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Hardwood Buying Guide Floor Types

Gaining a better understanding of the terms and definitions associated with hardwood floors can better prepare you for your own hardwood flooring project. Before you begin your search, you should know what to look for when buying hardwood floors. This section provides a quick and easy breakdown of valuable things to know about hardwood flooring, including varieties, finishes and textures.

Hardwood Flooring Construction

Solid hardwood flooring

Individual pieces (strips or planks) are cut from a piece of solid hardwood in one of three ways:

  • Plain sawn: Plain sawn, also called flat sawn, hardwood floor pieces are sliced to reveal wide grain patterns in the hardwood.
  • Quarter sawn: Quarter sawn pieces are cut to show the growth rings, creating stable floors that handle humidity changes well.
  • Rift sawn: Rift sawn hardwood pieces are cut to display very similar grain patterns, creating a uniform look and very stable hardwood floors that can stand up well to humidity and extremes of temperature.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood flooring is constructed using layers of hardwood and other materials, with a top layer of finished wood. The top layer of engineered flooring is called a veneer.

  • Multi–layer (or multi–ply): engineered hardwood planks are made of 5 to11 plies of plywood with a top layer (veneer) of finished wood.
  • Three–layer (or three–ply): planks consist of a backing ply sheet, a middle (or core) layer, and a top layer (veneer) of finished wood.

The number of times your engineered hardwood floors may be sanded and refinished depends on the thickness of the veneer. Generally, veneers that are less than 1/8" thick can be completely sanded and refinished only one or two times. However, if your flooring just has minor scratches, the process of screening and coating can be done several times. In screening and coating, only the finish is sanded (or "screened") off of the top layer and new finish is applied.

Veneers are constructed one of two ways:

  • Rotary peeled: Most veneers of 1/8" or less are created by peeling away a layer of the log while it's rolled on a machine.
  • Sawed: Most veneers of 1/8" or more are created by sending lumber into cutter machines that slice each log into veneers.

Hardwood Flooring Width

Hardwood flooring is referred to as being either strip or plank. These terms refer to the width of the wood.

  • Strip: Hardwood flooring strips come in boards less than 2 1/4" wide.
  • Plank: Hardwood planks are 2 1/4" wide or wider, and are usually more expensive than hardwood strips.

Hardwood Flooring


Domestic hardwood is a term used to describe hardwoods from North America. Popular North American hardwoods include White Oak, Red Oak, North American Maple, North American Cherry, Hickory, Black Walnut, Ash, and Beech.


Hardwoods sourced outside North America are often more expensive than domestic woods, with greater variation in color and grain. Some well–known exotic hardwoods include Teak, Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba), Brazilian Walnut (Ipe), Tigerwood, Santos Mahogany, Cumaru, Merbau, Wenge, Patagonian Rosewood, and African Mahogany.

Hardwood Floor Textures


Smooth hardwood floors will have an overall even look and feel to the grain, appearance, and texture of the finish.


Hardwood floors with a distressed texture have an "old world" appearance as they look weathered and worn. Distressed flooring is deliberately but creatively beaten and made to have an older or more broken–in feel for this particular style preference.


Hand–scraped hardwood flooring is different from distressed; this flooring texture can be created by hand or machine. Hand–scraping creates an uneven pattern of waves or soft ridges which give an aged appearance, but are not necessarily distressed.

Wire brushed

Wire brushes remove sapwood and other soft areas of the wood to give the flooring a deeply grained look and feel.

Hardwood Floor Patterns


Parquet flooring consists of pieces of hardwood laid in a decorative pattern. The pattern will always be geometrical or angular. The herringbone pattern is the most recognizable type of parquet floor.


Inlaid borders or medallion patterns can add visual interest to your hardwood floors. Inlays are usually done by using a different type of wood than the main flooring.

Stenciled/Stained "Inlay"

A pattern is taped onto a hardwood floor and stained over with a lighter or darker stain, revealing a pattern when the tape is removed.

Mixed Media

Materials like ceramic tiles, marble, aluminum, copper, and brass can be inlaid to your hardwood floors for a unique look. With a qualified craftsman, design options with mixed media are limitless.


Micro Bevel

A very small angle is cut on the edges of hardwood pieces so when placed together, minor imperfections in the subfloor are offset to create a level appearance across the flooring.

Beveled (V–Groove)

Corners are cut at an extreme angle, creating a deep V where the planks align, creating obvious grooves and a distinctive look at the surface.

Square Edge

Edges are cut at 90º angles so that when placed together with other pieces of flooring there is smooth transition and no groove between the edges.


Distressed or hand–scraped hardwood floors have irregular edges to match the irregular distressed or hand–scraped patterns.

Hardwood Flooring Finishes


Pre–finished hardwood floors are sanded and finished at the factory before delivery and installation. Unfinished hardwood flooring is sanded and finished after installation. Known to be tough and durable, pre–finished flooring is usually given several coats of UV finish. Some are available with aluminum oxide finishes for greater durability.

  • Surface finishes: These finishes include urethane, varnish, lacquer, epoxy, acrylic, shellac, and wax. They are layered over your hardwood floor like paint.
  • Penetrating finishes: These finishes include sealers, resins, and oil finishes. They work by sinking into the wood and giving it a permanent color.

Unfinished Hardwood

Unfinished hardwood floors need to be sanded and finished after installation. They are usually not recommended for do–it–yourself installation due to the time and skill that goes into completing an unfinished hardwood flooring project with a correctly applied finish.

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