Ralph's Blog

The Importance of Stability in Hardwood Floors

Posted on Thu, Nov 29, 2018 @ 12:11 PM


floor stability graph-1

Because wood is an organic material, hardwood flooring will react to its environment. If the environment in your home is humid, the flooring will absorb moisture and swell. If the environment is dry, the wood will lose moisture and shrink.

A hardwood floor’s stability is the degree to which it can resist this swelling and shrinking. The higher the stability, the greater the resistance

Generally, the higher the stability, the better. That’s because hardwood floors with greater stability are less likely to cup and gap.

Hardwood floors that gain too much moisture can cup, with the centers of the planks becoming lower than the edges of the planks.

Wood flooring that loses too much moisture can have excessive gaps. Small gaps between planks are normal if they appear during cold (drier) months and disappear during warm (more humid) months, but if gaps persist throughout the year or a larger than normal, it’s a problem.

Both cupping and gapping can be minimized by always keeping the temperature between 60- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent.

But the type of wood you select will also determine how susceptible your flooring is too cupping and gapping. That’s why stability is an important consideration when choosing the species of wood for your flooring.

Species with relatively high stability include Red Oak, White Oak, and Ash. Species with relatively low stability include Maple, Hickory, and Cumaru. Regardless of the species, engineered hardwood flooring will almost always have higher stability than solid-plank floors.

For some species, low stability isn’t something to worry about if the flooring will be in an area where you know you can control the level of humidity. But in areas where that’s difficult or not feasible, stability should be a consideration when deciding the species of wood for your flooring or when deciding on whether to use solid planks or engineered hardwood.

To learn more about how to determine dimensional stability check out this great post.

We’re glad to provide our expert advice on how important stability is in your project. And we can help you select the flooring with the best stability. Stop by our showroom any time during business hours to consult with one of our hardwood flooring professionals.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, remodeling, caring for your hardwood floors, types of hardwood used in flooring, about hardwood floors

Hardwood Flooring Trends: The Distinctive Look of Old-World Oak

Posted on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 @ 15:07 PM

European oak hardwood flooring has a different look than American red oak and American white oak.For as long as I can remember, American red oak and American white oak have been among the most popular tree species for hardwood flooring.

They still are, but European oak is closing the gap in popularity. Generally sourced from France, Germany, and England, this type of oak is usually older and slower growing than the oak trees sourced from North America, with more natural tannins.

Compared to American oak, this different growing environment causes European Oak to have:

  • tighter growth rings, which make the grain patterns more pronounced
  • greater hardness and durability than its American counterpart
  • a darker color  (light- to dark-brown) than the relatively light-colored American oak
  • less color variation
  • less susceptibility to expanding and contracting
  • thinner sap wood, which gives longer and wider boards a better appearance in many customers’ eyes.

Another attraction is that European Oak can look wonderful with a natural oil finish, which has a beautifully natural patina that fits the taste of many our customers. The fact that homeowners can easily apply a natural finish when the flooring begins to look worn is just one more selling point.

European oak is often site-finished, but there is no shortage of high-quality prefinished European oak available for those who prefer that option.

American red and white oak aren’t going anywhere because they continue to look great, as they have for years. But it’s not hard to understand why more and more people these days are attracted to European oak. It has a uniquely beautiful look that is just right for many—a look that’s difficult to achieve with American oak.

To see for yourself how stunningly good-looking European Oak can be, please visit our showroom. We can help you decide if it’s the right hardwood flooring option for you.

Tags: hardwood floor trends, types of hardwood used in flooring

Popular Tree Species for Hardwood Flooring: Hickory

Posted on Thu, Oct 08, 2015 @ 15:10 PM

Beautiful, durable Hickory hardwood flooring

Hickory is one of the hardest trees found in North America, making it one of the most durable choices for flooring. It can stand up to lots of foot traffic (and kids and pets!) without looking worn—a major reason that we get more requests for Hickory floors than for any other species.

Hickory’s appearance also is a big attraction. It usually has a wide natural color variation within the planks—typically ranging from almost-white to light brown and red tones. Hickory also has a distinctive grain that many people fall in love with.

If desired, Hickory can be stained to give it a darker appearance. For those seeking a rustic, country look, Hickory looks great in grades that have knots and mineral streaks. It also can be hand-scraped, wire-brushed, or distressed to add to its rustic feel. Many homeowners chose wide planks to showcase the unique features of Hickory without making the floor seem too “busy.”

To see and walk on samples of Hickory, please visit our showroom. We’d love to talk with you about how you can use this beautiful species in your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, types of hardwood used in flooring

Popular Tree Species for Hardwood Flooring: Birch

Posted on Thu, Oct 01, 2015 @ 04:10 AM

Birch hardwood flooring looks beautiful when stained dark.

Birch is a popular alternative to the two most popular domestic species, Maple and Oak, because it provides similar refinement, hardness, and durability.

There are several varieties of Birch, but the most commonly used for flooring is Yellow Birch, which has a red- and brown-toned heartwood surrounded by a light, creamy sapwood—a color contrast that can be quite pleasing, depending on how the wood is cut. Red Birch, which is just the heartwood, is also often used for flooring.

