Hardwood Flooring Grades and Grading

You are looking at a small samples of wood flooring, and everything looks the same except the price. Here is an introduction to hardwood floor grading, to help explain why you may not want the cheapest flooring. There are three main factors affecting grading:
  • Board Length. Longer boards are both easier to install and look better in larger areas, unless you are specifically looking for a rustic look.
  • Color Consistency. Better grades have more consistent color when comparing one board to another. Cheaper grades have wider variations in color.
  • Knots, pinholes, mineral streaks, blemishes. Better grades with have fewer blemishes.

Clear Grade - Clear grade is the highest grade flooring. It has the longest board lengths, very consistent color (consistent with the species), and nearly no blemishes.

Select and Better Grade - Uniform color, and nearly no blemishes. Knots, if existent, are small and rare. Board lengths are longer and similar to clear grade.

Select or #1 common - Some character is shown. Some variation in board color. Average board length is somewhat shorter. Some pinholes and smaller knots are now possible.

Rustic or #2 common - Shorter boards and more character. Light and dark boards, knots, and other blemishes are now more common.

Mountain Grade - Sometimes called Cabin Grade. Shorter board lengths still. And even more character is evident. Lighter and darker boards are present. Also knots and other blemishes are common.

Utility or Shorts Grade - Generally averaging only 16" board lengths or less. Inconsistent color (light and dark boards), knots, mineral streaks, blemishes, stack marks and so forth are common.

Liquidator Grade - Not an actual grade, but descriptive of a class of wood flooring that is sold at very low prices and is just a step above firewood. This wood consists of shorts, knots, and inconsistent color. In addition, the wood suffers from inconsistent milling, which means significant labor must be invested to get the wood to fit together and to sand it flat. Moisture content is often either very wet, or very dry which means the wood will buckle or gap when the moisture stabilizes. This flooring is often significantly thinner than other hardwood flooring. And sometimes, this wood does not even use consistent species of wood in each bundle. If someone is offering you hardwood flooring for significantly below everyone else, common sense should be telling you: Beware!

Firewood - There comes a point when wood just should not be used as flooring.

We all want the best value. Just remember that the best value may not be the cheapest price. If you want your home or business to portray elegance, an investment in a better grade of wood is well worth it. You'll be happier with the look, and you'll have fewer problems later on due to poor milling (such as gaps or cracks).