Choosing the Right Grade Hardwood Flooring

One of the most frustrating issues in flooring is having a beautiful new hardwood floor installed that looks nothing like what the customer expected. In fact, one of the most prominent complaints that flooring contractors have to deal with are problems concerning the appearance of their hardwood flooring.

Hardwood Floor Kitchen

Because the characteristics of wood species and types of wood flooring vary so much, there are technically no standard grades for all wood floors. However, some flooring grades are determined by industry associations like the NWFA/National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association, the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association, and Canadian Lumbermen’s Association. In actuality, much of the unfinished solid wood flooring from the United States and Canada follow the grading rules from one of those associations. Also, some individual manufacturers can also create their own proprietary grades.

Most wood flooring grades deal with the aesthetics of the floor, not the serviceability. Regarding performance, all grades will usually perform equally as well. However, it’s their facial appearances that will vary. So, in this sense, flooring of a higher grade is not necessarily better. It is a matter of personal taste. Plus, most grading rules also dictate the average length of the boards involved. Higher grades of flooring usually have longer boards, so be prepared for many shorter boards if you order a lower grade of wood flooring.

Oak Wood

Under grading rules developed by NOFMA, there are four levels of oak flooring; Clear, Select, No.1 Common, and No. 2 Common.

Oak Wood

  • Clear NOFMA Oak is very uniform in color, with very few small character marks. Its average board length is 3 ¾ feet.
  • Select Oak has more color variation and more natural character marks such as small knots. The average board length for Select Oak is 3 ¼ feet.
  • 1 Common Oak has a much more varied appearance, with mineral streaks, greater color variation, and more character marks. The average board length for No. 1 Common Oak has an average board length is 2 ¾ feet.
  • 2 Common Oak has a “rustic” appearance with just about any natural character mark, including large knots and very dark boards.

Another factor that can affect the appearance of your hardwood floor is the way the flooring was cut from the log itself. Plainsawn flooring will show significant variation in grain patterns on the surface of the floor. Rift or Quartersawn flooring will have a relatively uniform grain pattern.

Engineered Wood

Grading works differently for engineered wood floors. Most manufacturers of engineered product do not create grades. Instead, they create product or brand names. The products are categorized according to veneer, finish, and milling.

Engineered Wood

While most solid wood flooring products have average length requirements, most engineered floors do not. Generally, manufacturers’ product names reflect three levels or more of quality, ranging from a premium level down to what is generally referred to as a cabin grade.

  • At the top level, or premium, the flooring has almost no milling defects and minimal character marks such as knots, mineral streaks or pin wormholes.
  • The next grade, which is typically a character grade, allows more natural character marks and some minor milling defects that may cause overwood, small finish skips, and shorter average lengths. Wood with character marks such as mineral streaks may be used for darker color floors.
  • Cabin-grade floors allow unlimited character marks and milling defects.

Because wood is a natural material, no two boards are ever going to be the same. A floor of one grade or brand name may appear slightly different than another floor of the same name. For an accurate representation of what different grades will look like, it is vital that you see a large sample of the floor before you place your order to ensure that your expectations don’t clash with the reality of the installed floor.

To learn more about engineered wood, contact your local flooring professionals today.

Prefinished Hardwood

For prefinished hardwood products, these are commonly seen grades:

  • Clear grade: This is the best grade of hardwood flooring because there are few color variations, board lengths are not widely varied, and there are little to no visible knots or pinholes.

Clear Grade Hardwood

  • Select and better: This grade is slightly lower than the clear, still presenting uniform color and little to no knots and pinholes.

Select Hardwood

  • No. 1 Common: This grade presents with more color variation, shorter board length with greater length variation, with an increased chance of visible knots and pinholes.

No. 1 Common Hardwood

  • No. 2 Common: Boards show natural character, having both dark and light, shorter board length, and an increase in visible knots and pinholes.

No. 2 Common Hardwood

  • Cabin: This grade is for those who are looking for a rough-hewn look in hardwood flooring; allowed checking, unfilled knot holes and wormholes, no splits, no loose knotholes.

Examples of the woodcuts are found below.

Hardwood Cuts

  • Plainsawn: The most common cut. Contains more variation due as the growth rings are more conspicuous.

Plainsawn Hardwood

  • Quartersawn: Wood twists and cups less and wears more evenly.

Quartersawn Hardwood

  • Riftsawn: The cut is at a slightly different angle than Quartersawn.

Riftsawn Hardwood

Ready to pick out the perfect hardwood flooring? Contact your local flooring professionals today!

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