Hardwood floor is a general term for any type of flooring made from various species of hardwood trees. Trees in this category are sometimes known as broadleaf or deciduous trees. They typically have harder, more durable wood than the wood obtained from softwood or conifer trees. However, not all hardwood trees have the same properties or usefulness for flooring purposes. For several reasons, the best hardwood floors commonly come from planks or boards of a hardwood species called white oak.
The white oak tree, known botanically as Quercus alba, is native to North America and grows in every U.S. state east of the Mississippi River. In addition to its use in both commercial and home flooring, the species is also frequently used for cabin flooring and for ornamental purposes. Other species of hardwood found in the U.S. include ash, American chestnut, sycamore, elm, birch and beech trees.
White oak is commonly used to make plank hardwood floors. Floors of this type contain a series of straight boards that have a thickness of either ½ inch or ¾ inches and can come in a variety of widths. Typically, boards in a narrow plank floor have a width of roughly 3 inches, while a wide plank floor can contain boards with a width of eight inches or more. Wide plank oak flooring comes in widths that can exceed 10 inches.
Because of its durability and recyclability, hardwood plank flooring is generally considered superior to other types of less durable flooring, and a well-maintained hardwood floor can potentially increase the resale value of a home or commercial space by thousands of dollars. White oak plank flooring, in particular, has several properties that make it a desirable option. First, when measured on a standard industry scale called the Janka Rating, white oak is harder than other popular flooring options such as heart pine and red oak. White oak wood also comes in several different natural shades, including a range of tans and browns, which make it easy to match white oak flooring to a number of different décor choices.
In addition to its resistance to gouging or other forms of surface damage, white oak has a high level of dimensional stability, which means it is relatively resistant to changes in humidity and temperature fluctuations associated with the changing of the seasons. As a result, white oak floors shrink and expand less than many other types of hardwood or softwood floors.
White oak flooring also comes in several different grades, or levels of quality. The top grade of white oak, called select grade, is essentially free of imperfections or blemishes, while lesser grades — such as common #1 and common #2 — have higher numbers of blemishes that can give a floor a more rustic look. Depending on the needs of the end user, a white oak floor plank can be beveled by a machine, cut by hand or dressed with square, soft edges; hand-scraped floors, in particular, give a period or old-fashioned appearance. In addition, oil finishes can enhance the look of wide oak flooring or narrow oak flooring and provide an extra layer of protection.