Birch has a slightly wavy grain that’s closed (i.e., “not much grain”). Birch can be tricky to stain, but we can achieve most colors.

To see and walk on samples of Birch, please visit our showroom  We’d love to talk with you about how you can use this stylish species in your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, types of hardwood used in flooring

Popular Tree Species for Hardwood Flooring: Maple

Posted on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 @ 16:09 PM

Maple remains a popular tree species for hardwood flooring.

If you remember a hardwood floor from your childhood, there’s a good chance it was Maple. For much of the 20th century in the U.S., “Maple” was almost synonymous with “hardwood flooring” because of its elegant look, hardness, and reasonable cost.

Maple has a creamy, pale color, sometimes with a slight reddish tint. Depending on the grade, it can have dark mineral streaks or none at all, and its grain can vary from barely noticeable straight lines to curly  patterns. Some cuts have a type of grain known as “birds eye,” a pattern of tiny marks that look a lot like eyes.

Although Maple hardwood flooring is as traditional as it gets, it’s certainly not out of date. With modern finishing techniques, Maple is very versatile, with a range of creative possibilities. Many homeowners, for example, choose dark stains that enhance the wood’s natural warmth and richness, giving it a look similar to Cherry or Mahogany.

However, when stained improperly, maple can have a blotchy appearance, so it’s important to have the staining done by professionals with a history of making Maple look gorgeous.

To see and walk on samples of Maple, please visit our showroom  We'll be happy to talk with you about how you can use this classic species in your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, types of hardwood used in flooring

Popular Tree Species for Hardwood Flooring: American Walnut

Posted on Thu, Sep 03, 2015 @ 15:09 PM

American Walnut hardwood flooring naturally creates a coziness that many homeowners love.

American Walnut, also known as Black Walnut, is loved for the warmth its dark tones bring to rooms.

The heartwood of American Walnut is chocolate-brown to blackish in color, while its sapwood is a lighter, creamy color. This alteration results in a fair amount of color variation between planks—a look that’s not for everyone but is prized by many for its visual interest and casual genuineness.

Because of its rich natural coloring, American Walnut is a popular choice among homeowners who want a natural look. However, many people choose to stain the wood even darker, adding to its warmth. Stain can also be used to darken the sapwood, if desired, reducing the amount of color variation for those who prefer a more-even look.

To see and walk on samples of American Walnut, please visit our showroom  We'll be happy to talk with you about how you can use this time-honored species in your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, types of hardwood used in flooring

Popular Tree Species for Hardwood Flooring: American Red Oak

Posted on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 @ 15:08 PM

Red Oak Quarter Sawn Select Stained custom hardwood flooring

American Red Oak is as traditional as it gets. Since the 1800s, it has arguably been the most popular choice for hardwood flooring in the U.S., and it remains very widely used.

However, homeowners these days don’t always go for the traditional look. While American Red Oak will always have a timeless quality, we can create some amazing “non-traditional” looks with it.

American Red Oak has a pronounced, coarsely textured grain and a natural blondish color with reddish-pink undertones. It looks great with a clear finish to show off its natural character, but it is also easily stained.

It resists cupping or gapping better than many species—and it’s hard, which makes it ideal for floors that will see a lot of activity. The prominent grain helps hide any dents that do occur, as well as any scratching of the finish. Ebonized Red Oak Select custom hardwood flooring

With a classic appearance, good durability, and moderate price, American Red Oak hardwood floors are an excellent value.

To see and walk on samples of American Red Oak, please visit our showroom  We'll be happy to talk with you about how you can use this time-honored species in your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, types of hardwood used in flooring

The Hardness of Hardwood Floors: Does It Matter?

Posted on Fri, Nov 28, 2014 @ 16:11 PM

We’re often asked which hardwood floors are the most durable.

To answer that question, two items must be considered—the floor’s finish and the wood’s hardness.

The finish is the protection over the bare wood. Finish prevents water from penetrating the wood and provides protection from everyday wear and tear. However, no finish will make the wood underneath it measurably harder. 

Each species has a different hardness. Some woods are soft. We often joke that if you look at White Pine the wrong way, it will dent. Other woods are extremely hard, such as species from South America like Ipê.  

So you should pick the hardest wood possible, right?

Not necessarily. Each species has other characteristics such as color, grain, and cost that may or may not appeal to you.

How Hard Is Hard Enough for You?

Two questions must be answered to decide on the right wood hardness for your home:

  1. How much activity will the floor see?

The more activity you have on your floor, the more likely something will be dropped on it or something really hard will be dragged across it and cause an indentation into the wood.  

If the floor is in a room with heavy traffic, such as a kitchen or a hallway, you may want a harder floor.

The same is true in a room where you’ll do a lot of entertaining.

If you have kids or pets, hardness in a floor can really be a virtue!

  1. How bothered are you by a ding or dent?

For some people, dings and dents are a problem, and hardness will be important to them. However, many people view a dent in a floor as character. In fact, we are now distressing floors to purposely put dents into them.

