Bamboo Flooring Janka Hardness Rating Explained

Thursday, October 24, 2013

There are so many flooring choices in today’s market; solid or engineered wood, domestic or exotic species. Even within bamboo there are choices of engineered, distressed and stranded varieties. Taking the time to inform yourself is the best way to ensure that your money on this big ticket item is well spent. So, what is the Janka hardness rating? Let’s take a look now.

Janka Hardness Rating Scale

The Janka scale is a measure of the relative hardness of wood flooring. To take this measurement, laboratories measure the force required to embed a steel ball that is slightly less than half an inch in diameter into the flooring a quarter of an inch. The flooring is then given a hardness rating based on the results.

Problems with the Janka Scale Itself

The first problem we encounter with the Janka scale is the number itself. The test remains the same, but the results are recorded in different units of measure. You must know in which country the testing was completed in order to interpret the results. According to Bamboo Flooring Facts, [] , the U.S. lists the results as ‘pounds-force’, in Sweden it’s listed as kilograms-force, and in Australia it’s listed as newtons or kilonewtons. You need to make sure you are comparing numbers from the same scale. Secondly, the scale measures only for dents and dings. There is no measurement for surface scratches. All wood floors scratch, but to differing degrees.

Problems with the Janka Scale Specific to Bamboo

According to Bamboo Flooring Reviews, [], the Janka scale is problematic due to the nature of bamboo. Bamboo’s hardness is not even throughout. It is much harder at the knuckle and much softer in the fibrous area between the knuckles. If measured at a knuckle, the flooring can look as though it is a much harder flooring option than it actually is. The other problem specific to bamboo is the test itself. Bamboo is very fibrous; it takes a lot of force to make a dent with a round steel ball. The fibres simply bounce it right back. An object with irregular edges, however, would quite easily part the fibres and make a mark.

Understand the Growing Habits of Bamboo

Now we come to the bamboo itself. The biggest reason that many homeowners choose bamboo is its sustainability. Bamboo grows to its mature height in only one growing season, but doesn’t reach its maximum hardness until the plant is five or six years old. According to Bamboo Flooring Review, [], most of the product sold in the U.S. is immature bamboo.

Special Treatments and Finishes

The bamboo plant is technically related to the straw family and not a true hardwood. Its natural colour is very similar to the colour of straw, so it doesn’t match every décor or client preference. You can buy bamboo in many darker shades as well. The way this darker colour is obtained affects the final hardness of the flooring. In order to make bamboo into flooring, it must first be sliced and boiled to soften it enough to flatten it. According to Fast Floors, [], the darker colours are achieved by increasing the amount of time the bamboo is left to boil. Longer boiling times cause the natural sugars in the fibres to caramelize, thus darkening the colour. The longer the boiling time, the darker the colour, but the longer boiling times also damage the fibres making the resulting flooring even softer. Bamboo can, however, be stained in the traditional way as well.

Preventive Care and Maintenance

All natural hardwood floors will scratch, dent and ding. The first line of defense is in choosing the protective finish coat. There are many options, so this is a place where doing your homework can make a big difference. Since bamboo is fibrous, it cannot be sanded and refinished like hardwood.

Treat your floors with care. Besides simply looking unsightly, a dirty floor can cause damage. Keeping your floor swept on a regular basis will remove small particles of dirt, sand or other objects that may cause scratching. Again, bamboo is a plant in the straw family and not a true hardwood, so cleaning your bamboo floor is different from the way you clean hardwood. Refer to your manufacturer’s suggestions for proper cleaning.


The Janka Hardness scale is a useful tool if you understand its limitations. Before you purchase bamboo flooring, ask questions. Most flooring dealers will give or sell you a sample of the product. Take advantage of that! Take the sample home and run your own testing; walk on it, have your dog walk on it, drop something on it, set a table leg on it overnight. As with most large purchases, educating yourself and taking your time can keep you from making a costly mistake.

This piece was written by Mark Hutchison, Managing Director of Perth bamboo flooring company, Bamboozle. You can find Mark hanging out on Google Plus.

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