Confused by Hardwood?

How to make the right choice in hardwood flooring…

After attending a class on hardwood flooring at T&G Flooring several weeks ago, it was clear to me that the spectrum of knowledge varies greatly and thus might be a good topic for my blog.  

First, I’d like to discuss the difference between engineered and solid hardwood.  Solid hardwood is just that; a solid piece of wood typically about 3/4″ thick.  The length of each board will vary depending on the species.  (Mesquite shown in the image above has shorter board lengths but is often selected for its other characteristics touched on below.)  Engineered products are often confused with laminate flooring, and just to be clear these are NOT the same.  Engineered flooring has multiple layers of substrate underneath a visible layer of actual hardwood while laminate is simply a picture of wood.

Mesquite, Hardwood, Interior Design

Mesquite Hardwood Floor

Depending on where you want to install your material, the best product for your application will vary.  Solid material is great for location on or above grade.  For below grade such as basements, engineered may be a better option. 

Keep in mind that the greater the width of the board, the more solid hardwood may shrink and swell creating visible gaps between each board.  For our extremely dry Colorado climate, kiln drying is a must and on site humidity prior to installation should be between 6-9% though the lower end of that spectrum is better.  Also, for minimal movement, consider the species you select.  Mesquite will shrink and swell minimally where hickory (a commonly used wood for our area) will change much more.  Somewhere in between you will find maple, oak, and pine, including beetle-kill.  The lower the dimensional change coefficient, the less susceptible the species is to shrinking and swelling.  Engineered products tend to be more stable as the layers beneath the wood wear layer alternate direction and are glued and pressed together. 

Do you prefer a floor with lots of character marks and dents for that aged look or a floor that is much less likely to dent and mar?  The Janka hardness test measures for resistance to denting and wear only.  The higher the score, the harder the wood.  Many exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry perform very well whereas oak, pine, and cherry are more likely to distress over time.  Janka hardness does NOT include scratching and it is best to discuss the surface finish options with your installer for scratch resistant qualities.

Unfinished hardwood can be classified by grade from “clear” to “select” to #1, #2, and #3 or “character”.  Character grades contain more knots, imperfections, and shorter boards than clear which are more uniform in color and have the fewest blemishes.  Both solid and engineered floors may come unfinished.  Prefinished floors do not have the same standard of grading and T&G suggests asking the manufacturer to tie their grade to an unfinished grade so you know what you are getting.  Great recommendation!

Finally, prefinished floor stain options come only as the manufacture creates.  Unfinished floors are site-stained so virtually any color can be achieved though are not predictable in how a particular species or individual board will color.

Much of the beauty of wood is that it is a natural material and does vary and change over time.  Embrace the beauty.  When installed and cared for properly, your wood flooring can last a lifetime.  For assistance in your selection process and creating a successful overall look incorporating wood flooring into your project, let us help you!