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The Toughest and Softest Hardwood Species

A timeless flooring material, hardwood is one of the most elegant, durable, and valuable surfaces that you can choose for your home. Did you know that some hardwood species are harder than others? Each species of wood has an individual cellular structure, creating physical properties determining how it should be used. Durability is an essential characteristic of flooring materials because hardwood floors need to withstand the rigor of day-to-day life!

Luckily, you don’t have to guess which wood species is the toughest and best-suited to handle an active home: Professionals use the Janka Rating System, a standard developed over a century ago, to determine one type of wood’s hardness over another. The test figures out how many pounds per square inch (PSI) is required to push a 0.444” steel ball halfway through a 2’ x 2’ x 6’ plank of wood. By using this system, industry professionals developed a list called the Janka Scale of Hardness, a tool that consumers and homeowners can use to make flooring choices which is also featured on our Hardwood Styles page.

The Janka scale starts at zero, the softest or easiest to scratch or damage, and the hardness climbs from there. For example, balsa wood has a Janka rating of 100. And if you’ve ever seen what happens when a balsa wood airplane model crashes, you understand why wood flooring requires a much higher rating. Hardwood flooring typically requires a Janka rating of 1,000 or higher! Here’s a quick run-down on a few popular wood varieties:

  • For many homeowners and builders, oak is the most popular hardwood flooring choice. Red oak has a Janka rating of 1290 and White oak comes in higher at 1360. Another characteristic of white oak is that it takes stain well! With proper care, these species age beautifully, are incredibly durable, and will last for decades.
  • Another popular hardwood is hickory, which has a Janka rating of 1,820. Hickory floors are gorgeous, with lighter-colored planks, eye-catching swirling grain, and ample rustic charm.
  • Exotic hardwoods, including Brazilian Cherry, Tasmanian Oak, and Patagonian Rosewood, come from outside the United States. These species often rank higher on the Janka scale than domestic species. For example, Brazilian Cherry is rated 2350 versus domestic Black Cherry at 950.

If you are investigating a supremely durable wood species, it’s important to consider that a harder Janka rating will require more labor. The hardest wood species will require more sawing, nailing, and drilling, which can produce higher labor costs which you will want to factor into your professional installation budget.

If you’re ready to make a decision or if you have more questions about which hardwood flooring is right for your home, our professionals are prepared to talk with you! We can help answer your questions and help you find the hardwood hardness rating that will suit your home and lifestyle.