Red Oak vs. White Oak: What’s the Difference?

We talk a lot about different types of hardwood flooring on this blog, and sometimes we refer to species and terminology as if all of our readers were industry professionals. For that, we apologize. We understand that sometimes terms can be used without any explanation, and that can be confusing.

White Oak Flooring
Engineered White Oak Flooring

For instance, we often refer to oak flooring on this blog. It’s dependable, attractive, and relatively inexpensive. But there are two main types of oak flooring – red oak flooring and white oak flooring – and we often talk about them without discussing the differences between the two.

Well, no more. There are many noticeable differences between red oak flooring and white oak flooring, as well as similarities. These differences include areas such as strength and durability, appearance, movement in service, and maintenance. Check out “Red Oak Flooring VS White Oak Flooring – What’s The Difference?” for more information on these two amazing hardwood species.

Hardwood Mechanical Properties – What Do They Really Mean?

Do you get confused when hardwood flooring professionals start talking about Janka hardness or the modulus of expansion? That’s okay. Unless you are a hardwood professional yourself you probably don’t know the technical jargon. Well, here are a few key technical terms and what they mean. Enjoy!

Hardness: This specification measures how resistant a wood species is to indentation. The higher then number, the harder the wood.

Modulus of Rupture: This is a measure of the wood’s “strength”. In other words, the MOR measures how much force is required to break the wood. This measurement will tell you how much weight the wood can carry.

Modulus of Expansion: Also called “stiffness”, the MOE is a measure of the wood’s resistance to bending. A high MOE means the wood is less likely to buckle or bend over time.

Density: Measured in KG per cubic meter, a wood’s density tells you how much weight and damage a hardwood floor can take before breaking or bending. A very dense wood will also be less likely to experience rot or insect infestations.

If you’d like more detailed information on hardwood mechanical properties, check out this useful article: “Hardwood Mechanical Properties – What Do They Really Mean?”

Online Flooring Tools – What They Are and How to Use Them

It’s a great age we live in! Advances in technology have made almost every part of life easier, and picking new hardwood floors is no exception. There are many useful virtual tools online that can help you decide on a specific type of hardwood floor, match it to your house’s current color scheme, and determine how much flooring you will need.

Room Design Tools
Room design tools allow you to choose from a number of different room features and mix-and-match them until you come across a combination you like. The latest and most advanced room design tools feature 3D technology and allow you to take a virtual tool through your newly designed room. Choose from features such as hardwood flooring, counter tile, furnishings and appliances. Most virtual room designers also allow you to save your designs and compare different feature combinations.

A well-designed room featuring engineered Bacana-Copaiba floors
A well-designed room featuring engineered Bacana-Copaiba floors

Color Design Tools
A virtual color design tool is a simpler version of the room design tools. If you aren’t designing a whole room and only want to match wood floor types to paint colors or molding types, color design tools are the way to go. Most effective color design tools feature specific panels representing different parts of a room, such as flooring, molding, cabinets and wall paint. Simply pick the color and style of the room features you want to match and then compare and choose a complementary flooring type.

Materials Calculator
A good online materials calculator can be an invaluable tool for any hardwood flooring project. Flooring calculators help you determine the square footage of the area you are working on so you know exactly how much materials you will need. It’s important to remember that exact square footage isn’t always available at hardwood flooring retail outlets. Some retailers sell by the bundle, so make sure to purchase more square footage than you actually need. It’s always better to have materials left over than to not have enough to finish the project.

The Best Hardwoods to Install Over Radiant Heat Systems

Radiant heat systems are great, but they can really do damage to solid hardwood floors. Hardwood flooring can dry out much faster when installed over a radiant heat system, but understanding radiant heat systems and knowing which wood species work best with them can help reduce the amount of damage the system will do to your floors. Here are the top types of hardwood flooring that work best with radiant heat systems.

Oak Flooring

Natural Red Oak Flooring
Natural Red Oak Flooring

Domestic Oak flooring is a great choice for installing over a radiant heat system. Both Red Oak flooring and White Oak flooring have a natural dimensional stability and a lower density, two great features to have when pairing wood flooring with radiant heat. Species with higher densities, such as Brazilian Cherry and Maple, are less stable and thus more likely to warp or bend due to temperature fluctuations.

