Hardwood flooring is a term best associated with certain styles or species. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth, something you’ll quickly learn when you browse the flooring section at any home improvement store. That’s why it’s important to know the types of hardwood floors that are available, whether you prefer something traditional or exotic.
- Solid and Engineered Hardwood Flooring
- Finished or Unfinished Hardwood Flooring
- Hardwood Flooring by Grade
- Hardwood Flooring Patterns
- Hardwood Flooring Textures
- Hardwood Flooring by Species
- Types of Domestic Hardwood Flooring
- Types of Exotic Hardwood Flooring
- Alternative Hardwood Flooring Types
- Hardwood Flooring FAQ
Solid and Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Your first step to finding the right type of hardwood flooring for your home is to consider how it was made. Hardwood flooring comes in two basic forms with solid hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring. We’ve covered both of these types at length, and they are easy to separate because of the way they are made.
After trees are harvested in a forest, solid hardwood flooring is planed down into boards from larger lumber. These planks can range from a ¼” to ¾” or more in thickness but can vary greatly in length and width. Manufacturers use a number of techniques along the edges and surface to finish the boards off as well.
By comparison, engineered hardwood flooring only uses a thin strip of “real” wood on the top of each board that acts as a veneer. That means less wood is used in the production of this type of hardwood flooring, but there are more fillers in the core. Engineered hardwood is usually cheaper than solid hardwood, although the price is largely dependent on the factors below.
Finished or Unfinished Hardwood Flooring
Whether you decide to choose solid hardwood or engineered planks, most will come prefinished. This coating goes on top of each board at the factory and serves two purposes. The topcoat or finish protects the wood from light abuse brought on by daily foot traffic, but can also provide UV resistance and while adding color.
Prefinished hardwood flooring can be found at any home improvement store locally or online. Shades range from nearly white to ebony with plenty of clear options that showcase the natural beauty of hardwood. Most all solid hardwood flooring can also be refinished which allows homeowners to change the color.
Unfinished hardwood flooring isn’t as popular, but an interesting alternative. It’s cheaper but will have to be finished on-site by a professional or the homeowner. The advantage is the fact you can use a variety of techniques and colors that would be unavailable otherwise. The price to stain and seal a large room may not be cost-effective, however.
Hardwood Flooring by Grade
A variety of organizations are tasked with assigning grades to hardwood flooring including the NHLA and NELMA. If you plan on buying prefinished hardwood, you’re probably not going to be concerned by grade although some of the terminology lets you know more about the overall style.
Common 2 lumber is most commonly used in the flooring world when homeowners want something with a rustic look. It is sometimes referred to as rustic grade as is ideal when you want color variations. #2 Common Grade has more mineral streaks, knot holes, and imperfections both natural and from the manufacturing process.
The next step up is known as #1 Common Grade, which is a more subtle version of common grade #2. These boards still show color variation, and natural grain, but provide a more uniform look than anything in the rustic class. You will still have floors with some character, however, in comparison to Select and Clear Grades.
With select grade flooring, you won’t see much character but will still get plenty of color. That means knot holes are kept to a minimum along with any blemishes that may break the uniform look of the flooring when it’s installed. Clear grade is top of the line and can be free of markings with consistent grain and color.
Hardwood Flooring Patterns
Another way you can look into hardwood flooring is by pattern. You might be surprised to find that all hardwood flooring is not laid in a straight traditional fashion. There are close to a half-dozen patterns used by designers today including the classic parquet style.
Parquet hardwood flooring has an unmistakable look that works best with classic or contemporary décor. There are 3D parquet patterns alongside the classic Basketweave, Brick, and Hexagon parquet flooring. These styles can be run horizontally or vertically as well.
Random width hardwood also falls into this class by using a variety of widths ranging from 2.5” to 7”. It can be installed in a variety of ways as well, like traditional hardwood flooring. Other hardwood flooring patterns to consider include herringbone and chevron.
