Finding a Strong, Durable Hardwood Floor

Obviously deciding between solid and engineered is the biggest consideration when examining hardwood construction or comparing prices, but how do you differentiate between two solid floors or two engineered floors? There are certain factors that can help you in your decision.
 
How Solid Hardwood Flooring is Made
Most solid floors are made the same way. A tree is harvested from a forest (and usually replaced by a new sapling), then taken to a mill that cuts the ends off the wood and slices it into pieces. These floors are almost always 3/4" thick, but you can sometimes find them in 9/16" or 5/8", although these solids are usually not nearly as durable. You can often find these woods unfinished, but most of the hardwood flooring available in the retail market is prefinished, meaning that the wood is sanded, stained and finished before it leaves the manufacturer to ensure consistent quality. Of course, this also means that it's up to the manufacturer to ensure consistency, so make sure to thoroughly examine your hardwood for consistent color and finish before accepting it.
 
Grading Hardwood Floors
The ways hardwood floors, especially solid floors, are different most often is in the grade of the wood. This is not anything that relates to the quality or strength of the wood, but can be important when considering the appearance.
 
Nearly Flawless
Clear or Select and Better grades are usually the top of the line. Clear means the floor has no visible blemishes or knots, as well as very light graining. Clear wood floors are the most expensive, but can be found for less money in woods that naturally have less visible grain like Cherry or Maple. Select and Better may have tiny knots, and slightly darker grain, but not enough to really stand out. These floors are the most common, and the best option for most consumers, as they have a good tradeoff between price and quality.
 
Getting the Full Grain
#1 Common and #2 Common has slightly larger knots and darker graining. These are not usually found from the major manufacturers and are typically found in budget floors. The final category is Rustic or Builder grade. These are the cheapest, lowest grade floors, and are most often found in Seconds or Wholesale floors with a high minimum purchase limit.

In summary, Clear or Select and Better grades are your best bets, but also comprise at least 95% of the flooring available from nationally available brands. #1 Common, #2 Common, Rustic and Builder grades are available, but are only worth considering if budget is a major concern and you don't want to spend the extra money.
 
How the Sawmill Affects the Appearance of Solid Wood Floors
The other consideration with solid hardwood is the cut. Over 90% of the hardwood produced is Plain-Sawn, or cut parallel across the wood. The other forms of cuts are Quarter-Sawn and Rift-Sawn. These floors are slightly higher quality, but more expensive. The wide majority of floors don't specify how they are sawn, which means they are plain-sawn. But occasionally you'll see a floor that specifies it is Rift- or Quarter-Sawn, and these floors will have slightly added strength and will have a bit more consistent grain.
 
How Engineered Wood Flooring Is Made
Engineered is a bit more different. These floors consist mainly of layers of plywood, particle board, or a softwood that are glued together. These layers form the core of the floor, and are then topped by a thin layer of a hardwood floor that isn't thin enough to wear down, but is thick enough to make a more efficient usage of the floor and not experience dimensional stability issues related to natural wood species. Engineered floors tend to be easier to install and more stable than solid floors, and often carry a greater warranty, since all pieces can perform equally well with only a minor amount of maintenance.
 
The Strength of Engineered Flooring is in Layers
The primary difference between engineered flooring is the thickness. While solid wood typically needs a full 3/4" to perform satisfactorily, engineered wood can perform very well at 5/8" or even 1/2". In fact, some engineered floors can be as thin as 1/4", though they are not designed to last nearly as long. What typically determines the thickness (and what makes it an issue) is the number of layers within the core. The greater the number of layers, the stronger the floor will be, making it less susceptible to warping or wearing down and making it more dimensionally stable.
 
How the Sawmill Affects Engineered Flooring
Grade is not as much of an issue with engineered wood, since only a thin layer of hardwood is used in the actual floor. However, the way that the top layer is cut from the board can make a difference. Veneer can be cut in two ways: sliced and peeled (rotary cut). Neither has an advantage in terms of performance, but sliced veneer resembles solid hardwood more and has a more consistent appearance across the floor than rotary cut veneer. However, some people like the way rotary cut floors look, since they create a bold and unique pattern across the floor. So take a look to see which one you prefer, since rotary cut floors can often be less expensive as well

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