Oak Vs Maple and Hickory Flooring
For fans of solid hardwood flooring, or engineered hardwood, oak, maple, and hickory are three favorites. Each wood has unique characteristics that draw homeowners to it. If hickory, oak, and maple flooring are on your list of options to consider, this flooring guide will help you make an informed decision you’ll be happy with both now and for all the years you own your home.
Last Updated: June 14, 2023, by: Jamie Sandford
Read on to learn the similarities and differences between oak, maple and hickory wood flooring
OAK, MAPLE AND HICKORY HARDWOOD FLOORING CHARACTERISTICS
Let’s start by getting to know each of these gorgeous hardwood flooring types. They share important similarities:
- All are available in both solid hardwood and engineered flooring
- All must be sealed with polyurethane on a regular basis to prevent moisture penetration and staining
- All can be refinished; solid flooring multiple times, and most engineered hardwood flooring can be refinished at least once
- All are available in various width boards and styles to give you the look you want
If you would like an in-depth guide to any of these three hardwoods, including pros and cons, options, brands and pricing, then please follow these links:
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN OAK, MAPLE AND HICKORY FLOORING
What makes each of these woods stand apart? Here are the distinguishing qualities in three essential areas, appearance, durability and price.
Appearance: Oak, Hickory and Maple hardwood flooring all boast their own style and beauty.
Red Oak is America’s #1 hardwood flooring choice. It has medium to heavy graining with some color variation. Rosy undertones differentiate it from White Oak, Maple and Hickory.
White Oak hardwood flooring has underlying hues that are golden brown to slightly gray. The hard grain takes stain evenly, limiting color blotchiness. The grain is also quite linear.
Read up and learn more on the differences between red oak and white oak flooring
Maple hardwood flooring is creamier and lighter in complexion than the other woods, though some grades will contain mineral streaks ranging from medium brown to almost black. The grain is fairly fine and light, so you might have to look closely to see it. Grain lines vary from quite straight to wavy or curly.
Hickory hardwood graining is the most varied and distinct, and this attracts some buyers and turns off others. The hues in a single piece of flooring often range from quite light to a rich golden brown, and boards installed side by side can show significant differences. Hickory flooring is most popular in wider planks that allow you to enjoy the complexity of the graining.
Durability: Each of these flooring types is far more durable than carpet, vinyl or linoleum, but how do they compare to one another?
Let’s start with something called the Janka Hardness Test which determines the resistance of wood species to denting and wear. The higher the number, the tougher the wood is.
- Hickory: 1820
- Maple: 1450
- White Oak: 1360
- Red Oak: 1290
Hickory is the hardest of the woods we’re considering, but it’s not quite as stable as White Oak. It resists dings and scratches the best, but will expand and contract slightly more. If you’re planning to use Hickory where high humidity and changes in temperature are prevalent, it makes sense to choose engineered Hickory flooring rather than solid flooring, because the subflooring attached to engineered hardwood reduces expanding and contracting significantly.
White Oak is the most stable of these materials, meaning that not only is it hard, it doesn’t expand and contract as readily with changes in temperature and moisture. This makes it extremely durable, and a reason it has been used for wine barrels and boats for hundreds of years.
A common complaint among homeowners with Maple flooring is that it scratches and dings quite easily. However, it’s important to know that Maple flooring is made from several different species. It is Hard Maple and Sugar Maple that has the 1450 rating on the Janka Test, and it is very resistant to wear. Other types of Maple flooring are softer, and they should be avoided.
Related Reading: Most Durable Floors
Price: A recent survey of retailers we conducted found these hardwood flooring prices for just the material.
- Hickory Flooring: $3.15 to $7.00 per square foot
- Maple Flooring: $2.70 to $6.15
- Oak Flooring: $2.55 to $5.80
Keep in mind that each type of flooring is available in several hardwood flooring grades, and this accounts for the wide spectrum of hardwood flooring costs. Less expensive flooring will have more knots, mineral deposits and other minor imperfections. It is also worth mentioning here that there are many oak, maple and hickory products that have been stained to create a very different color look than their natural unfinished look.
The cost to install hardwood flooring remains the same for all three spices, with a baseline cost of between $3 and $4 per square foot.
MORE PROS AND CONS OF OAK, MAPLE AND HICKORY HARDWOOD FLOORING
Let’s round out this hardwood flooring guide with a few more pluses and minuses to consider for each type.
Oak Flooring: Oak flooring is very popular because it is beautiful. However, if you’re looking for something to set your floors apart from those of friends and neighbors, you might want to consider something else. Oak is the most popular choice among homeowners. Another advantage is its stability, and this makes it the best choice for humid climates with extreme variations in temperature from summer to winter.
Maple Flooring: This gorgeous flooring is an attractive blend of beauty and stability. There are two concerns to keep in mind, though. First, Maple will yellow slightly with age, especially when clear-coat finishes are used rather than stains that darken the wood. Secondly, the wood contains both soft and hard cell structures that receive stain differently than the other, so it can stain unevenly and look blotchy. This is more common with dark stains. The pros suggest conditioning the wood first to accept stain more uniformly or purchasing pre-stained and finished Maple hardwood flooring.
Hickory Flooring: Hickory’s varied grain pattern is more distinctive than what you see in either Oak or Maple flooring. For many, this is very attractive. Just keep in mind the potential downside; since it is more unique, it might not appeal to as wide a range of potential buyers should you ever put your home on the market. Finally, because of the variation in grain, Hickory flooring is more difficult to make look cohesive rather than patchwork. If you choose Hickory, find a qualified installer with years of experience installing this beautiful material that has a challenging grain pattern.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE INFORMATION FOR HARDWOOD FLOORING OPTIONS
- streeteasy.com: This page has comments on various hardwood flooring types from homeowners who have installed them.
- YouTube: Here’s a Rob Banks form BuildDirect discussing the looks, hardness and stability of Hard Maple flooring and Red Oak flooring
Related Reading from Home Flooring Pros:
Repurposed Old Hardwood Flooring
About the Author: Jamie Sandford
Jamie Sandford is the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros (find out more). After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction, followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation/remodeling business, he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.
“Buying and installing home flooring should be a fairly straightforward process, but often it isn’t. After more than 15 years experience in home flooring and remodeling, I started Home Flooring Pros in 2013 to help homeowners navigate the often-over complicated process of choosing, buying and installing a home floor. The aim is to save you time and money by helping you to make better floor buying decisions.”