Many may have heard the term “hardwood,” yet they do not know exactly what it means. They would be hard-pressed to name more than a few varieties of hardwoods and might be stumped if they have to decide about bamboo and redwood.

This guide will help you understand the different types of woods used for flooring and the characteristics that make each one distinct, but first, let’s talk a bit about science.

The Surprising Scientific Definition

Most people think the difference between a hardwood and a softwood is the density of the wood. That is usually true, but not always. Hardwoods tend to be slower growing and that typically makes them denser. This is one reason why they are considered more valuable when compared to wood from faster-growing trees.

The shocking fact is that balsa wood, which is one of the lightest woods in the world with very low density, is a hardwood. How can that be? Certainly, no one would ever consider making flooring out of balsa wood. It would be ruined by a day’s use.

The scientific categorization of a hardwood is a wood that comes from deciduous trees. These lose their leaves each fall. A softwood comes from a tree that does not lose its leaves, such as an evergreen.

The separation of hardwood trees from softwood trees is based on how they reproduce. Hardwood trees are angiosperms, which are trees that produce seeds with some kind of covering. Examples of this type include oaks trees that have seeds inside an acorn and apple trees. Softwood trees have seeds with no covering. An interesting example of a softwood is the pine tree. The pine cone is all seeds, not a cover for seeds inside.

The Softwoods Used for Flooring

The softwoods used for flooring are pine, spruce, fir, and redwood.

  • Pine – Pine is the most popular wood used to make subflooring in the form of plywood. Pine subflooring is used under a carpet and under solid hardwood floors that are ¾ inches thick.
  • Spruce and Fir – Both of these woods, like pine, are used to make plywood that is used for subflooring.
  • Redwood – Redwood is rarely used inside, but is favored for outside use to make decks because of its weather and termite resistance.

The Hardwoods Used for Flooring

The most popular hardwoods used for solid flooring are birch, cherry, hickory, maple, oak, and walnut.

  • Birch – Birch is elegant. Red birch is a dark brown color showing subtle wood details in somewhat circular patterns. Yellow birch is a tan color with a pattern that is more linear.
  • Cherry – Brazilian cherry is bold and a bright red color. Natural American cherry is light brown with a hint of red color. It is outstanding and has been used for flooring in the USA since the first settlers arrived. Maybe that is why George Washington cut down the cherry tree.
  • Hickory – Hickory adds a special flair to a room. Character hickory shows nice long bands of lighter wood tones mixed with darker ones.
  • Maple – Natural maple is dynamic with plenty of patterns in the wood to catch the eye.
  • Oak – Oak is stunning and comforting. There is natural red oak with a very light reddish tone and character white oak that can be stained light or dark based on your preference.
  • Walnut – Walnut is regal and found in the finest luxury homes.

What about bamboo?

We tricked you. Bamboo is used for flooring because it is supposedly eco-friendly and sustainable; however, it is not a wood. Bamboo is a plant, not a tree. It is actually a grass with tall strong blades. When it is made into flooring, bamboo is just another type of engineered flooring. The chemicals they use to make it and how it is made determines if it is environmentally sound or not. If you want solid wood flooring, bamboo is not on the list.


Now, you will never be confused about hardwoods and softwoods again. Chose your favorite hardwood from the types we offer and contact us to set up an appointment for a free estimate.

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