What Is The Janka Hardness Scale And Why Is It Important?

December 15, 2020

It matters what wood you use for your cabinet doors.

Some woods dent easily. Some woods scratch easily. And some woods can get put through the ringer and still come out looking good as new. Depending on the space, a certain level of hardness may make it a better choice.

Even though most people pick their wood based on look, we think it's just as important to consider the durability and density of the wood.

That's where the Janka hardness scale comes in.

What is the Janka hardness scale?

The Janka hardness scale is a well-known rating system that determines the hardness of each wood species and how they relate to one another.

The higher the number on the scale, the harder and more scratch resistant the wood is. However, the harder a wood is, the more difficult it becomes to saw or run through a mill.

For a full list of all wood species and their Janka ratings, refer to this chart.

It's important to say: This scale is primarily used by flooring companies. Flooring is required to take a lot of abuse from the weight and velocity of people walking on it. Though cabinets aren't walked on and don't experience nearly as much impact, it's still good to understand where each wood stands. Especially if they are going in a home with kids. 

How the hardness is determined

The Janka Hardness Scale was developed in 1906 by Gabriel Janka, an Austrian wood researcher. The scale derives from the Janka hardness test, which tests a 2" x 2" x 6" piece of wood and a 0.444" steel ball. The test figures out how many pounds per square inch of force is needed to push the steel ball halfway into the wood plank.

So for example, if a wood's hardness rating is 1200, that means it took 1200 pounds of force (lbf) for that steel ball to embed halfway into the sample of wood.

Why this is important for cabinets

Knowing the Janka rating for each wood is incredibly helpful when determining how well a wood will withstand dents, dings, and wear - as well as determining the difficulty in nailing, screwing, sanding, and sawing.

So what's considered a 'good' Janka rating for cabinet doors? It depends. Red Oak, with a Janka rating of 1290, is the industry benchmark and median standard for comparing hardness of different wood species.

We simplified the ranking by grouping the most common cabinet woods into 3 categories: Hard, medium, and soft.

  • Hard: Hickory, Birch, Hard Maple, White and Red Oak, Ash, European Beech
  • Medium: Pine, Walnut, Cherry, Soft Maple, Mahogany
  • Soft: Alder, Poplar

Remember though: the harder the wood, the harder it is to cut and shape.

So which wood should you choose for your cabinet doors? That part is up to you. When determining what wood you want to use, you need to consider 2 factors:

  1. The space they're going in. If these cabinet doors are going in a home with a lot of kids, then you may want to consider a harder wood to withstand the daily wear and tear.
  2. The finish. A good finish can help protect your cabinets from scuffs and scratches. And a bad finish can make those unsightly dings and dents even more noticeable.

For example, Poplar is one of the most popular paint-grade woods to use for cabinet doors. However, when you refer to the scale, you can see it has the lowest rating at 540.

What does this mean? It means Poplar dents easily. Which is especially useful to know if you're painting Poplar. Because when that wood dents, that paint will crack.

What about engineered woods?

So where do engineered woods like MDF or HDF stand on the scale? They don't, really.

The hardness of these engineered woods can vary based on manufacturer. Plus, the Janka rating is normally on hardwoods and not particle boards.

But to give you an idea of their durability and hardness, MDF's durability is often compared to Red Oak's so around 1200 on the Janka scale. Whereas, HDF is more comparable to Hickory's hardness around 1700-1800 on the Janka scale (which is pretty dang high, if you ask us).

(P.S. If you want to know more about HDF and how it compares to solid wood, we recently wrote a blog post comparing the two here).

Good to know, but not everything

All in all, the Janka hardness scale is a great tool to reference when choosing the wood species for your cabinet doors. However, there are a lot of qualities, characteristics, and other factors (like finish and construction) that affect the durability of your cabinet doors.

The doors are ready when you are.

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