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hardwood flooring types

When you decide that hardwood floors are for you, you might be a little overwhelmed by all the choices you have. From basics like plank and strip construction and hardwood types to things you might not have even considered like grades and patterns, you'll find a simple rundown of all your choices here.

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Hardwood Floor Types

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood strips and planks are made from one solid piece of wood. With proper maintenance, they can last a very long time.

  • Plain sawn: Plain sawn, or flat sawn, solid wood floors are cut to show wide grain patterns in each plank. This is the standard method of cutting logs, and it may include some characteristics of quarter sawn and rift sawn planks.
  • Quarter sawn: Quarter sawn hardwood pieces are cut at right angles into the log, usually 1/16" wide or more, creating a decorative pattern that shows the growth rings. This cutting method also creates floors with superior stability when the humidity changes.
  • Rift sawn: Like quarter sawing, rift sawn planks are cut from the center of the log. Each cut is made at a slightly different angle exceeding thirty degrees, resulting in planks with very similar grain patterns and creating a pleasing uniformity. The most expensive milling method, rift sawing also results in the most stable planks, able to stand up well to extremes of humidity and temperature.

Solid Hardwood Flooring: Plain Sawn, Rift Sawn and
Quarter Sawn

Engineered Hardwood Floors

Engineered hardwood flooring has two major types of construction, mutli–ply and three–ply. Multi–ply is constructed with a plywood core consisting of 5–11 plys, with a top layer, called a veneer, of the finished wood. Three–ply is constructed with three total layers: a balance sheet, core layer and the top veneer. The balance sheet is usually the thickness of a single ply of plywood, while the core layer is a solid piece of wood. The top veneers of engineered hardwood floors are manufactured using one of the following two methods:

  • Rotary Peeled: Rotary peeled veneers are created by rolling the log on a machine while a blade peels away a top layer. This process is usually done for thinner veneers of 1/8" and under.
  • Sawed: Sawed veneers are created by sending pieces of lumber into a cutting machine that slices the lumber into veneers. This process is usually used on veneers that are 1/8" and thicker.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Veneer: Sawed and
Rotary Peeled


  • Strip: Hardwood strip flooring consists of boards less than 2 1/4" wide. This is the most popular type of hardwood flooring, and is great if you want to make your room look bigger.
  • Plank: hardwood pieces are wider than 2 1/4", and are great for larger areas.

Common Types of Hardwood Flooring

  • Domestics: North American hardwoods offer a classic, warm appearance. You'll generally find them at a lower price point than exotic hardwoods. Common domestic hardwoods are red oak, white oak, hickory, North American cherry, North American maple, black walnut, alder, beech, and ash.
  • Exotics: Hardwoods found outside North America are commonly known as exotics. Imported from places like Brazil, Africa, the Far East, and Australia, exotic hardwoods often feature less common colors and unique graining. Popular exotic hardwoods include Brazilian cherry (also known as jatoba), teak, ipe, santos mahogany, tigerwood, merbau, cumaru, wenge, Patagonian rosewood, zebrawood, African mahogany.


  • Smooth: This is the most commonly seen hardwood floor texture, or lack thereof. It is simply a smooth finished surface.
  • Distressed: Factory distressed hardwood floors are worn and distressed by hand, sometimes with the aid of a machine, giving your hardwood flooring a well–used look. Distressed hardwood floors bring a warm, lived–in look to any room.
  • Hand–scraped: hardwood pieces are individually scraped by hand, giving your hardwood floor a naturally worn, distressed appearance. No two planks will look alike, so if you're after a unique, antiqued look for your floor, hand–scraped may be the way to go. Since this must be done by hand, it can be costly. Machine scraping can be done, but it will look machined, and will lack the random pattern of hand–scraped hardwood flooring. The terms "distressed" and "hand–scraped" are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Distressed hardwood floors have a "beaten" appearance while hand–scraped hardwood flooring is attempting to mimic a more naturally time worn look.
  • Wire brushed: Sapwood is removed by wire brushing, bringing out the wood grain for a grainy effect and feel. This texture is gaining popularity.

Hardwood Flooring Textures: Smooth, Distressed,
Hand Scraped and Wire Brushed


While color will always be an important concern when buying flooring, keep in mind that hardwood floors can be stained to achieve the look you want.

  • Light: Light shades bring brightness to a room. Popular light hardwood floors include maple, white oak, red oak, and hickory.
  • Medium: Some colors fall squarely between light and dark, bringing easy warmth to a space. Naturally medium–toned hardwood floors include Brazilian cherry, sapele, tigerwood, and teak.
  • Dark: Perfect for creating a sense of coziness and comfort, dark hardwood floors are also a popular choice for heavily–trafficked rooms. Look for hardwoods like black walnut, ipe, and wenge.


