Technically speaking, you could make a hardwood floor out of any wood. But if you choose a wood that is too soft, too knotted, or too hard to sand flat, your floor is not going to be nice. Floor makers typically use hardwoods to create floors since they are the most durable. Specifically, there are four species of hardwood that work well for this purpose, and each one has its own characteristics.
Red oak is a really popular choice for hardwood flooring because this species is abundant in the U.S. and can be purchased at a relatively affordable price. It's not the most interesting wood as it has a fine grain that is pretty uniform, but if you're adding flooring to a more traditional or formal room, red oak will look right at home. The grain often has a reddish or pinkish undertone, which makes this wood look nice when the room is decorated in warm colors. It's not the hardest wood, but it's hard enough for a room that gets moderate traffic.
White oak is very similar to red oak, but its grain has less of that pinkish tone. It also stains really well, whereas red oak sometimes struggles to take on stain. White oak is quite hard, making it a good choice for moderate to moderately heavy traffic. Its durability means it will last for years; you should never have to replace your flooring.
Maple is known for its very fine grain and its pale, creamy color. This very distinct look pairs well with modern decor, since pale colors and neutral tones are really fashionable. Maple does have to be finished carefully since its grain is very tight, which can lead to uneven staining. However, it is very, very hard and durable, which is why many people like it for high-traffic areas like foyers and living rooms.
Walnut is slightly softer than the other woods discussed in this article. However, it is hard enough to be a good flooring material for a bedroom or a lower-traffic dining room. Its rich, deep color is what draws many people in. Some walnut has a lot of knots, which adds extra interest. Walnut is often left natural and sealed, rather than being stained. It does have a distinct scent when it is new; some people find this appealing, and others are turned off by it.
Talk to a hardwood flooring contractor near you to learn more about these popular options. You can also visit websites like Big John's Closeouts with your questions.