Hardwood Flooring Grading System: All You Need To Know

hardwood flooring grading system

Hardwood flooring has a variety of categories. Not only the quality but the color and textures vary greatly as well. Now due to these variations and differences, each hardwood flooring is marked to denote a type. This is called grading. So when you buy hardwood for a floor, knowing the grade is crucial. 

The hardwood grading makes a considerable difference in how the flooring looks. Though the outer appearance determines the grade, it is also about durability, compactness, wood species, and finishing.

All these factors are combined to show the disparity between the diverse grades of hardwood flooring. So when the grading system is that important, knowing about it is necessary too. 

To help you understand the hardwood grading system, I am here with this article. After thorough research, I have come up with this piece to talk about hardwood grading in detail. I believe this would make you more confident while choosing the hardwood flooring for any residential or commercial space. 

So, let’s get started!

5 Hardwood Flooring Grades: The Popular Ones: 

Typically, you will find five hardwood flooring grades. These are the common categories that are mostly identified by National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA). It has certain guidelines that are to be maintained. If the guidelines are followed, another association, National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) provides the certification and grade to the hardwood. 

Though the main grading factor is the appearance of the hardwood, quality and durability are also considered. But the grading highly depends on how the hardwood looks. The grading is done accordingly. 

Here are five common hardwood grades that you will find in the market: 

1. Clear Grade: 

As the name suggests, the clear grade hardwood flooring has a clear and clean appearance with very few definitions. With little knots, patches, and lines, clear-grade hardwood gives a very premium and chic look. There is a uniform flow and consistency across the clear grade hardwood board. 

The heartwood of a tree is extracted to produce clear-grade hardwood boards. The color and grains are uniformly scattered across these wood boards giving a clean and perpetual appearance. Clear grade hardwood boards are mainly found in the engineered wood form.

Rather than making the entire board with wood, it is economical as well as eco-friendly to install a sheet of heartwood and give a clear appearance to the board. With a classic flooring look, clear-grade hardwood is a beautiful choice but slightly pricey as well.

2. Select Grade: 

Select grade hardwood is very similar to clear grade hardwood. The color diversity and grains are slightly more in select grade hardwood than the clear grade hardwood. It looks a bit more happening than the clear-grade hardwood. 

While clear grade hardwood is extracted from the heartwood, select grade hardwood is taken from both sapwood and heartwood. This is the reason why the variation in color and patterns is more noticeable and prominent.

This look is more natural and raw. Though processing select grade hardwood is easier than processing clear grade hardwood, the pricing of select grade is almost the same as the diversity shown is wide and exceptional. 

3. #1 Common Grade: 

#1 common grade is truly the most common pattern you see in hardwood flooring. Extracted from oak, #1 common grade hardwood boards have random and frequent grains, swatches, knots, and streaks showing a very raw texture and pattern that you see on the tree trunks. 

#1 common-grade hardwood planks are extremely durable and a good choice for high-traffic areas and to highlight the flooring. The dark and prominent shades and patterns eventually make the floor the focal point in a room.

Also, due to the dark tone and random swatches and streaks, dirt, minor scratches, and pet fur remain unnoticed. So the look stays as it is for years even with minimal but regular care. 

4. #2 Common Grade: 

 This is the next version of #1 common-grade hardwood flooring. Mostly made of oak or hickory wood, #2 common grade hardwood shows a wide array of color and pattern variety. Unlike the select grade hardwood, #2 common grade flooring is inconsistent and erratic in terms of design and color. 

#2 common grade hardwood is sturdy and bold in appearance. The color blending, bold knots and streaks, and a classic rustic look enhance the value of these hardwood blocks. It looks absolutely beautiful in modern setups due to its bold, natural, and vivid look. 

5. Cabin Grade: 

Cabin grade is the intense version of common grade hardwood. Basically, the texture and appearance are much more rough and tough than the other grades. The wormholes, knots, swatches, and streaks are extremely prominent and deep. The imperfections and random streaks make it unique. 

