If you're looking for wood flooring that you won't have to replace for decades, you need to look at the wood at the harder end of the spectrum. This means that it really is necessary to consult an industry-accepted set of ratings called the Janka hardness scale. Janka is the ultimate truthteller when it comes to determining whether your wood floor will last for decades to come--or if it will quickly surrender to the onslaught of dog claws and foot traffic.
Not all wood floor is created equally, and some woods that sound tough actually prove to be quite flimsy and weak. Domestic Douglas Fir, for instance, is often noted to be a quality wood. But it actually has a Janka hardness rating of 660, making it the softest wood on the list--barely durable enough for even normal use.
Hardwoods have that name for a reason: all occupy the upper half of the list. For example, even Northern Red Oak--one of the least hard hardwoods--is still twice as hard as Douglas Fir.
Normally considered to be a hard wood, Brazilian cherry only has a rating of 2350. One wood that is off the charts is Brazilian Walnut, with a hardness rating of 3380 and Patagonia Rosewood, at 3840.
The hardest wood floors have three elements:
- Solid hardwood, not engineered wood. Engineered wood has a thin veneer of real hardwood on top of a dimensionally stable plywood. Even if that veneer happened to be the hardest wood possible--e.g., a Brazilian walnut or ebony--that veneer is still not thick enough to make the flooring truly durable.
- Hardwoods always--not soft woods. Hardwoods are species like oak, ash, and pecan. Soft woods are species like fir, pine, and hemlock. Rarely will soft wood flooring work well, except in a shop or work area.
- For the hardest wood, you need to look for exotics, not domestics. Exotics are sourced from areas like Indonesia and South America. Domestics come from Canada and the United States. Exotics are not always more expensive, especially when you shop at bargain wood flooring outlets like BuildDirect or Lumber Liquidators.
The five hardest solid hardwood floors are:
- Patagonian Rosewood
- Brazilian Walnut
- Brazilian Ebony
- Red Cumaru
The hardness of wood flooring is measured by something called the Janka test. A .444 inch steel ball is driven into the wood in question to half of the ball's diameter. It is important to remember that this is an impact test, not a test of scratching, scuffing, or any other wear and tear that flooring experiences.
To find the right wood floor for you, check out the hardness ratings in the Janka chart below. Higher numbers indicate harder wood; lower numbers indicate softer wood.
|WOOD SPECIES||RATING - SOFT TO HARD|
|S. Yellow Pine, Shortleaf||690|
|S. Yellow Pine, Longleaf||890|
|Red Oak, Northern||1290|
|Bamboo* - Teragren Craftsman II||1307|
|Taun (Malaccan Cherry)||1900|
Is Bamboo a Hard Wood?
Bamboo is not a hard wood.
In fact, it is not a wood at all.
Bamboo is rated at around 5,000 Janka. Bamboo is not a wood, but in the flooring industry it is often classified in this area and can be subjected to a Janka test, too. Bamboo is artificially hardened by the addition of resins to the bamboo. Another process called carbonizing is often thought to be a hardening process but it really makes the bamboo softer. Carbonizing is about color, not durability.
Hard Wood vs. Soft Wood
While it may seem logical to pick the very hardest wood, keep these points in mind:
- Soft wood can be hardened to some degree by the application of polyurethene finishes.
- Hard wood is always much more expensive than the softer and medium-grade woods.
- Hard wood is more difficult to saw, drill, and nail than other woods, requiring more time and labor and, again, more money.
- Soft wood can work in different applications--decks, shops, outbuildings, etc.