Narrow Boards
Wide boards are less dimensionally stable than narrow boards and don’t work so well with radiant heat systems. The general rule of thumb with width is any board under 3” works well. The preferred width is 2 1/4”, especially in solid flooring.

Engineered Flooring
Engineered flooring is often preferred over solid hardwood flooring simply because it is very versatile, can be installed in any room of the home (including below grade), and can be installed using a number of different methods. Engineered flooring is the preferred choice when it comes to radiant heat systems, too. The dimensional stability of engineered flooring makes it a perfect pairing with radiant heat.

Quartersawn Flooring
Again, dimensional stability is the key factor here, and quartersawn and rift-sawn floors are simply more stable than their plain sawn counterparts.

These are just a few things to consider before installing hardwood flooring over a radiant heat system. For more information on radiant heat installation of hardwood flooring, check with the National Wood Flooring Association – they have some great tips.

Aiming For That NWFA Seal of Approval

Think all hardwood flooring distributors are the same? Think again! According to a recent press release, the National Wood Flooring Association has started offering what’s called the Accepted Product Seal Program. This completely voluntary program will help manufacturers and distributors earn recognition for meeting certain industry performance standards. It will also help consumers identify companies that meet these standards and, most likely, offer high quality hardwood products.

Prefinished Natural Acacia Flooring
Prefinished Natural Acacia Flooring

So what is involved in the Accepted Product Seal Program? Well, the program tests standards for six unique product categories, including abrasives, adhesives, engineered wood flooring, fasteners, finishes/stains/sealers, and underlayment. The tests are performed by independent, third-party testing facilities. Testing requirements are created by ASTM/ANSI, two of the leading organizations in industry-specific international standardization.

The NWFA has been around since 1986 and currently boasts over 3,500 members, including architects, designers, specifiers, builders and consumers. Members receive high-quality educational training, technical resources, and industry networking opportunities. For more information about NWFA practices or if you’re interested in joining the group, call 800-422-4556 or visit the NWFA website.

Spotlight On: Oak

Welcome to a brand new series here on Engineered Flooring called Spotlight On:. This week we’re aiming our Spotlight On: Oak! Domestic Oak is a very versatile type of hardwood and has been used for years to add distinction and sophistication to homes across the US. Here are two of the most popular types of Oak, their features and how much you should expect to pay for them.

White Oak
The crisp, light tones featured in White Oak gives any room a bright, airy feel. The dark gray heartwood is nicely contrasted by hints of white and a tight grain pattern. White Oak is a very versatile wood, as well – it can be easily stained or treated to match pre-existing floors, fixtures or furniture. Here are the specs:

Hardness: 1,360 pounds
Strength: 15,200 psi
Stiffness: 1,780 1000 psi
Density: 900 KG/m3
Tangential Shrinkage: 7.2%
Radial Shrinkage: 4.2%
Price: Depending on variety, expect anywhere from $3.75/SF to $6.50/SF.

Finished Natural White Oak

Red Oak
Slightly more distinct-looking than its White counterpart, Red Oak has a red-tinged brown heartwood and a more open, fluid grain pattern. Like White Oak, Red Oak is versatile enough to work in almost any room with almost any décor, and has been an American favorite for years. The specs:

Hardness: 1,290 pounds
Strength: 14,300 psi
Stiffness: 1,850 1000 psi
Density: 780 KG/m3
Tangential Shrinkage: 8.6%
Radial Shrinkage: 4%
Price: Depending on variety, expect anywhere from $3.99/SF to $6.75/SF

Finished Natural Red Oak

Oak has been a hardwood flooring standard in America for years. Isn’t it time you joined the club?

The Best Protection for Your Hardwood Floors

You’re no fool – you know that in order to protect your newly installed engineered flooring you’re going to need some sort of sealant, stain or varnish. But which should you choose? What’s the best protection for your floors? Here are the main types of wood protection, what types of floors they work best on, and how to use each.

