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The Hardwood Hardness Scale: Your Buying Guide to the Right Floor

You’ve decided to add natural beauty and value to your home with new hardwood flooring. Congratulations on a very smart decision! Wood floors are one of the best home improvement investments you can make. Besides being tasteful and timeless, hardwood floors are strong and durable . . . and can beautifully carry the footsteps of family life for generations.

There are many species of wood available, each with its own characteristics. Color, grain pattern, the presence of knots or a smooth, closed texture are some of the aesthetics you’ve likely already considered. When it comes to performance, you want a floor that can hold up to scuffs, scratches, dents and every day wear and tear . . . and still look beautiful. Choosing a durable hardwood floor is made easier with the Janka Hardness Scale, a nifty (and free!) “tool” for evaluating the hardness of a wood species.

What is the Janka Hardness Scale for Wood Species?

The solid wood hardness scale, often referred to as the Janka Hardness Scale, Janka Wood Chart and similar variations, evolved from the Brinell scale, a standardized hardness test developed for the engineering and metallurgy fields. The Janka hardness test has been in use since 1922 and became an ASTM standard in 1927. For carpenters, the scale is a good indicator of how hard a species is to saw or nail. For flooring specialists, the scale helps determine the best way to install a specified hardwood floor and estimates how long installation will take.

How does the Janka Scale work?

Relax, this is easy to understand! The scale assigns a hardness rating to different species of wood. Hardness is a measure of a species’ resistance to indentation. In laboratory testing, that’s the force required to embed a .444 inch steel ball to one-half its diameter. The more force, the harder or more dense a wood is. Naturally, the harder the wood, the better suited it is for high traffic households.

Strong, resilient red oak with a rating of 1290, is the median standard against which all other wood species are compared when looking at relative hardness. There are a couple of reasons why red oak serves as the benchmark on the hardness scale. It’s a hardy species that grows fairly quickly and thrives in many different soils and environments, making it one of the most readily available hardwoods. Secondly, red oak makes a great floor. It’s not so hard that it’s difficult to work with, nor so soft that it dents easily. It’s just right!

Getting back to looking at the hardness scale, at the top is Brazilian walnut with a rating of 3680, almost three times the hardness of red oak. At the lower end of the scale are softer species like yellow pine and Douglas fir.

Keep in mind that the hardwood hardness scale should be used as a general guide when comparing various wood species and their suitability for flooring. Actual hardness will vary depending on where and when a tree was harvested. Plank construction and finish also play an important role in the durability and ease of maintenance of any hardwood floor.

Next time, we’ll talk about where the most popular and exotic wood species fall on the Janka Hardness Scale.

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