You Don’t Know Janka

Red maple flooring This red maple makes for tough flooring — its Janka score is 950. Image: Breeze Wood Forest Products

Buying wood flooring is easy if you know your Janka hardness scale — or is it?

If you’re thinking of buying locally milled wood for your new wood flooring, good for you.

Local woods don’t have transportation costs baked into their prices, making them relatively inexpensive and a good choice for sustainability. Plus, you’ll support your local economy as you proudly display an indigenous species.

But how do you know what makes good, durable flooring, and what doesn’t?

Folks often look to the Janka scale — a measure of a wood’s hardness that’s figured by the force needed to drive a steel ball bearing into a wood sample. In more practical terms, think of a woman in high heels trekking across your new wood floor.

On the Janka scale, an exotic wood such as Brazilian olivewood is off-the-scale hard at 3700. American chestnut pales in comparison at 540.

But the Janka scale doesn’t tell the whole story, says Austin Garno, general manager of Rare Earth Hardwoods in Traverse City, Mich.

“People should understand the Janka scale is only one way to look at flooring,” says Garno. “Some woods that have a poor rating are still popular. Northern white pine, for example, is only rated at 380. But lots of folks like their floors to develop character over time, with all the nicks and scratches, and white pine is their first choice.”

For the Janka-obsessed, however, Garno suggests starting with red maple. Long the standard of gym floors and butcher blocks, red maple packs a Janka of about 950. Anything above is going to make one tough floor.

Exotic, imported woods often have high Janka ratings, but be sure to select certified woods that come from sustainably harvested forests. Extremely popular bamboo, by the way, isn’t a true wood but a grass. It’s got a stellar Janka of 1400.

Out here in the Pacific Northwest we have gorgeous local woods that make amazing flooring: madrone (1240), chinquapin (730), and Pacific yew (1600).

Got a local wood you’d like to brag about? What’s its Janka rating?