Flooring university Department of Carpet

All About Hardwood

hardwood flooring planks

What is Hardwood?

Hardwood flooring is any flooring made from the timber of a tree. Not only are there seemingly endless options of wood species that can be used, there are also different ways of processing the timber into flooring.

The woods used often fall into two main categories, domestics (domestic wood) and exotics (exotic wood). Both domestic and exotic woods are rated for hardness using the Janka Scale.

The Janka Hardness Test measures the amount of force needed to embed a steel sphere into a piece of wood in order to determine the hardness of the wood. A higher number on the resulting Janka Scale indicates a harder wood.

Quick Definitions

What types of wood are used in hardwood flooring?

Domestic Woods

Any species found in North America. These include, but are not limited to American Cherry, Ash, Birch, Hickory, Maple, Red and White Oak, Walnut and Yellow Pine.

Exotic Woods

Made from trees found all over the world, most often in tropical climates. These include, but are not limited to African Teak, Australian Cyprus, Brazilian Oak and Cherry, Santos Mahogany, Tiete Chestnut and Rosewood and Tigerwood.

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring is not, technically, hardwood flooring. While it is made from a plant, it is not a tree and thus, not wood. However, Bamboo flooring is an excellent option due to its durability and eco-friendly thanks to its rapid renewal rate.

Cork Flooring

Made from a cork oak tree, but cork flooring uses only the bark and is thus not considered wood. Like bamboo, cork is sustainable due to its rapid renewal rate. While cork is an extremely soft option, it also tends to “spring back” and avoid permanent damage by heavy or sharp items.
Hardwood floor panel options

Is All Hardwood Flooring Made the Same Way?

Cartoon diagram of how engineering hardwood flooring is constructed

There are two types of hardwood flooring. Solid hardwood and engineered hardwood.

Solid hardwood flooring is comprised of planks of solid finished or unfinished wood, each made from a single piece of timber, that are pieced together with tongue and groove sides and ends. Solid hardwood flooring can be nailed or stapled in place, but should not be glued.

Engineered hardwood flooring is multiple layers of plies (very thin sheets of wood) that have been pressed together, each layer laid perpendicular to the next. This crossing of direction creates a single piece that is less sensitive to moisture and offers greater dimensional stability. The top, surface layer, is called the veneer.

Why should, or shouldn’t, I choose hardwood flooring?

There are great benefits to choosing hardwood flooring. Hardwood offers a classic look that is often less difficult to design around than carpet or tile. Hardwood is also incredibly resilient and, when well maintained, can last for centuries. Speaking of maintenance, hardwood is one of the easiest floorings to keep clean, whether by sweeping or vacuuming. Hardwood flooring has monetary value as well, by increasing property and home value.

On the other hand, despite its name, hardwood flooring can be vulnerable to indentations and scratches from things like furniture, high-heeled shoes and animal nails. Hardwood flooring is also extremely sensitive to moisture and humidity, making it a poor choice for certain areas (bathroom, laundry room, basement). Something else to consider is the noise level of a house with hardwood will be higher than that of carpet, which can absorb some of the volume. Like carpet, hardwood can fade over time due to exposure to direct sunlight.

One of the most important factors to take into account when considering hardwood flooring is moisture.

Hardwood flooring that is exposed to excessive moisture can swell. When individual planks swell, they cause an increase in pressure between the planks and across the entire surface of the floor. That pressure can cause boards to warp or cup.

What does grade mean?

grade for flooring installation

When it comes to flooring, the term grade actually has two meanings.

The first meaning, as noted above, refers to ground level. Anything above grade is above ground level. At grade is ground level and below grade is below ground, like a basement.

The second connotation of grade refers to the appearance of natural wood as it appears in flooring. When used in this way, grade takes into account color, length, knots, streaks and more.

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What Style Options Are Available for Hardwood Floors?

Both solid and engineered hardwood flooring come in many different widths. Different widths are available between different products as well as within a single product, which can create a unique flooring pattern.

Single-width flooring (also called fixed-width) refers to a surface comprised entirely of uniform-width planks. ​Gaining in popularity is mixed or variable-width flooring, wherein the planks vary in widths across the covered area. Along with width options, the surface edges of flooring planks can differ in shape. The lengths of planks can have square, beveled or pillowed edges, creating different surface appearances.

