped waste, and is the least efficient cutting method, making it also the most expensive. However the wood produced is extremely uniform, and all pieces will have the same grain pattern, as well as an inherent strength and durability that makes this the most prized cut.

Natural Alternatives To Wood Flooring

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Hardwood Flooring Standard Size Options


Strip Hardwood Flooring: 3/16” to ¾” thick and 1½” to 2¼” inch in width. These are smaller, thinner pieces, that create a more variegated look across a floors surface. This often leads to a more precise, modern style floor.

Hardwood Flooring Planks: ½” - ¾” in thick and 3” - 12” in width. These wider pieces present a more spacious and luxurious look, that stretches out with greater consistency, and more focus on the grain of the wood. The effect of wider planks is often a more classic, natural look.

Parquet: This is made from small, short strips of hardwood, arranged and set in various patterns. The most common parquet design is a simple square, but you can also find them in herringbone, interlocking, and lozenge shapes. These can either be installed tongue in groove, or adhered directly to the subfloor.

Plywood: These are large sheets manufactured from natural composite wood materials. Very inexpensive, they tend to be uneven, flimsy, and irregularly patterned. Because of this they are generally used below the surface in subfloors. However its use as a covering is making a comeback, as it can easily be installed even over slightly uneven subfloors, and has a cheery, and bright appearance that works well in rustic settings.

A Complete Guide To Hardwood Floors

Hardwood Flooring Grades


While grade may seem like it has to do with the quality of the wood, it actually refers to the features found in the surface. As long as you purchase from a qualified retail company, any grade of wood flooring should be equally durable in an installation.

Clear Grade: This is the most uniform, and pure surface grade available. Pieces that are considered clear grade do not have any splits, knots, worm holes, or excessive mineral streaks, and fall within a consistent range of color tones, with no pieces being significantly lighter or darker than any other.

Select Grade: Like clear grade these are pieces that do not have any knots, checks, splits, mineral stains, or contrasting sapwood features. However it is allowed to vary somewhat in color tone and hue.

Low Select Grade: This grade contains no surface defects or excessive surface features, and is made up of pieces that were taken from clear grade and select grade lots because of excessive color shading variations. This is a relatively rare grade wood as it has to accumulate as other lots are weaned.

Natural Grade: These pieces are allowed to have moderate natural features and color variations. Strips that have excessive surface defects are pulled, but most pieces will be included for a very natural looking effect.

Rustic Grade: Just like it sounds, these wood materials contain numerous defects, features, and color variations, with pieces varying, sometimes sharply, one to another. This is often used in cottage and rustic cabin style settings where you want the floor to have a distinct personality.

Faux Hardwood Laminates

Wood Floor Hardness Rating


The following is a list of different wood species, sorted by their relative hardness rating. This number is determined by the National Oak Floor Manufacturers Association. Please note: Actual hardness may vary based on where and when the wood was grown.

  • Douglas Fir: 660
  • So. Yellow Pine (shortleaf): 690
  • So. Yellow Pine (longleaf): 870
  • Black Cherry: 950
  • Black Walnut: 1010
  • Teak: 1000
  • Bamboo (carbonized): 1180
  • Heart Pine: 1225
  • Yellow Birch: 1260
  • Red Oak (Northern): 1290
  • American Beech: 1300
  • Ash: 1320
  • White Oak: 1360
  • Australian Cypress: 1375
  • Bamboo (natural): 1380
  • Hard Maple: 1450
  • Wenge: 1630
  • Brazilian Oak: 1650
  • Peruvian Maple: 1700
  • African Pedauk: 1725
  • Hickory: 1820
  • African Rosewood: 1980
  • Grapia: 2050
  • Amberwood: 2200
  • Mesquite: 2345
  • Brazilian Cherry: 2350
  • Red Walnut: 2450
  • Brazilian Teak: 3540
  • Patagonian Rosewood: 3840
  • Curupy: 3880