Measuring Hardness

Below is a chart of the hardness of various species. Hardness in wood is measured by dropping a small ball onto the piece of wood and determining when the wood will dent. This is called a Janka measurement.


If hardness is important to you, some guidelines to follow are:

  • Species between Hickory and Ipê provide the most dent resistance. In everyday life, you will not see much difference among woods in this section—they’re all hard enough. You’re not dropping a ball on the floor.  Your kids are playing in the house.

  • Species between Birch and Hickory represent most of the North American woods. They provide good dent protection and are excellent choices for most families. Grainy woods such as Oak and Ash will hide dents better than other woods.  Expect to notice a fair amount of dents from dogs if you select less-grainy woods such as Maple and Birch.

  • Softer woods such as Cherry, Walnut and Pine are good choices if you consider dents to be signs of character or live a lifestyle that won’t result in a lot of activity.

But remember, even if hardness is a significant concern, each species has many factors to consider. Hardness is only of these factors.

Tags: about hardwood floors, types of hardwood used in flooring, picking the right floor for your lifestyle

Bring the Best of Wisconsin Into Your Home

Posted on Sat, Aug 30, 2014 @ 09:08 AM

Bring the Best of Wisconsin Into Your Home

If you’re installing hardwood floors in a home in Wisconsin, you’re in a great place.

One of the many wonderful things about Wisconsin is its abundance of trees that produce beautiful, durable flooring. Hardwood flooring made from Wisconsin trees is prized in places far beyond our state—and you can get it locally, and therefore at less cost.

A prime example of a widely sought-after, locally grown hardwood species is sugar maple. We’re right in the heart of sugar maple country, and numerous local manufacturers produce solid-plank maple flooring made from local trees.

Sugar maple trees (in addition to giving us the gift of maple syrup) are one of the hardest maple varieties. Most maples aren’t even hard enough to be classified as hardwood, but sugar maple is—and then some.

It’s so durable, many bowling alleys are made of it! It’s what the NBA uses for its basketball courts! If it can stand up to those uses, just think how durable it is in a home. This hardness understandably appeals to many homeowners.

Sugar Maple

Sugar maple is also valued because of its distinctive appearance. With a light color, medium texture, and closed (i.e., subdued) grain that’s often described as “bird’s eye,” “quilted,” or “curly,” sugar maple provides the clean, contemporary look many homeowners are after.

Wisconsin is also where you’ll find some of the best oak trees for flooring. Both red oak and white oak hardwood floors are tremendously popular, and Wisconsin supplies a large share of both to installers and homeowners across the country who are looking for the highest quality.

What makes Wisconsin oaks so particularly good for flooring? Our latitude.

The farther north an oak grows, the shorter its growing season. Therefore it has grain that’s more pronounced and consistent than oak grown father south, where the longer growing seasons cause the grain to be more open and varied.

Northern Oak and Southern Oak just aren’t the same—and I think most people agree with me that Northern Oak is better. I know plenty of it gets shipped to the South, even though they’ve got Southern Oak growing in their backyard.

You can get high-quality sugar maple and oak flooring practically anywhere your home is, but living in Wisconsin means that you’ll be able to get it with less expense, while also having the pride and satisfaction of knowing that your floor reflects the beauty of your home state.

That’s just one of benefits of calling Wisconsin home!

Photo courtesy of Elvis Kennedy, Jen Goellnitz. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Tags: about hardwood floors, types of hardwood used in flooring, Wisconsin

Internet Surfing and Hardwood Floors...Gnarly Dude!

Posted on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 @ 16:06 PM

While surfing the Internet recently, I came across an article from a website of a popular home decorating channel. I had a really good chuckle while reading it.

It reminded me why the phrase “I found it on the Internet, so it must be true” is so hilarious. There's so much false information on the internet -- even from supposedly reputable sources -- that you just have to laugh. 

My curiosity for how other professionals guide homeowners in the selection of hardwood floors is what led me to this site. While reviewing options, species, widths, colors, finishes, etc., I found a lot of misinformation.

The bad info that stood out the most was the statement that exotic woods are typically not as durable as domestic woods. Where'd that come from?

Santos Mahogany

Think of Brazilian cherry, which is quite popular these days. If you have ever had the pleasure of living on a Brazilian hardwood floors, you would know firsthand that they're extremely hard and wear very, very well.

All species have their place, even a wood as soft as American cherry (although still in the “hardwood” category) is absolutely lovely in a master bedroom or a formal dining room where traffic is typically light. The grain has a soft, elegant look that is truly stunning. If you fall in love with this look but require a more durable type of hardwood, then Santos Mahogany would be a great alternative. It is similar in appearance and is more than twice as hard.

And it's not just Brazilian cherry and Santos Mahogany. If you look at the ranking of the hardest woods in the world (the Janka scale), you'll see that exotic hardwoods dominate the top of the list.

Expert hardwood floor professionals, like the ones at Ralph’s Hardwood Floors, know wood. They know how durable it is, how it will change over time, and how it functions in different environments. They will get to know your lifestyle and make solid recommendations based on almost 50 years of experience in the hardwood floor industry.  

Tags: types of hardwood used in flooring

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