Oak vs. Maple vs. Hickory Flooring

Deciding to install hardwood flooring in your home can be an exciting endeavor, and it can be difficult to find the right type of wood with so many options available. Three of the more popular choices when it comes to American hardwoods are Oak, Maple, and Hickory. Each wood brings a different look to your home, and we’re going to break down the differences between the styles and tell you what to look for in high-quality flooring.

Species

Janka Rating

Pricing

Red Oak

1,220

$2.99 - $9.00

White Oak

1,350

$2.99 - $9.00

Hickory

1,820

$3.49 - $7.39

Maple

1,450

$2.99 - $9.55

All about Oak 

Oak flooring is arguably the most popular type of hardwood on the planet and has been used in homes for hundreds of years. There are also dozens of different species of from Bur to Live Oaks although there are generally only two types of Oak flooring you’ll need to concern yourself with are Red and White Oak.

red oak vs white oak flooring
  • Red Oak – This tree is often found in the Northeastern part of the United States and across the border into Canada. They can top 100 feet in height and clock in at 1,220 on the Janka hardness scale. The grain of this wood has an uneven texture with large pores and swirls which can make for a busy floor. With a slightly reddish to pink tone, Red Oak is the most popular style of Oak flooring but does not handle rot and water-resistance as well as other hardwoods.
  • White Oak – White Oak trees are found in the Eastern half of the U.S. and don’t get quite as tall as Red Oaks but are more durable. This wood rates at 1,350 on the Janka scale, which is harder than Black Walnut but not as tough as a Eucalyptus tree. This wood has a finer grain with a light brown to olive tone and less color variance. It resists rot and moisture better than Red Oak and is more stable overall.

Red Oak is lighter in tone and can be less expensive than White Oak, but not as durable overall. White Oak is better with moisture and rot, however, and a better option if you have large pets or are concerned about dents and dings.

The Marvelous Maple Tree

Marvelous Maple Tree

When you want a light style of wood flooring, Maple is an ideal choice. This fine-grained wood can have curly patterns with wavy or straight grains. While there are several species of Maple Trees as well, only harder trees like a Sugar Maple or Black Maple is used in flooring for obvious reasons.

Sugar Maples are found in various parts of the northern U.S. and Canada and can live up to 400 years and typically grow between 90 – 110 feet. It’s best known for producing sugary maple syrup, but also looks great on the floor of your home. This wood is 1,450 on the Janka scale, so it can deal with abuse fairly well although we can’t say the same for rot.

Maple can also be difficult to stain unless properly prepped and can turn over time unless proper precautions are taken. That said, part of its charm comes from its natural state which ranges from creamy tones to planks that are a light reddish brown.

The History of Hickory

Hickory tree

Exotic hardwoods are generally harder than domestic species, but Hickory is one of the hardest domestic woods around.  Often used in things like ax handles due to its toughness, it’s an excellent material for flooring and a quick way to brighten up any room.

Some hardwoods can be difficult to stain, but that isn’t the case with Hickory. In its natural form, it puts off a rustic vibe with streaks of light to medium brown, and as it accepts stain better than other hardwoods so you can use a variety of finishes on Hickory. The grain pattern can vary wildly from one board to the next, so it can take some work to get a uniform look if you don’t hire a pro.

On the hardness scale, Hickory ranks at 1,820 which makes it the hardest domestic wood. That also means it can be difficult to work with although far easier than exotic hardwoods like Brazilian Walnut. Hickory trees used in hardwood flooring often come from the Eastern United States, and while tough, it’s not fond of insects or moisture. Rot and decay can be an issue if Hickory flooring is not properly treated and installed, just like with most domestic hardwood.

Common Ground between Oak, Maple, and Hickory

There are some key differences between these three hardwoods, but they also have quite a few things in common which brings us to the pros and cons. Prices are comparable with Oak, Maple, and Hickory although Hickory can be a little higher due to its durability. As they are all domestic species, these planks are easier to obtain locally and often found in a wide array of widths and thicknesses as well.

All three styles are also available in solid or engineered form along with laminate and luxury vinyl if you want to save a few bucks. The installation process is essentially the same depending on whether you choose a floating floor or boards that you’ll need to glue or nail down. None of these woods are ideal of moist areas, like most hardwoods, but some engineered planks are designed for bathrooms, kitchens, and basements.

Key Differences between Oak, Maple, and Hickory

Style and durability are the main things that set Oak, Maple, and Hickory apart. Oak is the most common of the three, but also the safest from a design standpoint in our eyes. It may be too “common” for some due to its popularity although stain can make a world of difference from a style standpoint.

Maple and Hickory can be an acquired taste, but Maple is a clean wood that gives you a blank slate to work with. It will hold up better than Red or White Oak if durability is a concern, but can be difficult to stain. That makes prefinished boards a little more important unless you want to keep things natural and opt for a clear finish.

Hickory is the boldest choices of the three as it won’t work in every home – it just depends on the style of your home and its furnishings. Again, a good layer of stain can make a difference, but it’s definitely a floor that will catch your eye, so keep the grade and board width in mind – bigger is better.

Dimensional stability gives you an idea of how well wood flooring will react when moisture is present in a room. Floors can swell and contract; one reason a proper installation is always important. Some woods can handle this better than others; however, and Maple is the winner in this department between the three. Maple doesn’t hold a candle to most exotics or even a Pecan tree, but this wood can deal with swelling and shrinkage better than Oak or Hickory.

While Hickory may not do well with moisture, it can take more abuse than Maple or either form of Oak. That’s its biggest advantage over other domestic hardwoods, but may not be that critical if you don’t have children, pets or a lot of foot traffic. Photosensitivity can affect any type of flooring unless you’re going to install it in a room with no light, so you’ll need to consider windows and how much light a room receives depending on the species.