The inconsistency of cabin-grade hardwood is not really suitable for house flooring. The aesthetic level is not the best, and thus this is mostly installed in playing spaces, workspaces, outdoor kitchens, stairs, etc. where the usage is heavy.

Undoubtedly, cabin-grade hardwood is extremely durable as well as cheap. But as it doesn’t have a conventional beautiful look, it is not the best option for a house interior. 

Hardwood Lumber Grade With Features: 

To make you more acquainted with the hardwood flooring grades, I have come up with a table mentioning the basic features of each grade. This would clarify your idea about the grading system and the basic differences between each grade of hardwood board. 

Here is a table mentioning the different features of each hardwood grade. Note that this chart is more specific than the previous section where I discussed the appearance of the grades. 

Hardwood GradeTrade Tag/ NameMinimum Board WidthMinimum Board LengthMinimum Cutting SizeMinimum Area For Clear Cutting
Firsts and SecondsFAS6”8’4’x 5’ 3’x 7’83- ⅓ %
FAS One FaceF1F6”8’4’x 5’ 3’x 7’83- ⅓ %
SelectSEL4”6’4’x 5’ 3’x 7’83- ⅓ %
#1 Common1C3”4’4’x 2’ 3’x 3’66- ⅔ %
#2A Common2C3”4’3’x 2’50%
#2B Common3AC3”4’3’x 2’33- ⅓ %
#3A Common3BC3”4’1- 0.5’x 2’ 25%

Now you can see the differences in size, width, and the trading names of each grade. You can now be more sure about the features of each grade while buying hardwood boards for flooring. 

Factors That Determine Hardwood Flooring Grades: The Parameters

There are certain parameters that determine the hardwood flooring grade. No one randomly marks or tags a hardwood grade just because it has a certain look. Yes, the look is one of the determining factors.

But a few more factors denote the hardwood board grade too. And to buy the right hardwood board, knowing these factors can help you make the right decision. 

Here are the factors and parameters that determine the hardwood flooring grade:

1. Appearance and Character Marks: 

The appearance of the hardwood board is the primary factor to determine the grade. Besides the other important parameters, the first one is how the board looks. In fact, an expert can tell the grade only by looking at it. 

There are several parameters that are analyzed to tell the grade of the hardwood board. I am mentioning a few parameters that you can study or keep in mind while determining the grade of hardwood: 

  • Knots: 

Knots are the natural circular spots that are deep and prominent. It is seen at the base of the wood. Except for the cabin grade hardwood, all the grades have minimal and smooth knots. They should blend softly with the wood and no wood should be wasted for the knots. 

  • Streaks: 

Streaks are shown due to the tree sap or minerals deposited along with some areas of the wood. These depositions change the color tone of the area and are generally seen in large stripes. So the major color variations you see in the hardwood boards are the streaks. 

  • Wormholes:

Wormholes are literally the holes made by worms through the branch when the tree was alive. These holes are not supposed to be deeper than ¼ inch as otherwise, the wood won’t be durable. These wormholes are more common in-cabin grades and only slightly noticeable in other grades. 

  • Grains: 

Grains are tiny natural spots in hardwood. If the color is consistent and smooth, grains are more noticeable. In clear-grade hardwood, grains are more prominent. The tiny but regular spots in the hardwood are called grains. 

2. Minimum Length And Width: 

Each hardwood grade has a definite length and width and the grading is done accordingly. The board size is a determining factor of the hardwood grade. Each grade has a definite length and width depending on the durability and looks of the boards. If you look in the table given above, you can easily see that the lengths and widths are mentioned. 

So the length and width of the hardwood boards also are two determining factors of the hardwood grade. 

3. Pieces Of Clear Cutting:

This is one of the major factors that determine the grade of hardwood flooring. Here, the pieces of clear wooden sheets or layers obtained from a wood board are scrutinized. The lower the grade, the smaller the sheets and the larger number of pieces of clear-cutting you can get. 

