What is the Wood Hardness Scale?
The hardwood hardness scale (or Janka scale) measures the hardness of a particular wood species relative to another, both domestic and exotic hardwoods. The scale is calculated using the Janka Hardness Test, which measures the force required to embed an 11.28-millimeter-diameter steel ball into the wood to half of its diameter. The higher the score, the harder the wood.
Last Updated: February 20, 2023, by: Jamie Sandford
As we explained in a previous Home Flooring Pros reports that there are plenty of good reasons to choose solid hardwood flooring ahead of other flooring options.
Once you’ve decided that solid hardwood is the right choice for your home, you will then begin the journey of choosing the species of hardwood, the wood grade, the size of the plank, the finish, and of course, unless you’re going to do the work yourself, the installer.
When deciding on the right hardwood spices for your floor you will want to consider it’s durability and in particular how hard wearing it is. One factor to consider is the hardness of the floor as measured on the wood hardness scale, otherwise know as the Janka Scale named after American researcher Gabriel Janka.
In this flooring guide we are going to look at the relative hardness of different species of wood, the hardest wood flooring and why wood hardness might influence the type of wood you choose for your floor.
- Is the hardness of my wood floor important? – Laying solid hardwood throughout your home will be a significant investment in time and money compare with say carpet flooring. The most important consideration is that you choose a wood type that you love and gives you pleasure. That said you should at least be aware of how the hardness of the wood you choose might affect your continued enjoyment of your floors at a later date.
- Pros and Cons of a Soft Hardwood – Are you desperate to install Black Walnut or American Cherry wood in your home? If you are that’s fine but you should also be aware that both these woods are relatively soft and as such will be much more prone to dents and dinks from heavy furniture or careless treatment.
- Pros and Cons of a Hard Hardwood – Perhaps you’ve set your heart on an exotic hardwood like Brazilian Walnut or Ipe. These two examples are amongst the hardest hardwoods and are much less prone to dents but are also a lot less flexible. In a really dry climate installing the hardest wood could result in planks splitting because they have far less give in them than a softer wood like Oak.
- How can I tell the hardness of a wood species? – The Janka Hardness Test measures the force required to embed half of a .444 inch steel ball into a piece of wood. Take a look at this Janka Hardness List to get an idea of the relative hardness of some different species. It is perhaps unsurprising to see that White and Red Oak, two of the most popular species used in home flooring today, sit quite close to the middle of the range when it comes to hardness. Brazilian Ebony is listed as the hardest wood and not one you’re likely to find down at your local Home Depot!
It is worth noting that the Janka Hardness test should only be used as a general guide to wood hardness. Results may be affected by the actual harvest location, the construction of the plank and, of course the finish.
Remember it is the finish of the floor that you are actually walking on and it is the first line of defense against wear and tear. Also bear in mind that no wood, no matter how hard, is indestructible! Even the hardest exotic hardwood can dent.
Finally, understand that the Janka test and all references to wood hardness in this guide are related to solid hardwood flooring rather than engineered hardwood flooring.
So to sum up, Home Flooring Pros recommends that you choose the solid wood that you want to live with rather than the hardest wood, but bear in mind that the hardness of different wood species vary. If you’re not sure whether a particular hardwood is a good choice for your particular climate and needs then ask the advice of a local installer or take a look at our hardwood flooring guide.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE HARDNESS OF DIFFERENT HARDWOOD FLOORING
YouTube – A video demonstration of the Janka Hardness test in action
County Floors – An Online wood floor store with a helpful hardness chart and lots of info on different wood species.
Have you had any first-hand experience of choosing a softer species of wood over a harder one? What’s the hardest hardwood flooring you’ve used? Do you have a preference and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or contact us directly.
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.”