Beveled Flooring Diagram


Beveled edges are trimmed from the side toward the surface of the plank. Two beveled edges placed alongside one another create a v-shaped space along the seam.

Eased micro bevel flooring diagram

Eased-Micro Bevel

Beveled edges are trimmed from the side toward the surface of the plank. Two beveled edges placed alongside one another create a v-shaped space along the seam.

pillowed flooring diagram


can be considered a “rough” version of a beveled edge, where the edges are gently rounded, rather than a well-defined angle.

square edges flooring diagram

Square Edges

90 degrees. The planks fit completely flush with one another to create an unbroken surface.

How is Hardwood Flooring Installed?

Installing hardwood flooring over plywood

Proper installation of hardwood flooring involves many steps, including significant preparation.

Any area in which hardwood flooring may be installed should first be submitted to moisture testing by a professional using the appropriate equipment. If a significant amount of moisture is detected, the problem must be remedied prior to installation.

Once an area has been deemed suitable for hardwood flooring, the environment should be stabilized and kept at a constant temperature for up to two weeks prior to installation.

At least 48 hours prior to installation, the hardwood flooring should be placed into the area in which it will be installed. This allows the planks to acclimate and become unified to the temperature and humidity in which they will remain.

​In addition to the above steps, it is highly recommended that some sort of additional moisture protection system, like a moisture retardant, is put in place. For example, Bob’s Carpet & Flooring offers a Moisture Protection System in which a Moisture Vapor Protection surface membrane is placed over the (properly prepared) concrete subfloor.

Once preparation is complete and the flooring planks have been acclimatized, there are four primary ways in which hardwood floors are laid and affixed. It is always best to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines, but the method of installation will depend upon both the type of flooring you’re using and the area in which it is being installed.

After the hardwood flooring is installed I’m done, right?

Not quite yet, no. To complete, enhance and showcase your new hardwood flooring you’ll want to consider finishing trim, like moldings and transitions.

Quarter Round Floor Trim

Base and quarter round moldings serve a functional purpose – filling any space/gap between flooring and a wall, as well as covering the seam where the two meet.

Reducer Floor Trim

Reducer strips are placed along the edge of flooring when it abuts a surface that is lower in height.

T-Mold Trim

T-moldings are used between two surfaces of equal height, often to provide room for natural floor expansion or allow the flooring panels to change direction.

Threshold Floor Trim

Thresholds are moldings that allow for movement and/or expansion space while creating a smooth finished transition. An example would be flooring meeting a sliding door.

Bullnose Stair Molding

Bullnose stair moldings are rounded, while square nose stair moldings have 90 degree corners.

square nose stair molding

Stair nose moldings are used on the edges of significantly raised surfaces, like stair steps.

How Can I Prevent Damage to My Hardwood Floors?

Periodically rotating rugs and furniture (with the appropriate protection) will help prevent changes in color, over time, due to differing levels of sunlight. Window treatments can also reduce sun exposure.

Certain footwear can be hazardous to wood flooring. High-heeled shoes create a concentration of weight and pressure on a small area (the heel). That focused exertion can cause denting, particularly on softer woods.

Dog may be man’s best friend, but a dog’s nails can be trouble for hardwood floors. The best way to avoid scratches is to always keep your pets’ nails or claws properly trimmed.

As with any home furnishing, the best prevention is through maintaining a clean product. Hardwood floors should be swept daily and vacuumed weekly.

There are a number of things you can do to help ensure your hardwood floors will look beautiful for years to come. A little preventive maintenance goes a long way!


Stain offers wood protection from moisture and sunlight. Finished flooring will already have been stained prior to purchase and installation but unfinished flooring, and floors in the process of being refinished, can reap the protective benefits of stain.

Furniture Coasters

Furniture coasters, also called pads or glides, can be an excellent barrier to place between heavy furniture and your floor. These come in many different shapes, sizes and materials, allowing you to choose the appropriate option for your furniture and flooring.

Rugs and Mats

Rugs and mats offer a stylish opportunity to protect your floors from dents and scratches. By placing rugs or mats in high-traffic areas, you can avoid excessive wear while showcasing your design style. Rugs and mats also help collect dirt and grime when placed inside and outside main entrances.

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