Go Beyond Oak for Wood Flooring

Many hardwood choices not requiring staining abound for flooring needs.

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Although oak still accounts for about two-thirds of all installed hardwood flooring in America, it's losing ground to its exotic cousins. A wide range of hardwood from other countries, especially Brazil, Australia and Asia, is gaining a foothold and nailing down homeowners' interests.

"There has been a trend for several years for exotic hardwoods to grow," says Anita Howard of the National Wood Flooring Association in Chesterfield, Mo. The number-one reason: price. "They're more reasonable than they used to be," she says. They're also more available, as interest grows and lower pricing makes them more attractive.

Consumers also are intrigued by the possibilities that avoid the need to alter their wood choices drastically with stains. "These species offer a broader range of colors, so you can use the natural species rather than staining oak to a particular color," Howard says. "More people today want to forgo stain and try a different wood type with a natural stain instead." Some of the most popular woods right now are:

  • Brazilian cherry. The seasoned wood has a russet or reddish-brown color, with a medium to somewhat coarse grain. It's slightly more stable than red oak, but it requires a longer than normal acclimation period. It also is more difficult to saw due to its high density.
  • Cork. It comes in a spectrum of shades from light to dark and has a familiar grain that's unlike other woods (it's actually the bark of a type of oak tree). It's become popular due to its prominence on design shows and because the cushioning effect makes it a strong choice for homes with elderly people. "We get a lot of calls about cork flooring. It's very hot right now."
  • Bamboo. Technically, bamboo is a grass, but it is considered a wood due to its hardness. Bamboo has become popular with "green" building proponents due to its rapid regrowth, which makes it highly sustainable. "You can cut it and have a fully mature tree in four years," Howard explains. It comes in manila/yellow tones as well as dark shades. The grain pattern shows nodes from the bamboo stalks, she says.
  • Wenge. This nearly black wood, which comes from Africa, is difficult to obtain but has become popular as an accent wood. It can be hard to cut and requires carbide tools.
  • Bubinga. Burgundy in color, this African wood has a fine grain and saws easily. But it splits easily when nailed with machine tools, so hand-hammering works best.
  • Sydney blue gum. Over time, this wood's color mutes from a spectrum of pink to burgundy red to become a medium brown-red. Its hardness required carbide blades to cut.

As these differences show, exotic woods will react differently to cutting and installation techniques, as well as to environment, Howard stresses. "It requires a professional who is familiar with the local area and its humidity and weather conditions, as well as with the wood, to install it properly. Requirements are different in different areas."

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