Specks & Variation in Exotic Engineer Types (Explained)

Hardwood floors made from exotic wood species are prized for their rare, dramatic grains and range of colors. However, variation in color, grain, and mineral streaks are inherent in any natural exotic wood. This guide will explain the different types of exotic species used in engineered hardwood flooring, what to expect with natural variation, and tips for working with these beautiful but temperamental woods.

What Are Exotic Wood Species?

Exotic wood species used for flooring are sourced from all over the world, including South America, Africa, and tropical Asia. Some examples include:

  • Teak
  • Santos Mahogany
  • Brazilian Cherry
  • Australian Cypress
  • African Mahogany
  • Acacia
  • Kempas

These species exhibit unique grains, rich colors, and distinctive visual characteristics compared to domestic North American hardwoods. The tradeoff is that exclusivity raises cost and working with exotic woods poses greater installation and maintenance challenges.

Proper acclimatization, site prep, expansion spacing, sanding techniques, and protective finishes are especially important with exotics. When best practices are followed, exotic species reward installers and homeowners with extraordinary, one-of-a-kind floors.

Common Types of Exotic Engineered Flooring

Exotic woods are typically offered in engineered plank format to enhance stability and allow for installation over radiant heat systems:

Teak Engineered Flooring

  • Prized for its versatility, water-resistance and lush golden brown color
  • Grain is straight and fairly uniform
  • Moderate hardness similar to North American hard maple
  • Expands and contracts less than other exotics

Mahogany Engineered Flooring

  • Santos and African mahogany exhibit a straight, interlocked grain pattern
  • Attractive reddish-brown color darkens over time
  • Softer than oak, hence more prone to dents and scratches
  • Santos mahogany is moderately stable; African mahogany experiences more pronounced expansion/contraction

Australian Cypress Engineered Flooring

  • Visually resembles a blend of oak and pine patterns
  • Light honey gold to medium tan color
  • Moderately hard and stable once acclimatized
  • Resins can complicate finishing and refinishing

Reasons for Variation in Exotic Hardwoods

While variation in color, grain, and other features is part of the natural beauty of exotic woods, extreme shifts can also create installation headaches. There are several reasons why exotic engineered flooring planks can lack uniformity:

Growth Conditions Vary by Geographic Region

  • Climate, soil conditions, and growing elevation affect cellular structure
  • Samples don’t always accurately represent entire lumber harvest

Color and Grain Changes Throughout the Tree

  • Heartwood and sapwood differ within each tree
  • Cut location – trunk vs branches – impacts appearance

Local Harvesting and Milling Practices

  • Some suppliers blend non-compatible species or grades
  • Improper drying deforms boards; kiln versus air-dried also impacts color

The way exotic boards are cut and handled after harvesting can also introduce further variation between planks.

What to Expect with Natural Variation

While no two trees are alike, exotic woods exhibit especially pronounced natural variation that shows up as color differences and grain patterns in finished flooring.

Some typical examples include:

Dramatic Color Contrast

  • Streaks of darker and lighter shades
  • Blotchiness between and within boards

Wild Grain Patterns

  • Burls, pinholes, wavy sections
  • Denser mineral deposits

Uneven Textures/Gloss

  • Smooth, polished areas next to rough, pebbly sections
  • Abrupt gloss intensity shifts on finished boards

The amount of variation that is acceptable depends on customer expectations and site conditions.

For a consistent, Uniform look…

  • Specify select/premium grade for most uniform texture
  • Limit light exposure to prevent color shifts over time
  • Maple is least variant option in exotics group

To highlight natural variation…

  • Choose rustic or character grade for pronounced character
  • Embrace color and grain changes as “perfect imperfections”
  • Teak and mahogany offer boldest graining

Keep in mind that all woods exhibit some natural variation. The tips below help manage installation and appearance expectations.

Tips for Working with Variant Exotic Floors

Exotic engineered flooring pushes the skills of even seasoned hardwood installation pros. Success requires managing potential surprises from the start of a project.

Set Realistic Expectations

Educate clients that exotic variation is more extreme but also part of the wood’s charm. Some color and grain mismatch should be expected.

Inspect Delivered Flooring Thoroughly

Check for damage, manufacturing issues, and any unacceptable variation. Confirm enough usable boards to complete the job.

Design Floor Layout to Minimize Variation

Rack planks to balance color/grain across room for pleasing blend rather than patchwork effect.

Test Finishes Beforewide Application

Due to resin and density variation, enlist a finish pro to pre-test and determine optimal applications methods.

Apply Protective Finishes per Manufacturer Instructions

Exotics demand careful sanding and professional-grade finish systems to prevent over-drying and ensure durability.

Preventing Major Installation Setbacks

Exotic hardwoods, especially thinner engineered planks, are unforgiving of subpar prep and installation practices. Some keys for risk mitigation include:

Allow 2-3 Week Acclimatization Period

Let flooring adjust to intended install environment before working with boards to prevent unacceptable expansion/shrinkage after installation.

Verify Proper Jobsite Conditions

  • Subfloor moisture levels per NWFA guidelines
  • Relative humidity 35-55% year-round
  • Consistent room temps 60-80°F

Ensure Adequate Expansion Space

Exotics require wider expansion gaps due to more pronounced dimensional changes. At least 1/2″ gap is recommended, with 3/4″ needed for African mahogany.

Closely Follow nailing/Gluing Procedures

Improper fastener type, length, spacing or glue choice can undermine floor stability when boards expand/contract.

Refinishing Considerations for Existing Floors

Natural oxidation and UV exposure will deepen color variation in exotic hardwoods over decades. This must be accounted for when refinishing older floors.

Assess Current Condition

Replace beyond-repair boards. Filling knots and holes in remaining planks requires careful color/texture matching.

Determine Optimal Sanding Approach

Aggressive sanding reaches color variation under years of oxidation. Conservative approach retains some patina.

Choose Stain & Finish Strategy Wisely

Custom blending multiple stain colors may be required. Test samples confirm finish build hide existing variation.


The striking beauty of exotic wood floors stems largely from dramatic color, grain, and texture variation. By understanding the factors causing irregularities and implementing best practices for installation and refinishing, pros can deliver spectacular floors that stand the test of time.

Embracing natural exotic variation results in one-of-a-kind floors with unmatched character and appeal. While challenging to work with, properly-implemented exotic engineered flooring creates an exceptional and highly valued feature in any home.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *