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Hardwood Floors: Choosing the Right Grade

By Michael Hilton

Hardwood flooring is a popular option for homeowners who want durable and beautiful floors in their homes. When choosing a hardwood floor, most people decide on a wood species, such as oak, cherry, or maple, and then pick a finish, such as satin or glossy. The flooring option pondered less frequently is which grade of hardwood flooring to purchase. Determined by a board's appearance, hardwood flooring grades are used because different grades of the same wood species can have dramatically different looks and characteristics.

These are the most common hardwood flooring grades:

  • Clear. Considered the highest grade available, clear flooring pieces have a super tight grain with no knots or other natural imperfections. The color is uniform, with no mineral streaks or off-color pieces.
  • Select. With small, tight knots allowed, select boards have limited character marks but no splits, checks, or other imperfections. Select-grade hardwood boards have minor color variations due to the different parts of the tree from which the boards are cut. Sap wood, which comes from the outer layers of the tree, most often produces lighter boards than the heart wood, which is the wood cut closest to the tree's center.

Within the clear and select hardwood flooring grades, the boards can be plain sawn or quarter sawn, which distinguishes how the boards are cut at the mill. Plain sawn is the most common cut and produces boards with a broader range of grain patterns. Quarter sawn boards, on the other hand, are specially cut to produce only vertical grain pieces that show a more uniform striped grain pattern.

  • Common #1: These flooring pieces have a variegated appearance, worm holes, and small knots. Within the bundle of boards you can expect to find smaller pieces and many different grain patterns.
  • Common #2: With a rustic appearance, the boards have open knot holes, checks, and splits.
  • Cabin or Tavern Grade: Expect many natural imperfections, as well as saw marks, splintered edges, partial tongues, and skip marks from the planer. There is more waste than with the other grades, as unusable portions of the board must be cut out of the larger board.

When choosing between different hardwood flooring grades, it is important to compare the individual species of wood. For example, a common oak floor board has a more visible and diverse grain pattern than a common maple board, not because of the grade, but rather the species. When making your hardwood flooring choice, try to visit a local showroom that has many wood species and available grades on display.

Sources

About the Author
Michael Hilton was the original creator of Carpet Buyers Handbook. Having owned and operated a carpet wholesale company, Hilton has a vast knowledge about all-things carpet related as well as other types of flooring.

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