There’s a reason solid hardwood flooring has stood the test of time and continues to be a favorite flooring option despite the ever-changing demands of interior décor trends: hardwood is durable, widely available, budget-friendly and – with the right finish – can be easily adapted to suit any style.
So, if you’re considering hardwood floors, you’re already making a good choice for your home. But how do you choose the best solid wood floors?
Well, this is a multi-faceted question. In this article we’ll address this question by reviewing the following aspects that determine which is the best solid hardwood for your home:
Solid Hardwood Vs Engineered Hardwood
– consider the best type of hardwood flooring depending on where you are using it
First let’s make the distinction between solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid hardwood is exactly what it says it is, a solid plank of wood, whilst engineered hardwood is a composite product consisting of an upper layer of hardwood that is adhered onto layers of plywood.
The difference in construction is key to understanding whether a solid or engineered floor is the best option for your project.
- engineered hardwood is the better option for humid areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and basements as the construction has less risk of warping
- solid hardwood is the preferred option in areas of high traffic (such as hallways) as it can be sanded back any number of times in its lifetime and re-finished to look great again.
If you’ve established that solid hardwood is the correct option for your project, you now need to look in more detail at solid hardwoods species and other considerations.
By the way, if you now know that engineered hardwood is what you want/need then now would be the right time to check out our guide to the best engineered wood floors, including brand reviews.
Different Types of Solid Hardwood
– select the best species of solid hardwood for your home in terms of hardness, porosity, provenance, base color and grain
There are basically two main categories of solid hardwood species on the market in the USA:
- domestic species that are grown locally such as red oak, maple, hickory, ash, beech, American cherry, walnut, birch and pine.
- exotic species that are imported into the USA from all over the world, these include Brazilian cherry (aka Jatoba), acacia, mahogany, tigerwood, Brazilian teak, rosewood, ipe (aka Brazilian walnut)and kempas.
Different species of hardwood have different properties – not least of all different base colors and grains. Other properties of hardwood species to consider are:
- the hardness of the wood– for example red oak, which is the most popular choice in the US is also very hard and resists dents very well; whilst pine tends to be very soft and unforgiving over time under heavy traffic, which might not be so bad for you if you like the lived-in, distressed look. Find out about the Janka rating of the hardwood you’re interested in – a Janka rating of less than 1290 indicates a softer wood.
- porosity – another major consideration, especially if you plan to stain the wood, is to check how porous the species is. For example, maple is extremely non-porous and so it does not take stain very well making it very tricky to achieve an evenly stained result.
As you can imagine, different species of hardwood have different price points – domestic species tend to be slightly cheaper than exotic species.
Differences in Hardwood Grading
– determine the best wood flooring depending on how its grading affects its appearance and your budget
Not all solid hardwood retailers detail this, but in fact hardwood floor planks are often categorized by a grading system that qualifies its appearance. To be clear the grading system does not reflect the durability or hardness of the wood. Here are the grades and what they mean:
- Select – this grade is for planks that have a uniform grain and color, with few imperfections such as knots. Select grade planks are more expensive than other grades as more effort has been put into ensuring each plank looks similar.
- #1 Common – this is for planks that are not quite as uniform as the select grade; here you’ll see flooring with knots, greater variation in grain and perhaps different length planks too. #1 Common grade is cheaper than select grade.
- #2 Common – these planks have bigger knots, more visible grain and striking contrasts in color. Much cheaper than select grade, #2 Common grade planks will give a more rustic feel to your home.
- Tavern Grade – this type of hardwood plank is not commonly used for flooring, as they tend to be very knotty and have burn marks and badly sawn edges. Tavern grade, however, is by far the cheapest grade of hardwood flooring.
Solid Hardwood Finishes
– decide on the best hardwood floors in terms of its finish and how that works with your budget
Another consideration that is specific to solid hardwood flooring is whether or not to get a pre-finished plank or completely unfinished, raw wood that is then finished on site, giving a unique and customized finish.
The main options for the surface finish on your hardwood are:
- aluminum oxide – the standard finish for pre-finished and pre-stained solid hardwood planks, and which offers a very good layer of protection to your flooring.
