Types of Hardwood Flooring: What Is Engineered Wood?


Engineered wood is what happens when humans try to improve on nature and succeed. Built of several layers of hardwood or plywood (sometimes both) that are glued together and hot-pressed in a cross-grain fashion, engineered wood is often stronger than solid wood and just as desirable.

Despite the man-made attributes, the engineered planks still give you the look and texture of solid hardwood floors. This is because the top layer, called “wear layer”, is made of the wood of your choice. You get the look of your preferred wood, but the enhanced durability of tightly pressed and fused inner-core layers.

In fact, real wood floors and their engineered version look so similar that it is virtually impossible to notice the difference. The only way you can tell one from the other is by looking at the cross-section of a board.

Because engineered wood can be floated and takes humidity better than solid wood, engineered boards have initially served as the go-to wood product when installing wood floors on concrete and in basements. But good ideas have long legs. Today, you find engineered wood in every place that solid wood has gone – and in some that traditional wood has never dared to tackle. Some of the most durable wood floors are made of engineered hardwood, such as in commercial areas with heavy foor traffic.

A Cross-Section of Engineered Wood

Engineered hardwood boards are 3/8” to 3/4” thick and have anywhere from 3 to 12 layers. This great variation is the reason why the difference in quality can be huge, with thicker wood being more solid, durable and stable and thin boards sometimes failing to perform well. Therefore, when choosing your product, it is important to pay attention to the inner core and go for more rather than less. The thickness of the wear layer is also crucial. The thin 1 mm top layer cannot be sanded and has a shorter lifespan than thicker ones. More consistent top layers allow for sanding and have excellent longevity. For example, an 8 mm top layer can take up to 5 sanding cycles and can last 100 years.

Engineered wood boards often come with a convenient click-lock design. The tongue and groove lock together, making the use of glue unnecessary. This is an excellent system not only for the professional wood flooring contractor, but also for the enthusiastic DIY-er who attempts to install wood floors.

Real Wood, Not Laminate

Despite humans meddling with its inner core, engineered hardwood is real, authentic wood. This is not the case with laminate. Instead of a top layer of real wood veneer, laminate boards are coated with a mere photographic representation of wood. While this is a really smart trick, the laminate is easily recognizable. The hollow sound under your step, the unnatural feel when you touch it, the more uniform, less dramatic look – all these cannot compare with the feel and beauty of hardwood or engineered wood floors. By contrast, the top layer of engineered boards is made of solid wood.

As Many Options as Solid Wood

If you have your heart set on a certain type of wood, stain color, texture or board width, there is no need to choose solid wood over engineered: you are likely to find the same attributes in engineered wood. Aside from the inner core structure, the two are esthetically the same.

In fact, engineered wood opens a new world of opportunities for you. If you are wishing for an exotic wood floor, but your wallet cannot take the hit, you can turn to the man-made version. Since the exotic tree is used only for the top layer, you pay for less of such a luxury.