A Guide to Hardwood Flooring Grades

A Guide to Hardwood Flooring Grades
JUNE 24, 2020
A Guide to Hardwood Flooring Grades

If you’re replacing the flooring in your home, you will likely find yourself facing a plethora of unexpected choices. Even after deciding on beautiful, durable, and high-quality engineered hardwood flooring, there are still countless details to consider. Most people know about the different species, stains, and grain patterns, but did you know that there are also different grades of hardwood? The wood grade makes a significant difference in the results, so consider different options, and nail down what exactly you want for your home. It’s a tough decision with a lot of gorgeous choices. To help you find the perfect option for your home, here’s our guide to hardwood flooring grades.

What Are Hardwood Flooring Grades?
To find the perfect engineered hardwood flooring for your home project, you first need to understand what the different grades of hardwood flooring mean. The hardwood grading scale helps consumers and professionals alike to determine and measure the number of character markings within a type of wood. These markings are the natural irregularities and other characteristics that show up in lumber. Some examples of character markings include:

Knots in the wood from the base of a twig or branch
Streaks from mineral deposits—or, in some species, tree sap—found within a tree’s rings
Wormholes leftover from the tunnels that worms burrowed while the tree was still alive
These character markings show off the natural, authentic appearance of hardwood flooring. However, not everyone wants a rustic look for their home. For this reason, the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) established a standard set of hardwood grading rules. These different grades have nothing to do with the wood’s durability or structural integrity; instead, the grading scale allows homeowners and contractors to find the perfect match for whatever style of flooring they’re looking for. From sleek Clear Grades to unique and homey Cabin Grades, the NHLA standards make it easy for anyone to find the ideal choice for their new floors.

Clear Grade
Clear Grade hardwood flooring—also sometimes called First and Seconds (FAS) by the NHLA—refers to cuts of wood that are clear of most character markings. These pieces have very few, if any, knots or holes. They will also yield a consistent color and grain from board to board. For this reason, many people in the industry consider Clear Grade hardwood to be the premium choice. The smooth, consistent appearance makes it ideal for tabletops, moldings, and other projects that benefit from a solid, uniform look. However, because cuttings that are clear of character markings are harder to find, Clear Grade hardwood is often more expensive than other grades.

Select Grade
Select Grade hardwood is just a little off from Clear Grade options. They have few character markings, so the uniformity and consistency of color still primarily exists. You might see some color and grain variations in Select Grade cuts of hardwood, especially in species that naturally display these variations. However, more noticeable character markings like knots and holes are few and far between. Overall, Select Grade hardwood still gives homeowners and contractors a satisfying, uniform look to enhance their designs. Like Clear Grade, Select cuts are rarer and, therefore, often pricier than other grades.

#1 Common Grade
The Common grades introduce more variations, markings, and natural appearance into the hardwood. The #1 Common Grade shows off natural swirls, streaks, and other designs in the grain, though these characteristics will be smaller and subtler than in later grades. You will also see more character markings such as knots and wormholes. The #1 Common Grade also introduces more variation in color, transitioning between light and dark colors from board to board. This grade also contains more variation in the lengths of the boards themselves. Overall, the #1 Common Grade is a great choice for anyone who wants to show off the natural beauty of hardwood without making it the most important thing in the room.

#2 Common Grade
Like #1 Common Grade, #2 Common Grade continues to move away from the uniform appearance of Clear and Select grades. It has more knots, wormholes, and other natural character markings than the #1 Common Grade. Grain swirls and mineral streaks also become darker and more prominent in the #2 Common Grade. Some professionals refer to the #2 Common Grade as Rustic Grade because it shows off so much of the wood’s natural appearance. The color variations in the #2 Common Grade are stark, and the character markings are bolder than previous grades. For this reason, the #2 Common Grade is ideal for anyone who wants to create an organic or rustic style that accentuates the use of natural wood.

Cabin Grade
Cabin Grade hardwood likely evokes images of rustic log cabins—and for a good reason. This grade of hardwood provides a homey, organic look to any room. Cabin Grade hardwood is as durable and stable as the other grades, but it presents a rough-hewn look. Knots, holes, and mineral streaks dominate the surface, and it also has zero consistency when it comes to color variations or grain patterns. This “imperfect” appearance makes it ideal for rooms that will see a lot of activity. For example, playrooms and workshops are two areas with floors that will likely experience some abuse. This potential damage will blend in much more easily with the already diverse appearance of Cabin Grade hardwood. Of course, this grade also works gorgeously for cabins and other warm, rustic designs.

Many people are surprised by their hardwood because they do not consider the grade ahead of time. It’s important to do some research about the different grades so you can find a choice that best suits your style and project. Remember that character marks and color variations are different for each species of wood, so try to find specific samples of what you want before making a final decision.

With this guide to hardwood flooring grades on hand, it’s time to start looking seriously at your options. From the Forest has the best engineered hardwood flooring selections to fit any project. From black walnut to maple to hickory engineered hardwood flooring, we’ve got the species, colors, and grades you need to find the perfect match for your dream design.

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