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The hardest wood in North America

Ron Altier

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I have used some very hard exotic woods. Names that are hard to pronounce and foreign.  So I was wondering what the hardest wood in North America is.  I couldn't really think of a really hard wood. So I googled it.


Without looking it up, do you have any guesses?

Edited by Ron Dudelston
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Types of Wood

  • Hardwoods are deciduous trees that have broad leaves, produce a fruit or nut and generally go dormant in the winter. North America’s forests grow hundreds of varieties that thrive in temperate climates, including oak, ash, cherry, maple and poplar species. Each species can be crafted into durable, long-lasting furniture, cabinetry, flooring and millwork, and each offers unique markings with variation in grain pattern, texture and color.
  • Softwoods or conifers, from the Latin word meaning “cone-bearing,” have needles rather than leaves. Widely available U.S. softwood trees include cedar, fir, hemlock, pine, redwood and spruce. In a home, softwoods primarily are used as structural lumber such as 2x4s and 2x6s, with limited decorative applications.
  • Tropical Hardwoods, including mahogany, rosewood, teak and wenge - are not native to North America. They grow in the tropical forests of the world and must be imported for domestic use. While some tropical hardwoods can be used for interior applications, including flooring, the color, grain pattern, hardness and luster of many imported woods differ from those of American hardwoods. For more information on non-native species, refer to the “Don’t be fooled” article.

Janka Rating System

When in doubt about the type of wood to select for your cabinetry, flooring, furniture or millwork project, refer to the Janka Rating System, which measures the relative hardness of woods. The hardest commercially available hardwood is hickory, and it is five times harder than aspen, one of the “soft” hardwoods. And while this example lists just some of the most popular hardwood species, there are hundreds of varieties, representing the North American hardwood population. Because hardness is an important factor, and hardness varies for each species, the Janka Scale of Hardness is an excellent tool to help identify appropriate choices.

Species Pressure To Mar
(Kiln-dried) (in pounds)
Hickory, Pecan 1,820
Hard Maple 1,450
White Oak 1,360
Beech 1,300
Red Oak 1,290
Yellow Birch 1,260
Green Ash 1,200
Black Walnut 1,010
Soft Maple 950
Cherry 950
Hackberry 880
Gum 850
Elm 830
Sycamore 770
Alder 590
Yellow Poplar 540
Cottonwood 430
Basswood 410
Aspen 350
Source: Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material, USDA, Washington, D.C.


Edited by Stick486
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Ron - Without looking it up or checking other replies, I would say Osage Orange (also known in this area as Hedge).  Old timers used to make bearing blocks for thrashing machines and tumbling rods of Osage Orange...it was hard and naturally oily.



Edited by Wirebender
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The Janka rating of Mesquite is 2345 but, that's somewhat misleading as there are at least 40 species of Mesquite. 

Osage orange is a bit harder. 

There are several woods called "Iron wood" and it's difficult to determine (for me) which is which. I think all are harder than mesquite or osage orange.

"Workability" is another thing altogether. 

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39 minutes ago, Gene Howe said:

Well actually, petrified wood ain't wood. 

Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning "rock" or "stone"; literally "wood turned into stone") is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization.


From Wikipedia is seems it may be wood left by aliens...seems to be a logical explanation for wood we don't fully understand...:rolleyes::P

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Common Name(s): Hophornbeam, American Ironwood

Scientific Name: Ostrya virginiana

Distribution: Eastern North America

Tree Size: 40-60 ft (12-18 m) tall, 1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 49 lbs/ft3 (785 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .63, .79

Janka Hardness: 1,860 lbf (8,270 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 14,100 lbf/in2 (97.2 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,700,000 lbf/in2 (11.72 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 7,760 lbf/in2 (53.5 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 8.2%, Tangential: 9.6%, Volumetric: 18.6%, T/R Ratio: 1.2


Common Name(s): American Hornbeam, Blue Beech

Scientific Name: Carpinus caroliniana

Distribution: Eastern North America

Tree Size: 35-40 ft (10-12 m) tall, 1.5-2 ft (.5-.6 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 49 lbs/ft3 (785 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .58, .79

Janka Hardness: 1,780 lbf (7,920 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 16,300 lbf/in2 (112.4 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,693,000 lbf/in2 (11.68 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 6,500 lbf/in2 (44.8 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 5.7%, Tangential: 11.4%, Volumetric: 19.1%, T/R Ratio: 2.0


Common Name(s): European Hornbeam, Common Hornbeam

Scientific Name: Carpinus betulus

Distribution: Europe and western Asia

Tree Size: 50-65 ft (15-20 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 46 lbs/ft3 (735 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .53, .74

Janka Hardness: 1,630 lbf (7,260 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 16,010 lbf/in2 (110.4 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,755,000 lbf/in2 (12.10 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 7,320 lbf/in2 (50.5 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 6.8%, Tangential: 11.5%, Volumetric: 18.4%, T/R Ratio: 1.7

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