- water based or oil based polyurethane – basically a clear varnish sealant that will enhance the color of your hardwood flooring and give decent protection against wear and tear. Depending on the type of polyurethane finish will also result in either a more gloss or satin look.
- wax – usually only available for on site finishing, wax finishes will help minimize scratches and stains, but aren’t as protective as polyurethane.
Purists will always argue that the best results will be going with the raw wood finished on site by an experienced installer; but that may not be the most budget-friendly option.
As with all things to do with home improvement, you get what you pay for, so always try to go to the maximum for your budget. If you’re going with a pre-finished hardwood, then discuss the options with your installer and consider going with a brand that the installer recommends and has worked with before.
Colors, stains, gloss or matt?
– choosing the best solid hardwood in terms of color, stain or gloss will depend on your personal preferences and lifestyle
We have already discussed the different species of hardwood and the fact that they all have a unique base color, but it is important to understand that the base color can be affected and changed with stain.
The color of the stain will completely change the character of your hardwood flooring, so if you are staining hardwood on site it’s worth doing several sample areas and looking it those samples at different times of day in different lighting conditions before you decide.
Pre-finished solid hardwood flooring has already been stained, and you will therefore be able to see immediately which color you’re getting – but still it’s worth asking your retailer for sample selections to take home and test before deciding.
The jury is out as to whether a darker or lighter stain shows up dirt more, and some argue that highly gloss finishes show up more smudges than more matt finishes.
Plank Dimensions (thickness, width and length)
– the best solid hardwood flooring in terms of plank dimensions is mainly a question of personal preference, but always ensure your planks are a decent thickness
To a certain extent, deciding on which width and length of solid hardwood plank to go for will be in part up to personal preference, but also what is available.
The current trend is for wider planks; longer planks will have fewer joins giving a more unified appearance. Thinner planks tend to give a more traditional look, whilst super short planks can be used to great a herringbone or chevron parquet pattern which is very much on-trend right now!
The most important dimension that you MUST be sure of, is that your solid hardwood planks are no less than 3/4 inch thick! This is the standard thickness of most hardwood flooring and has been tested for strength and stability.
Plus, planks that are at least 3/4” thick can be sanded back and refinished between 5-7 times.
– understand the costing factors that will affect what is the best solid hardwood flooring for your project
As discussed above the factors that will affect the basic cost of solid hardwood flooring are:
- whether or not you’re opting for a domestic or an exotic species, with prices ranging anywhere from $3 to $12 per square foot
- the grading of the planks
- whether or not you are installing pre-finished planks or having them stained and finished on site (on site finishing can add up to $5 per square foot)
- overall width and length will also determine how much wood you’ll need, which in turn affects costs
And, of course, you’ll also need to calculate the installation costs which will vary according to the requirements of the job, for example if you want your contractors to prepare the subfloor or provide extra services like adding transitions between different types of flooring.
For more information about hardwood prices, cleaning and maintenance and installation, check out our other solid hardwood flooring guides.
Solid Hardwood Flooring Reviews
Below are our reviews of the best solid hardwood flooring brands.
These three less well-known hardwood brands are all retailed through online wholesaler BuildDirect; because BuildDirect retail these brands direct to the consumer they can offer up to 50% off traditional retail prices which makes them particularly interesting.
It’s worth noting that Build Direct also offer hardwood flooring from other brands including big names such as Armstrong, Shaw Floors and Mohawk; and that all their floors are available for purchase by private homeowners or professional flooring installation companies at the same competitive prices.
The Jasper Hardwood brand currently features 161 different products, organized into several different collections depending on style, type and finish. Predominantly featuring oak, maple, birch and hickory hardwoods sourced from America, Canada and Europe, the Jasper range retails from as little as $1.49 per square foot for some of the Forest Value Strip Collection woods, up to around $5.39 per square foot for their Hickory Collection floors.
There’s a wide range of colors, widths and finishes to choose from including some lovely light toned woods such as the Pitch Blanca white oak in the Everlasting Collection (pictured below left).
The Mazama Hardwood brand has 96 products, almost all of them exotic hardwoods including jatoba (aka Brazilian cherry), acacia, santos mahogany, Brazilian redwood, tigerwood, teak, Patagonian rosewood, kempas and ipe.