  • Clear: Also known as "first" wood, clear grade hardwood flooring is free of visible defects, with little color variation and no knots.
  • Select: Select, or "second" grade hardwood flooring, features minor knots and some variation in color.
  • Common: "Third" grade hardwood floors offer a more rustic appearance with knots, natural color variations, dark graining, and other visual imperfections. #1 common and #2 common varieties are available.
  • Rustic/Tavern: This grade of hardwood floor offers a rustic look with multiple visual imperfections like knots and dark graining.
  • Exotic: Many exotic hardwood flooring goes by different rating systems depending on where they're manufactured. They will often have their own unique rating systems, so if you have a question about an exotic hardwood's rating, ask the retailer before you buy.

Hardwood Floor Designs

  • Parquet: Rectangular blocks of wood are geometrically aligned, creating an attractive, classic pattern. Parquet floors are generally glued down. The most popular size is 6"x6" and 5/16th" thick.
  • Inlay: An inlaid border or medallion pattern for the middle of the floor can make your hardwood floors a true statement piece in your home. Pre–existing hardwood floors can also have a thin inlay installed over them.
  • Stenciled/Stained "inlay": This process is as simple as taping a pattern onto a pre–stained floor and staining a darker or lighter stain over it. When the tape is peeled away, a beautiful pattern emerges. While a skilled floor refinisher can easily handle the task of staining your hardwood floors for an inlaid appearance, it may also be possible to accomplish this yourself with a steady hand. Wood pegs and old iron fastenings can also be simulated with this look.
  • Mixed media: Like the look of marble, even though you're choosing a hardwood floor? Mixed media floors combine the best of both worlds, adding beauty to your hardwood floors with inlaid marble, ceramic tiles, brass, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, and almost any other material you'd want to accent your hardwood floors.

Janka Hardness Rating

This rating determines a floor's practical durability. Softer woods at the lower end of the spectrum are recommended for areas with very light traffic, while highly–rated hardwoods can stand up to much more wear and tear. Janka ratings are measured in pounds–force (lbf), with the highest ratings able to stand up to heavy force without denting. The test measures how many pounds of force it takes to drive a .44" diameter steel ball halfway into the plank of wood that's being tested.

Janka Hardness Scale Diagram

  • High: You'll find the really tough hardwoods in this category, including ipe, Brazilian cherry, cumaru (Brazilian teak), mesquite, Santos mahogany, merbau, and jarrah. Encompassing ratings from 1800–2400, these hardwoods are good for every application from high–traffic businesses to homes with kids, pets, and heavily–used rooms.
  • Medium: Filling in the middle ground of the Janka Scale, hardwoods rated between 1200 and 1800 are good for most normal residential applications. This level offers such popular hardwoods as, red oak, white oak, maple, American beech, ash, white oak, Australian cypress, and yellow birch .
  • Low: Ratings which fall in the 600–1200 range are best for low–traffic areas like bedrooms and closets. Low–rated woods include Douglas fir, southern yellow pine, black cherry, teak, and black walnut.

The results of the Janka hardness tests are placed in a chart or scale.™ has provided a Janka hardness chart that displays the most common types of hardwood floors used today. In addition, the Janka scale also has other common woods listed for your reference.


  • Micro bevel/eased edge: Each plank has the corners cut at a 45 degree angle, creating a very small groove between aligned planks.
  • Bevelled: The corners of each plank are cut at a more extreme angle, adding visual interest with a deep V where the planks meet. This type of edge is usually seen in irregular hardwood flooring.
  • Square edge: These planks line up to form a continuous surface with no obvious edges.
  • Distressed: Each edge has some slight irregularity, matching the distressed or hand–scraped look of the planks.

Hardwood Flooring Edges: Micro Bevel/Eased Edge,
Beveled, Square Edge and Distressed

Hardwood Flooring Finishes

  • Unfinished: If you'd rather sand, stain, and finish your hardwood floors yourself, an unfinished floor is the way to go. Unfinished hardwood floors are best if you're trying to match an existing floor.
  • On–Site: These finishes are applied after the unfinished hardwood flooring is installed. While most homeowners hire a flooring professional to install and finish hardwood flooring, it can also be done by the savvy Do–It–Yourselfer.There are several types of finishes that can be used, including wax, oil, and urethane.
  • Prefinished: Prefinished hardwood floors have been finished at the factory, eliminating that step from the installation. Most flooring manufacturers use three to ten coats of UV finish , sometimes with aluminum oxide added to extend the life of the finish. These hardwood floors are best if you're looking to spend a little less money and save some time, or if you want to install floating floors. A general rule of thumb to follow is that low gloss or matte finish floors suit high–traffic areas, and higher gloss finishes are best in low–traffic spaces. These are the two categories of hardwood floor finishes:
    • Penetrating finishes: This type of finish is so named for how it sinks into the wood. This category covers sealers and resins, as well as oil finishes like tung oil and linseed oil.
    • Surface finishes: These finishes are layered atop your wood floor, similar to paint. Polyurethane (urethane), lacquer, varnish, acrylic, epoxy, wax, and shellac are all surface finishes.

Hardwood Manufacturers