Wood sealant is a great choice if you’re concerned about uneven grain or stain patterns. Most often used on soft woods, wood sealant will penetrate your floors and harden, helping slow stain absorbency and giving your floors a more even color distribution. Sealants help protect wood from the elements and are most often used in decking projects, but they can be used on floors in high-traffic or extremely open rooms. Softwoods such as spruce, white pine and Douglas fir (sometimes referred to as SPF lumber) take very well to sealants and are common flooring and decking choices in the US.

Used for centuries as a wood finish, shellac is a natural resin produced by tree-dwelling insects. Shellac isn’t as commonly used as it once was, but it can still be found at hardwood supply stores and is a great choice for DIY-ers because it doesn’t produce a lot of fumes. Shellac is very compatible with most other finishes, and when used as a primer can help protect wood from stain blotching or resin bleeding. It also acts as a sealant. It isn’t the most durable wood protectant, so if you only use shellac plan on doing touch-ups as scratches happen.

Varnishes offer great protection to wood floors, but are a little trickier to apply than stains and sealants. Made up of a combination of resins and oils, varnishes must be applied in a completely dust- and dirt-free area as the wet varnish surface is very susceptible to damage. Polyurethane varnishes offer the best protection, making them perfect for indoor use.
The downside to varnishes is that they add a plastic appearance to the floors, which some people find unappealing. Varnishes also tend to yellow and crack with age, so they require a bit more maintenance in the long run. They can be applied to any type of wood, however, and many people find the versatility and protection worth the plastic appearance and down-the-road maintenance.

Stained Tigerwood floors

Very popular in hardwood flooring projects, stains accent and emphasize wood grain while offering moderate protection. Stains are the most versatile wood protectant, coming in a variety of transparencies and colors, and are generally either oil-, latex- or water-based. Stains are great on woods with striking or exotic wood grain patterns, such as Acacia, Cumaru, and Tigerwood. The downside? Stains don’t offer great protection, so be prepared to reapply more often than you would a varnish or shellac.

Design 101: Matching Your Floors to Your Furniture

Before you pick the type of wood you want to use in your engineered floors, take into consideration the type of furniture that will eventually go in the room. While matching furniture to wood floors is easier than matching it to carpet, there are still some guidelines you can follow to make sure everything ties together well. As an example, here are a few popular sofa styles and the types of hardwood that look best with them.

Lawson Sofa
Lawson sofas are probably the most common sofa in the country, and for good reason. They have a high back, low arms, and big, soft cushions. Great for families or individuals fond of napping, lawson sofas go with a more subtle wood type such as Brazilian Cherry, Maple, or Red Oak. Stay away from flashy colors or grain patterns as they will clash with the more traditional lawson style.

Slipper Sofa
Very sleek and modern, slipper sofas generally have no arms and are rather small. Dark, exotic woods are a great compliment to the slipper’s no-frills look. Try Ipe, Acacia or Birch, and finish with a deep brown or burgundy stain. Ooh-la-la!

Finished Brazilian Cherry with Lawson Sofa

Settee Sofa
Settees go well with classic, sophisticated design schemes. Settees often feature carved wood frames and upholstered cushions and look great with rich, elegant wood types. Try wood without a lot of grain pattern, such as Maple, Birch or Amendoim, as the detail on the sofa shouldn’t have to compete for attention.

Bridgewater Sofa
Known for their comfort and sheer laid-back-edness, bridgewater sofas are big, low to the ground, and great for entertainment rooms. Pair this sofa with a more rustic wood type, such as Hickory, Walnut, or White Oak for a rugged, family-friendly aesthetic.

Where are your floors from, exactly?

You love exotic wood because it’s, well, exotic. It’s more colorful and vibrant than traditional domestic wood, and it’s fun to brag about when entertaining guests. But how much do you really know about the places from which your hardwood floors came? If you answered, “Not much”, don’t fear. Here are four of the top exotic woods on the market today and a little information about their areas of origin.

Cumaru, or Dipteryx odorata
Also known as Brazilian Teak, Cumaru wood has a beautiful reddish-brown color and an impressive 3540 Janka rating, making it one of the hardest, densest woods available.
Cumaru is actually a species of flowering tree native to the Orinoco region of northern South America. A member of the pea family, Cumaru produces Tonka Beans, seeds similar in smell and flavor to vanilla, almonds, cloves and cinnamon. These seeds have been used in cooking, perfumes, and tobacco, but are banned in the US and other countries because they contain the anticoagulant coumarin, which is lethal in large doses.