With wood tones ranging from light tan through deep reds, a couple of grays and near blacks, there’s a good selection to choose from and several different finishes including handscraped and smooth.
Prices range from around $2.89 per square foot for the Exotic Brushed Mulberry Collection to $7.79 per square foot for the top range choices in the Exotic South American Collection.
The Walking Horse Plank brand range sold via BuildDirect offers something quite different in hardwood flooring direct to the consumer: the entire range consists of completely unfinished smooth hardwoods, ready for you to finish according to your taste after installation.
The brand prides itself on offering “quality Appalachian hardwood lumber harvested sustainably from the Highland Rim region”, so there’s a select choice of walnut, red oak, white oak, hickory, hard maple and rift and quartered oak too.
The other major selling point is that Walking Horse Plank is mainly sold in long lengths, sometimes a maximum of 120 inches, though more often averaging at 44-50 inches. There are a range of different widths available and prices range from $1.99 per square foot to $7.75 per square foot, depending on wood species.
One final plus point for BuildDirect – you can get up to 5 free flooring samples sent to you to help make your mind up, with most of their solid wood products having samples available.
As you may already know, Armstrong Flooring is a global leader in the manufacture of all kinds of flooring, with over 30 factories worldwide and a history dating back to 1860 that rightfully makes it one of the most respected flooring brands in the country.
Over the years Armstrong has incorporated several other flooring brands, including Bruce in 1998. It’s worth making the distinction if you’re researching online that whilst there is a separate website for Bruce, on the current Armstrong Flooring website products from both the Bruce and the Armstrong brands are featured together.
The major advantage with Armstrong Flooring is that it has a huge amount of choice. Together the Bruce and Armstrong brands offer 446 solid hardwood products, predominantly in red or white oak but also ash, hickory and maple.
The products are divided into several different collections, though you should be aware that some collections have both solid hardwood and engineered hardwood options, for example the American Scrape collection (pictured below left) which features some lovely vintage hand-scraped textures comes in solid maple, oak and hickory as well as engineered hickory, walnut and cherry.
Another advantage is that with such a large product base, there’s a decent amount of interesting options such as the solid oak parquet from the Millwork Square collection (pictured above right) and a certain amount of finish choices including high, mid or low gloss finishes.
On the down side Armstrong and Bruce don’t offer extra wide planks in their solid hardwood collection with the largest width being just 5”; though they do have quite a large offering of thinner flooring strips that are less than 3” wide.
Armstrong and Bruce do not retail direct, but both brands are widely available from trusted flooring retailers and both the Armstrong and the Bruce websites have a great store finding map where you can put in your postal code and find your nearest retailer.
It does pay to shop around though as we have seen wide variations in prices of Armstrong and Bruce solid hardwood flooring depending on where you shop.
Mirage is a relative newcomer in the hardwood flooring world with a rather impressive story. The Mirage brand is owned by parent company Boa-Franc, a Canada-based flooring company, and was first established in late 1983, only for a major fire to completely destroy their facilities in early 1984! The company says that this crushing blow is what provided “the spark that gave rise to the company’s philosophy of “Spirit” – the passion and dedication that drives [the] entire team” and the determination to rebuild from scratch.
By 1992 the company had introduced its products to the US market and today Mirage is the proud holder of 30 industry awards for its excellence in quality and value, and is stocked with over 2300 retailers/ dealers across North America.
Mirage also takes great pride in offering a sustainable development program that works to ensure care for the environment and the local economy.
Mirage offer three types of hardwood flooring: engineered, a laminate-like composite of hardwood plus high-density board, and classic solid hardwood.
Their solid hardwood planks come in assorted lengths and widths range from 2.25” to 4.25”, have micro-V joint on all four sides of the plank and are pre-finished free from VOCs and formaldehyde.
Mirage’s solid hardwood planks are currently available in six of their collections: Admiration, Alive, Flair, Imagine, Natural and Sweet Memories.
