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What about exotic hardwoods?

A previous article we wrote covered some of the more traditional options for solid wood flooring. There are plenty of domestic woods to choose from, but what can the more exotic hardwoods offer? Are there any advantages to choosing exotic hardwoods over the better-known domestic options?

You’ll find many attractive solid wood floors in houses and other buildings throughout the Liverpool area, but using exotic hardwoods can create a look that will really stand out. Of course, you’ll also naturally want to be responsible and ensure there are no sustainability issues related to your new floor.

Exotic versus domestic hardwoods

Traditional English buildings have often used English oak or ash, which used to be plentiful, in their flooring. While Britain’s forests have recovered much in recent years, only around 10% of the timber used each year is produced natively. Some well-managed woodlands still produce genuine British hardwoods, but it may be worth looking at exotic hardwoods as an alternative.

Hardwoods from European woodlands generally resemble their British counterparts, but exotic hardwoods from the more tropical areas can have radically different appearances. While domestic hardwoods usually give a warm, familiar appearance, exotic hardwoods tend to add a more striking and contemporary note to a room. Exotic hardwoods can also be much harder and denser (in terms of the Janka hardness test), which can contribute greatly to the long-term durability of your floor.

Sustainability and availability issues

When it comes to buying exotic hardwood, you’ll inevitably want to ensure you will not be contributing to the deforestation of the rainforests or the extinction of endangered tree species. Forests within the European Union are generally protected and well managed, but these protections are sadly not duplicated elsewhere in the world. Even wood from the USA and Canada may need to be carefully considered before purchase.

It’s worth noting that hardwood flooring can actually be a sustainable option when it’s harvested responsibly. Wood constitutes a great sink for CO2 emissions, and solid wood flooring typically requires less energy to produce than other flooring types. What’s more, it has the potential to last for hundreds of years, and even when it is no longer serviceable as a floor, it can often be recycled for other purposes or, as a last resort, burned as fuel.

A wise initial precaution is to avoid any endangered wood species, as listed by the United Nations Environment Programme, unless of course you’re sure it has come from a recycled source or well-managed woodland.

Secondly, some organisations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), are trying to create accreditation mechanisms, so individuals and businesses can confidently buy wood that has been harvested from sustainable sources.

If you really want to avoid any environmental impact, you could consider sourcing wood that has been reclaimed from old warehouses, barns, and factories. While you are unlikely to find exotic hardwoods in these old buildings, these materials have a certain agedness to them that adds a character all of its own.

Here are some examples of exotic hardwoods that are used in solid and engineered wood flooring.

Jatoba

With a very impressive Janka rating of 2,350 pounds-force, jatoba is a great option for a durable floor. It can also be sustainably produced in the tropical climate of Central America, but be sure to check for an FSC or other reliable accreditation.

In terms of appearance, jatoba enjoys rich, radiant tones that range down from dark red to a medium brown. With its bold blood-orange colours that reflect the sunlight beautifully, jatoba is often referred to as ‘Brazillian cherry’, because it resembles the beauty of cherry, even though it actually comes from a different tree family.

Acacia

Acacia hardwoods offer an eye-catching grain and pleasing shades, which is sure to make a rustic but powerful impression in any room. There are multiple acacia species to choose from, so you have the option of selecting a lighter variety in living areas where you prefer a livelier atmosphere.

Tigerwood

So named because its stripes resemble those of a tiger, tigerwood will instantly grab anyone’s attention on entering the room, but be sure to install it where an abundance of natural light will enhance its beauty. Not only is it attractive, but tigerwood also boasts a Janka rating of 1,850 pounds-force, so it’s also a very durable option for flooring.

Kempas

Kempas is generally produced in Malaysia and features heartwood that varies from orange-red to brown in colour. An interlocked grain and a liberal sprinkling of yellow specks further adds to this character.

Merbau

Generally produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, Merbau is a relatively dense hardwood with a Janka rating of around 1,900 pounds-force. It originally comes supplied in a light yellow-brown tone, but over time, this turns into a warm, red-brown colour on being exposed. This has made it very popular as high-end replacement for floors made from mahogany, which can be hard to responsibly source these days.

Panga panga

One of the more exotic options, panga panga originates from East Africa and features a dark-chocolate heartwood with an alternation of light and dark banks. Like most exotic hardwoods, it’s very dense and durable, making it suitable for most projects. It will be particularly valued, however, by those looking for something unique.

Other African hardwoods

A number of other hardwoods are also available from African sources. As the name suggests, Zebrano (also known as zebrawood) has a stripy appearance like that of a zebra. The surface is typically a light golden-yellow interspersed with narrow dark-brown veins. Being a lesser-known species of wood from central Africa, Zebrano makes a very powerful statement when used in wood flooring.

Often called African rosewood, bubinga is another durable but relatively uncommon hardwood for those looking for something out of the ordinary. Its distinct appearance typically comprises a medium red-brown background with veins ranging from light red to purple, and either a straight or interlocked grain.

Finally, wenge is another wood that is also (somewhat ambiguously) referred to as African rosewood. Unlike bubinga, though, wenge has a very rich and dark brown heartwood with veins that are almost black. This is a very high-end product, but you may be able to find engineered flooring blocks at more affordable prices.

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