So the pieces of higher wood grade are less when the hardwood grade is higher as the pieces are larger too. This is how the number of clear pieces of wood determined from a board is a factor to denote the hardwood board grade. 

Related Questions About Hardwood Flooring Grading System: 

From Which Wood Is Quality Hardwood Grade Obtained? 

A variety of woods are used to make top-quality hardwood grades. The grading system highly depends on the wood used to make the boards as different woods show different colors, sizes, patterns, and features. 

Generally, there are a few kinds of wood from which the highest quality and grade of hardwood boards are obtained. Red oak, white oak, and hickory are the common trees from which hardwood boards are made for residential and commercial flooring.

Besides, maple wood is also famous for making high-grade hardwood. All these hardwoods are excellent for flooring purposes. 

What Is Engineered Builder Grade Hardwood? 

Engineered builder hardwood grade is a specially made hardwood for flooring. It has a unique appearance mixing both traditional and natural wood looks. 

Basically, builder-grade engineered hardwood is crafted with a 70% natural look blended with a 30% rustic look. It shows a great variation in color due to this mixture and combination.

You can also see a great number of knots, streaks, wormholes, and piths. These imperfections make the appearance even more vivid and noticeable. So it has a natural look with a rustic touch.

What Are The Oak Hardwood Grades?

Oak is considered a popular hardwood flooring option. However, oak wood has different grades depending on the look, type of tree it is being extracted from, and the differences in measurement. 

Commonly, you can find three oak hardwood grades. These are the select grade, number 1 common grade, and number 2 common grade. The color variation is what differentiates between the three grades.

While select grades have minimal color variation, the two common grades have prominent streaks and color diversity. These are the three grades you get in oak hardwood. 

What Is The Best Grade Of Oak Hardwood Flooring? 

Oak is the most popular flooring wood and is available in different grades. Oak shows a wide array of color and pattern variety making it a premium flooring choice. But which grade is the best? 

The best grade of oak hardwood flooring is the clear grade. With a solid and consistent color flow and minimal grains and streaks, the clear grade looks classic and royal. The incessant flow in the clear grade floor is inexplicably beautiful and classy that can match any decorated interior.

But if you are willing to get more variation, you can go for select grades and common grades. However, a clear grade is the best one of all. 

Which Hardwood Grade Is Expensive? 

Though all the hardwood floorings have similar prices, the characteristics and appearances make the prices vary a little. So different grades of hardwoods have different prices. 

As clear grade is the top-quality hardwood flooring, it is the most expensive one. It would cost more than $10 per square foot. Then comes the select grade followed by the common grade hardwood flooring.

Cabin-grade hardwood is the cheapest hardwood with multiple imperfections and inconsistencies. Thus the most expensive hardwood grade is the clear grade. 


To conclude, hardwood grades are very important when deciding which one to install. The looks vary a lot and thus knowing the grade helps. Also, the cost, pieces obtained, and the size measurements are some crucial factors that you get to know if you know the grading. 

Read the article once again, note the key points, clarify your idea about grading, and then go to buy hardwood for flooring

Jahidul Alam

Hello dear! This is Jahidul Alam. I am the admin of this Tidy Floor. I have been in the floor cleaning business for the last 20 years. My business is all about ensuring affordable flooring cleaning services for Americans.

12 thoughts on “Hardwood Flooring Grading System: All You Need To Know

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  11. Thanks for talking about how $10 per square foot is a good enough rate for the more expensive kinds of hardwood flooring. I’m interested in looking for a good hardwood flooring contractor soon because I plan to change up the flooring in my kitchen soon. That will surely give the place a more earthy vibe that still feels a bit regal.

  12. Thanks for the reminder that there is also a grading system to be mindful of when planning to get hardwood flooring installation service. I’m interested in looking for a good flooring contractor soon because I want to give my home a more rustic look. Being able to use sturdy hardwood for that will surely be a good idea.

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