Each collection features different wood species, offering a large range in finishes and aesthetics, including:
- the extensive range of smooth finished planks in the Admiration Collection (with currently 85 colorways – so something for every possible taste!);
- the barely-there finish of the Natural Collection which really brings out the inherent beauty of the grain (we love the rich tones of the Knotty Walnut from this collection, pictured above left);
- and the super-cool ultra matte finish of the Flair Collection which features a number of on-trend gray stained planks (like the White Oak Grey Drizzle Light pictured above right).
But aside from the large range of finishes, what we like best about Mirage is that in the six collections named above, you can get many (though not all) of the planks in both solid or engineered hardwood – which means that you can match the same look throughout your home, from humid or below grade rooms like the bathroom and the basement, to high traffic spaces like the hallway or kids bedroom!
For the kind of quality you get from Mirage, you should expect high prices, but in fact their products retail quite competitively from around $6.00 to $10.00 per square foot.
Lauzon is another Canadian brand that has made great inroads into the North American market over the past 30 years, and which has a reputation of offering excellent quality pre-finished solid and engineered hardwood flooring.
For many, one of its main attractions is that fact that they offer a fully integrated operation, “from forest to floor” – owning and managing a their own forests in Quebec – which ensures sustainable forest management and stewardship for many of their domestic hardwoods.
Lauzon also source exotic woods from outside of Canada, for which they have signed up to the Rainforest Alliance certification program.
A further point of interest about Lauzon is that some of their products – including a number of their solid planks – have their Pure Genius technology built in: this award-wining technology actually helps clean the air in your home by using the natural light that comes into your home to activate an air-purifying agent titanium dioxide that is integrated into the finish! Amazing!
Lauzon currently offer three main collections – Ambiance, Designer and Essential – which then divide into several series. As with Mirage flooring, many of the options in the three collections are available both as solid or engineered planks, allowing you to achieve a uniform look throughout your home according to room specifications.
Naturally, each collection has its own aesthetic, providing a good deal of choice to suit most tastes.
- The Ambiance collection features Lauzon’s premium North American hardwoods and has some rather lovely dark stained woods;
- the sleek and stylish Designer collection features 16 solid hardwood options, including the rather superb smoky, brown Palomino Betula (pictured above left);
- and the Essential collection features domestic species and keeps the finish simple to highlight the natural beauty of the wood, like the lovely, multi-toned grain of the Natural Hard Maple (pictured above right).
Lauzon solid hardwood flooring retails from around $5.50 up to $9.00 per square foot; visit the Lauzon website to find out where your nearest retailer is.
If you’ve settled on oak and want to ensure you keep this (relatively) local, then Somerset Hardwood Flooring is certainly worth your consideration; the company, based in Kentucky, has spent over 20 years honing their skills and creating an integrated process to take advantage of all the wonderful Appalachian hardwood that is practically right there in their backyard!
Specializing primarily in oak flooring, but also offering some carefully selected hickory, walnut and maple options, Somerset is the perfect choice if you want to support your local economy and invest in a solid hardwood flooring that is made to last.
For most of their pre-finished solid hardwood planks Somerset offer an impressive 50-year warranty on finish and wear, and a lifetime structural warranty!
Somerset also make engineered hardwood flooring, and many of their collections offer both solid and engineered options so that you can have the same type of wood throughout your home.
There are currently seven collections that have solid hardwood planks. Most of these collections are solely Appalachian oak with a small but perfectly chosen range of stains that will suit most projects; and each collection features a different finish or style detail. For example the HomeStyle collection has eased edges on all four sides of the planks, whilst the High Gloss collection features a super shiny aluminum oxide finish.
If you’re interested in other wood species then, as well as oak, the Character collection has walnut, maple and hickory options, all of which are finished to highlight the natural knots, markings and variations in grain and color.
Another option is the Specialty collection that features just thee maple and four hickory planks with different stains, including a rather lovely toffee colored one (Maple Tumbleweed, pictured above right).
One last thing to bear in mind with Somerset is that all of the collections have solid planks in widths of 2.25” or 3.25”, but only a few of them have planks as wide as 4” or 4”. So if you’re looking specifically for an extra wide solid plank then Somerset is not for you (they do have extra wide engineered planks though).
Somerset solid hardwood flooring retails at around $4.00 – $7.00 per square foot, and is available to purchase from a wide number of retailers, including Wayfair.