Hardwood Flooring Textures
Smooth solid hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring is something most homeowners will be familiar with, even if they have never heard the term. This flooring type consists of boards that have a completely level surface that has been sanded down to an even thickness.
Smooth or traditional hardwood flooring will add a clean, modern look to any room. If you prefer textured surfaces, wire-brushed hardwood flooring is the next option. The texturing technique applied to these boards can vary from light to heavy, but they are still easy to clean and maintain. Wire-brushed flooring also hides scratches extremely well.
Hand-sculpted and hand-scraped hardwood flooring provides more detail and character. These planks have been altered using a variety of tools and techniques, and will definitely stand out from smooth or wire-brushed flooring. Distressed or weathered flooring is also an option if you’re interested in a rustic, reclaimed look.
Hardwood Flooring by Species
All hardwood falls into one of two categories with manufacturing, but the same goes for the trees themselves. While there are well over two dozen types of hardwood flooring by species, all are generally classified as domestic or exotic by homeowners in the United States. That classification has a significant impact on price and availability.
Types of Domestic Hardwood Flooring
The most prevalent type of hardwood flooring is Oak. It’s readily available in many parts of the world, strong, and comes in two styles with Red or White Oak. Red Oak has more character and color than White Oak, but both pale in comparison to Hickory. Hickory has a score of over 1,800 on the Janka hardness scale, and more character than any type of Oak.
Hickory is the most durable domestic hardwood flooring type, although Maple is not far behind. It’s much lighter in appearance and can be challenging to stain. Maple is an excellent choice for homeowners that appreciate creamy tones and it works well in high-traffic areas. Ash is also sturdy with a modern vibe, although more challenging to obtain than Oak or Hickory.
Walnut flooring is one of the darkest domestic species with a rich color that’s almost chocolate in appearance. While used for flooring, it’s expensive and relatively soft with a rating of a little over 1,000. Heart Pine and Cherry are two unique alternatives, but also pricey and can be challenging to obtain in certain regions.
Types of Exotic Hardwood Flooring
Exotic hardwood flooring comes from different parts of the world under a variety of names. While the style and grain pattern varies wildly, all of these species are in the premium class when it comes to pricing. Most are harder than domestic species, but can also be more resistant to things like insects and humidity.
Tigerwood is a hardwood that lives up to its namesake with colors ranging from gold to medium brown. They are similar to Hickory when it comes to character and is one of the more distinct types of hardwood flooring on the market today. Jatoba, otherwise known as Brazilian Cherry, is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Like its domestic counterpart, Brazilian Cherry is known for its reddish hues and highlights. It’s much harder, however, just like Santos Mahogany. This exotic hardwood also sports red and brown hues. It’s not as vivid as Jatoba but is more affordable. Brazilian Teak, Brazilian Walnut, Teak, Purpleheart, and Sapele are other exotic species used in the hardwood flooring world.
Alternative Hardwood Flooring Types
All of the species we’ve listed are manufactured using the same general techniques as they are cut down, transported to mills, and turned into the hardwood flooring you see in homes today. Well, there are also a handful of other types that are considered “hardwood” but have an entirely different composition, look and feel.
Bamboo flooring has become one of the most popular alternative hardwood flooring styles today. It’s harvested from the culm or stalk of a rapidly growing grass. That makes it highly renewable and one of the best forms of eco-friendly flooring.
Bamboo is also available in three distinct styles with strand-woven, vertical, and horizontal bamboo. You can read more about this affordable and incredibly durable flooring in our guide. While we feel cork is just as unique as bamboo flooring, it’s considered somewhat soft and does not rank on the Janka hardness scale.
It’s comfortable beneath your feet, which makes it perfect for kitchens and other areas of the home in its engineered form. Cork flooring does come from the cork oak tree, but not from the wood, but the bark. It’s harvested while the tree is still growing, so it’s just as green as bamboo as well. Both bamboo and cork flooring have distinct pros and cons compared to traditional hardwoods.