What Are Wood Grades, and How Are They Determined?

What are wood grades, and how are they determined?

Many factors go into determining which hardwood floor to choose for a new project, including the species, board size, and type of finish. But another factor should be the wood grade.

If you’re installing a certain wood grade in all of your clients’ homes without consulting them, you should rethink your methods. There are several options out there, and you should choose the wood grade based on the specifics of each project — not based on whatever option is the cheapest or most convenient.

The main types of wood grades as defined by the National Hardwood Lumber Association are (from least defects to most defects):

  • Firsts and Seconds
  • FAS One Face Select
  • No. 1 Common
  • No. 2A Common
  • No. 2B Common
  • No. 3A Common

Most of these grades are used for furniture, but sometimes you’ll see this terminology applied to wood flooring.

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The most common wood grades used in hardwood flooring are:

  • Clear: The “cleanest” possible grade of a hardwood floor. Little variation in color and exceptional average board length. No knots or other defects in the wood.
  • Select: Usually contains a small amount of color. Minimal character markings, and average overall length. The most widely used grade for hardwood floors.
  • No. 1 Common: Character markings such as small knots and mineral streaks. Moderate color variation between sapwood and heartwood. Small average length per board.
  • No. 2 Common / Cabin Grade: Significant manufacturing marks and character marks. Prominent color variation between sapwood and heartwood. Short overall length. Best for a rustic setting.
Wood grades used in the wood floor industry

Certain species are graded using a different nomenclature. Maple is graded as either 1st grade, 2nd grade, or 3rd grade.

Walnut and cherry are also distinct because they contain distinct sapwood, which varies in color from the heartwood present in the boards. The presence of sapwood in these species doesn’t affect the grading — it’s not considered a defect. You can therefore find select-grade cherry that has pale or yellowish tones on some of the boards.

What do the different grades mean?

Technically, the grade of the wood doesn’t affect its durability, hardness, or overall quality. Grading is intended for purely aesthetic purposes — it indicates the amount of character markings and variation present in the wood.

What the customer ultimately chooses is purely a matter of taste. Clear grade wood looks best in an upscale environment, and no. 2 common would look best in a rustic setting because of its extensive character markings and color variation.

Make sure to educate your clients about the differences in wood grades, offer your opinion on which would be best, and ultimately give them a choice.

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