Is All Hardwood Really Hard?

When we set our sites on installing new hardwood floors, or move into a home with hardwood installed, we automatically think these floors are tough as nails. They will be able to take anything we can throw at them (or drop on them, or roll on them, or scrape them against them, etc.). It is called “hardwood” for a reason, right?

Not all wood is created equal. Hardwood floors, or wood species that are used for hardwood floors, come in a range of “hardness”. In the hardwood world, the Janka Hardness Test is the official hardness rating to determine whether a hardwood is suitable for flooring.

Janka Hardness Test

The Janka Hardness Scale (named after the Austrian-born emigrant Gabriel Janka, 1864-1932) measures the force needed to embed a small steel ball halfway into the wood. The scale doesn’t accurately take all scenarios into consideration including the protective finish applied, but gives us a good overview of how well one hardwood can hold up versus another type of hardwood.

As an example, a stiletto heal that has lost its protective heel piece, can exert 1000 pounds of pressure onto its point. That’s enough damage to dent many types of hardwood. The softest wood known is Balsa wood and is rated at 22lbf (22 pounds of force). Balsa wood is the stuff they make simple model airplanes out of. It’s light, breaks easily, and we could probably make a mark in the wood with our fingernail.

The hardest wood on the Janka scale is Australian Buloke at 5,060 lbf (5,060 pounds of force). The cost of this type of hardwood is about $150/sq ft, so you won’t ever see Australian Buloke in the average residence.

If you have hardwood or are considering installing hardwood, take a look at the hardness scale of several of our typically installed hardwoods:

  • Red Oak (1,290 lbf)
  • White Oak (1,360 lbf)
  • Hickory (1,820 lbf)
  • Maple (950 lbf)
  • Douglas Fir (660 lbf)
  • Brazilian Cherry (2,350 lbf)
  • American Cherry (995 lbf) 
  • Walnut (1,010 lbf)
  • Ash (1,320 lbf)
  • Brazilian Walnut (3,684 lbf)
  • Birch (1,260 lbf)

Whether you choose Maple or Brazilian Walnut, always plan on using “kid gloves” with your flooring. It is so easy to get a dent here and a scratch there. And even with the hardest of hardwoods, you want to keep it looking the best it possibly can for many years to come.

Please give us a call or shoot an email if you need additional questions answered about your current or future hardwood needs in Sandy, Bountiful, or beyond.

(Check out the Janka Hardness Test wikipedia page for more information on the hardness scale and to see the complete list.)

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