Working with Amish furniture every day, we often get asked about the durability and hardness of each wood we sell. We only sell North American Hardwoods, so all our woods are suitable for day-to-day use. However, it is good to know how each wood rates compared to others, especially when choosing furniture that gets high use and abuse (for instance, a children’s table and chair set.)
The standard for measuring the hardness of wood is called the Janka Hardness Test. The Janka Hardness Test measures how much force it takes to embed a 0.444″ steel ball halfway into the wood sample. Below is a chart of common North American woods, with the wood we use in our furniture highlighted:
Are Harder Woods Always Better?
Not necessarily! There are a few things to consider besides the hardness of a wood.
Price: Many of the harder woods are also on the higher end of price. Hickory/Quarter Sawn White Oak/Hard Maple can be around 30% over Red Oak. If you’re looking for the best value between hardness and cost, Red Oak is our best-priced wood and decently hard with a Janka Hardness rating of 1290.
Moisture changes: Generally, harder woods can be more susceptible to moisture changes. Wood can move (expanding and contracting) with the humidity. We recommend always keeping an eye on the humidity in your home with a hygrometer to ensure it’s within safe levels of between 35% and 55% humidity. Thicker boards made from harder woods can be more prone to splitting with extreme humidity changes. We often don’t recommend using some of the harder woods for extra-thick tabletops over 1½”.
Wood Appearance: One of the most important factors is the appearance of the wood. It may be nice to have the hardest wood for your table, but not if you hate the look of it. We believe all our wood species to be suitable for most furniture, so it’s important that you like the grain and color choices on your wood. Some species like Hickory, Quarter-Sawn Oak and Elm have distinct grain patterns. A wood such as Hard Maple can get blotchy with darker stain colors. A wood such as Brown Maple is nearly white in color and can take many hues of stain very well.
Learn more about all the woods we offer in our guide to furniture wood types