Picking flooring for a home is closer to picking a dress for prom than we might care for. In both cases, you need to have a bevy of knowledge to seven get started.

Knowing what color you need is only one component. On top of that, you want quality, design, and longevity (for floors, not so much for dresses).

The differences in hardwood grades mean a lot to your wallet and to your home’s eventual value.

Read on for a brief but functional look at hardwood lumber grades.

Components of Hardwood Grades

The grades of hardwood stand outside of the type of wood. The specific species and the grain pattern are their own thing. When talking about hardwood grades this is a compositional metric.

Modern manufacturing processes for hardwood floors aren’t dissimilar to how luxury vinyl plank floors are made. They include many of the same finishing and composite processes to deliver a homogenous product.

The following encapsulates information from the American Hardwood Export Council’s guide on grading standards.

Know Your Marks

Grades focus on the amount of marks within the wood. This is because the desired aesthetic can’t be gauged.

The marks change the appearance but do almost nothing to the quality thanks to the aforementioned manufacturing processes.

Depending on the tree species some grades are more highly prized than others.


Knots in lumber are areas where branches connected. They are often harder than surrounding boards and have a different grain pattern, more loops than lines.


These are small marks made from burrowing insects. They often aren’t even holes, rather than marks where the wood reclosed over a path. Like knots, they make small circles that interrupt grain patterns.

Sap and minerals flowing through lumber at the time of harvest can leave distortions in the grain. These follow the pattern of the grain but add discoloration.

Cabin Grade

The types of hardwood flooring that best show the importance of marks are cabin grades. This is hardwood with the most blemishes and, bundled in, the most character. Cabin grade hardwood provides an authentic look for a traditional style home and it hides wear well.

Common Grade 2

The #2 common grade is a step above cabin grade and also called Rustic Grade. This wood features a lot of distinct knots with low similarity in the grain pattern.

Common Grade 1

Arguably the best blend of uniformity and natural appeal is the #1 common grade. This still has prominent knots, swirls, and streaks but a more static appearance.

Select Grade

With select grade, you get a largely perfect wood with only a few marks and a lot of uniform grain patterns.

Given its lower availability, select grade sees a price jump from many producers.

Clear Grade

Clear grade may be listed as FAS (First and Seconds) depending on the source. This is so consistent in grain and free of marks that some fear it appears artificial. It provides a clean look for specific goals and is usually best for smaller areas, though engineered boards provide plenty of the look by layering production.

Make it Yours

The most important thing to keep in mind when comparing hardwood grades is your needs. Each grade comes at an increase in price (depending on tree species).

Budget allowing, get what you want to make your home yours.

For more information on homes and living, check back with us.