When I went looking for new hardwood flooring for my home, I had no idea I’d need to consider the wood’s “personality.”
I thought I’d just need to pick my favorite grain pattern or color. Not so easy! The number of available wood types is mind-boggling. Do I want maple? Pine? Ash? Fir? Oak? Bamboo?
And beyond color or grain, I also discovered that there is a lot more to wood than just beauty. Wood is an organic product taken from a living plant and has a “life” of its own, so to speak. You can’t manufacture certain qualities into the wood; instead, each species has unique qualities of its own. Those qualities determine if the wood is a good choice for your home’s needs.
Most Popular Wood Species
To make things a bit easier, I’m going to highlight a dozen of the most popular wood species used for flooring and each one’s “personality.”
Hard Maple and Birch
- These light woods are great for a modern look.
- Generally comes in shades of creamy gold, and most consumers opt for no stain but a clear finish instead. (The wood actually does not take stain evenly.)
- They are hard and dense; in fact, maple is a popular choice for dance floors!
- Comes in red and white types — a very traditional look.
- Very easy to finish.
- The benchmark standard for wood floor hardness — wears very well.
Southern Yellow Pine
- Comes in light and medium shades of gold/brown with a variety of grain patterns.
- One of the less-expensive woods available.
- Durable but softer than many other woods used for flooring — best for accent patterns.
- Similar in color to white oak but yellower. More difficult to finish than oak.
- Lots of grain contrast makes for an interesting floor pattern.
- Moderately available and sometimes must be special-ordered.
Walnut and Cherry
- Beautiful deep brown or reddish brown.
- Easy to work with and take stain very well.
- Very hard and durable. However, the hardness of Brazilian cherry in particular (119% harder than northern red oak) can make it difficult to work with.
Hemlock and Fir
- Like pine, these are evergreens and may not be durable enough for high-traffic areas but can look beautiful as accent pieces.
- These woods look great if you’re going for a “country” or rustic look, but they may not work with contemporary decor.
- Readily available.
- Not actually a wood! Bamboo is the world’s tallest-growing grass.
- Bamboo is as durable as oak.
- Because bamboo grows so fast, as a crop, it is becoming a world favorite as an environmentally-friendly alternative to logging.
- An exotic choice in shades of yellow and golden brown.
- The wood’s abundance of natural oils can make finishing a challenge, but it holds up about as well as oak.
- Pricey, and availability is limited.
- Another exotic choice, this tropical hardwood is dark reddish brown.
- Easy to sand and finish and holds stain well.
- Superior durability — harder and more stable than oak.
So, there you go! Your top 12 and their unique personalities. As you can see, color and grain are important but so are availability, price, durability, hardness and ease of use. All of these characteristics will not only determine which type of wood is best for your home but also whether you need to have it professionally installed.
Use this list to help narrow down your top choices, but always do further research before making your final choice. After all, this floor will hopefully be under your feet for many years to come!