Amendoim, or Pterogyne nitens
Sometimes called Brazillian Oak, Amendoim is a lustrous, reddish- to yellow-brown wood that takes well to sanding. The wood undergoes a mild color change over time but usually keeps its original shine.
Amendoim is most often found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay and is a part of the Fabaceae family. Yes, it’s a legume. While the species is threatened with habitat loss and is listed as “Near Threatened”, sustainable harvesting practices allow for commercial use with little risk of increasing the species’ fragility.

Tigerwood, or Astronium fraxinifolium
In Brazilian Portuguese, Tigerwood is called gonçalo-alves. This distinctive looking wood has vibrant reddish-brown tones, black striping and a wavy, irregular grain pattern. Tigerwood has a 1850 Janka hardness rating, meaning it is both eye-catching and long-lasting.
Tigerwood is native to the Amazon Rainforest and is especially abundant in eastern Brazil. Sustainable Tigerwood harvesting is a big industry and a large factor in local economies.

Brazillian Cherry, or Hymenaea courbaril
Sometimes referred to as Jatoba, Brazillian Cherry is the 800 lb. gorilla of hardwood flooring. It weighs a whopping 56 lbs. per cubic foot and has a Janka hardness rating of 2350. Its color ranges from salmon to deep red to orange, and the wood features attractive black accent stripes and a natural luster.
Brazillian Cherry is not, in fact, a cherry tree at all. Common to the Caribbean and Central/South America, the tree is often called Stinktoe due to the unpleasant odor of the pulp inside its seed pods. Amber fossils from million-year-old Hymenaea trees have also helped scientists piece together an understanding of prehistoric Earth, its vegetation and its insects. (Think Jurassic Park)

Now that you know a bit more about your brand new exotic wood floors, invite over some friends, pour a few cocktails and wow everybody with your extensive knowledge. You might want to leave out the Stinktoe part, though.

Finished Brazilian Cherry

Engineered Unfinished Flooring – Tips For Before and After Installation

You’ve researched hardwood flooring enough to know that the only way to get a perfectly flat, smooth floor surface is to install engineered unfinished flooring and sand and finish on site. As you know, engineered unfinished flooring is much more dimensionally stable than its 3/4″ solid unfinished counterpart. However, there are a few key points to consider before and after installing your new engineered unfinished floor. They are:
Moisture and Humidity
Because of ground moisture, solid wood floors can’t be installed in below-grade areas, or, areas of floor in direct contact with the ground or with less than 18 inches of ventilated space. Engineered unfinished flooring, however, can be installed below-grade because of its cross-ply construction. Even so, the sub-floor moisture levels should be tested before your building materials arrive at the job site, either by a professional flooring installer or with a hand-held electrical moisture meter.  Floor materials should be acclimated to the sub-floor moisture level for a minimum of 10 days, longer in areas of high or low humidity. Failing to acclimate the materials can lead to cupping, crowning or buckling, causing you to have to tear up your new floor and start over from scratch.
Fluctuating temperatures won’t affect the structural integrity of engineered unfinished flooring much, but they can cause the wood to crack and pop. To avoid these annoying little noises, install a fully functional HVAC system prior to installation in order to maintain a consistent temperature. A hard-working HVAC system can also help maintain humidity and speed the finishing process.
Sanding and Finishing
Done correctly, on-site sanding and finishing will guarantee a perfectly flat and smooth floor surface. This should be the final step in the installation process. Heat will help the curing process, so be prepared to crank the heat to the high 80s for a few days after finishing.

Owner Care
Lastly, it is extremely important for new owners to take good care of their freshly finished floors during the weeks after installation. While the floors may look done, it takes some time for a new finish to cure and harden. Don’t move furniture or heavy fixtures for at least a month, and don’t walk on the floors in hard-soled shoes. The more careful you are in the first few weeks, the longer your new floors will keep their beautiful appearance.

Finished Maple Engineered Hardwood Flooring