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Choosing the right wood species for your solid wood flooring

Liverpool is a city known for its architecture and character, both of which shine through in the homes in which its people live. Whether it’s a terraced house or mansion, quality flooring can really help make a house into a home.

If you have decided to install a solid wood floor in your Liverpool home, you may still need to decide on which species of wood you would like to use. Each variety naturally has its own appearance and its own unique grain. If you have a limited budget, there’s also the issue of cost. What’s more, if you are ecologically minded, you will probably prefer materials from sustainable sources.

When it comes to durability, it’s important to remember that the term ‘hardwood’ doesn’t necessarily imply a certain hardness, but rather that the wood comes from a leaf-bearing rather than a cone-bearing tree. In reality, the wood from some leaf-bearing trees can actually be relatively soft, while some cone-bearing trees can yield rather hard wood.

The Janka hardness test was therefore developed to provide a better indication of a wood’s resistance to wear and denting. This establishes the force needed to embed a .444 inch (11.28 mm) steel ball into the wood up to half its diameter. Any values here are given in pounds-force, but you may see other sources quoting results in newtons or kilograms-force.

Oak

Oak is commonly used in floors, so it’s probably what first comes to mind when you think of solid wood flooring. There’s little need to go into details here, but to summarise the benefits of oak, it’s very durable and has an eye-pleasing grain. Traditional English oak has a Janka rating of 1,120 pounds-force, but you can find other varieties with higher ratings. Oak also takes stain very well, so you have plenty of options when it comes to colour and shade.

Bamboo

Bamboo is not actually a hardwood. In fact, it’s not even a wood, but rather a grass, but it still offers the durability and strength you want in a solid floor. Unlike with real solid wood flooring, however, all bamboo flooring needs to be processed in some way, so you may find terms like “engineered bamboo flooring” to be a little confusing.

As you would expect, bamboo is a renewable resource, so this can be considered one of the most eco-friendly solutions for a solid wood floor. Despite this, even in an unprocessed state, bamboo has a Janka rating similar to that of oak. When this is then later processed into strand-woven bamboo, a potential Janka rating of 3,000 pounds-force actually rivals that of ebony.

Cherry

Cherry wood may only have a Janka rating of 950, but it resists warping and checking well thanks to its sturdy, closed grain. It’s also prized for its rich colour, which is generally brown but with hints of dark red or pink. This also tends to intensify as the wood ages.

Ash

Ash has long been regarded as a sustainable source of timber by smallholders, who would often harvest the wood on 10-year cycles by felling the trees close to ground level and leaving them to regrow – a practice known as coppicing. Ash can range from white to light brown in colour, with a straight grain similar to that of oak, although wood from the heart can be darker. With a Janka rating of 1,320 pounds-force, ash is hard and tough, yet it’s flexible and shock resistant, making it suitable for both solid and engineered wood flooring.

Beech

With a Janka rating of 1,300 pounds-force, beech is as tough and strong as your typical oak, so you can expect it to last for many years. It has historically been popular in shipbuilding and even as firewood thanks to its attractive flame. When used in flooring, beech has a pale colour with striking medullary rays similar to those found in maple. As it ages, beech tends to become darker and takes on notes of dark yellow and brown.

Elm

Britain’s elm trees may have been decimated by the infamous Dutch elm disease, but new varieties have since been planted that are resistant to the disease. Thanks to its flexibility and reluctance to decay in water, it’s been a popular choice for ships’ keels and canoes, but with a Janka rating of 830 pounds-force, it’s perhaps not the best choice for a well-trodden floor.

Walnut

Black walnut is particularly prized for its appearance, making it especially valuable. The colour starts as a creamy-white in the sapwood, but in the heart wood, it reaches a dark chocolatey colour that gains a purple hue on being air dried. The grain is also rather striking, with it being relatively straight in wood from the trunk, but becoming wavy as it approaches the roots. It also features complex rings and knots that add to its distinctiveness. Scoring 1,010 on the Janka scale, black walnut is clearly a durable option for a solid wood floor, although there are other varieties of walnut that score even higher.

Mahogany

Mahogany represents a more exotic option, with varieties generally ranging in colour from pale orange-brown to darker orange-browns, usually with an interlocked grain.

Mahogany is also known for its good durability, although Honduran mahogany, for example, has a relatively low Janka rating of 800 pounds-force, making it generally unsuitable for frequently trodden floors. If you step up to the similarly coloured Santos mahogany, however, you gain a Janka rating of 2,200 pounds-force. As you would expect, this provides superior durability, but the sheer hardness means that carbide tools are generally recommended for installation.

Unfortunately, mahogany has limited availability these days due to many species being protected. When some does become available, it usually comes in the form of reclaimed boards from existing mahogany floors.

Other wood species

Of course, these are just some of the better-known wood species used in solid wood flooring. Our planet is remarkably diverse, and this is reflected in the sheer variety of trees that grow on it. Many of these species are becoming available, but you should always check the sustainability of the source. Forests within the EU are usually well-managed, but wood from other regions may well deserve further investigation, and you should certainly avoid any endangered tree species.

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