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Hardwood Flooring Grades

Grading of hardwood floors is more prevalent with unfinished flooring as it is with prefinished. Reasons being Video on this pageyou will find prefinished manufacturers prefer to stay within a defined area of flooring that is basically more uniform in appearance, unless otherwise specified. (character grades excluded). More consistent equates into fewer customers that may have been lead to believe the final appearance should have been different.

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You Will See Some Prefinished Grading

With prefinished manufacturers nearly all will have variations in how they describe the grading of their individual product lines; if they offer a description. Their grading is not as industry followed as it is with unfinished hardwoods, but published grading is available through the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) under names that include prime, standard, and tavern grade.

Most prefinished manufacturers offer assorted names such as Homerwood Hickory Saddletraditional, exclusive, character, and other names in between. Some place a marketable name on it and nothing else. Appearances from one prefinished manufacturer to the next can be different. Pictured to the right is Homerwood Hickory Saddle.

Prefinished Character Grade

Character grade can more consistent from one brand to the next with the exception of very heavy character with splits and larger knots. The term is relatively new and is more along the lines of a distressed hardwood. Small knots, mineral streaking and wide color variations from one board to another are common. Many of today's character grades command higher price tags. Generally they have some form of distressing that increases the cost of manufacturing.

Cabin or Tavern Grade Prefinished Floors

These products are often sold prefinished with no warranty. Actual makeup may be quite different from one manufacturer to another. Some may contain a Grading hardwood flooringlarge amount of color variation while others may have small and large knots and major mineral streaking throughout. In addition, some of these floors may have milling inconsistencies such as no tongues, ends not cut square, and the finish may not be up to standards. If cabin or tavern grade hardwoods are appealing because of the low price, expect the characteristics mentioned.

Nearly all larger solid and engineered prefinished manufacturers produce cabin grade flooring. Most come from hand grading (above) when unfinished hardwood is sorted before it goes into the initial phases of prefinished production. All material is used. Hence the availability of cabin grade flooring.

Unfinished Hardwood Grading

NOFMA¹ (National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association) is an organization that publishes actual unfinished grading on red and white oak in the USA. Not all unfinished manufacturers follow their grading rules religiously, and when they do not, product is usually a slightly higher grade than it actually is.

All wood species go under different grading specifications due to their general makeup. Shown below is a sampling of six of the most often used species used for flooring in the USA.

Red Oak

Clear- Most uniform in color consisting of mostly heartwood.
Select- Similar to clear, but may contain natural characteristics.
#1 Common- Will offer a variety of color, mineral streaking, and smaller knots
#2 Common- Numerous color variations and larger natural aspects

Clear Red Oak
Select Red Oak
#1 common Red Oak
#2 common Red Oak
#1 Common
#2 Common

White Oak

Grading - See Red Oak

Clear White oak
Select White Oak
#1 White Oak common
#2 White oak common
#1 Common
#2 Common


First- has the best appearance, natural color variations and limited character marks.
Second & Better- Varied color, numerous steaks, sapwood, and sound knots
Third & Better- Rustic in appearance with numerous characteristics allowed

First grade Maple
Second & better Maple
Third & better Maple
Second & Better
Third & Better


Select & Better - Will have natural color variation and no knots exceeding 1/8 inch in diameter.

# 1 Common - Distinct color variation with heavy mineral streaking allowed. Knots shall not exceed ½ inch in diameter. Checks and small splits.

#2 Common - Considered a rustic appearance. No knots over one inch diameter. Wide color variation with many character defects.

Hickory slect & better
Hickory #1 common
Hickory #2 common
Select & Better
#1 Common
#2 Common


Select & Better - Uniform color, moderate grain variation. Occasional burls and light brown streaking.

#1 Common - Varied and mild color variation with occasional sapwood. Small knots not exceeding ¾ inch.

#2 Common - Stepped up color and white sapwood. Larger knots.

Walnut Select & Better
Walnut #1 common
Walnut #2 common
Select & Better
#1 Common
# 2 Common

Brazilian Cherry

Clear - Uniform look in color and appearance. No defects allowed.

Select - Allows variety of color and grain. No defects but mild/minimal mineral streaking.

Natural - Same as select with color and grain. Small knots, mineral streaks, worm holes and checks permitted.

Rustic - Similar to natural in color and grain but with profound color variety. Defects include large variety of sapwood.

Clear Brazilian Cherry
Select Brazilain Cherry
Natural Brazilain Cherry
Rustic Brazilain Cherry

Image Sources: (Brazilian Cherry)

Grading Video

Watch our own grading video that deals with 15 different American hardwood appearances. Pros and cons of each and why or why not they may work for you.

What's Covered

• Formal appearances
• Rift & Quartered
• Mild character
• Soft hardwoods