BuildDirect Blog: Life at Home

Hardwood Flooring Grades: That’s the Look of Love!

solid hardwood flooring cumaru

Natural cumaru exotic hardwood flooring “premier grade”.

Here’s the thing; I think there is a problem with the word ‘grades’, when it comes to hardwood flooring.

The very concept of grades hold all kinds of cultural weight, with one grade being all about how one particular one is better than another, kind of like how we think of grades in school.  The word ‘grade’ invites you to draw a quality comparison between one thing and another.

Hardwood flooring grades misconceptions

When it comes to wood flooring, this often leads to misconceptions about quality. It leads some to think that a ‘select’ grade is a safer purchase in terms of durability than a ‘natural’ or ‘folk’ grade.

Here’s something else; when it comes to hardwood flooring, thinking about grades as a measurement of quality of the product  isn’t the right way to approach the concept at all.

But, that being said, what are grades for hardwood floors in place to tell you as a buyer of wood floors? Like many things, grading is all about your point of view, and your expectations about what a wood floor is.

What are buyers looking for?

For instance, a lot of people love the look of wood grain.  But, they also want a certain sense of uniformity, and with a consistency in the grain patterns of the floor they’re looking to buy. They want tasteful refinement.  In doing their research, they’ve learned that a certain measurement of color variation in a wood floor is to be expected.  And they know that certain species (like cherry and maple, for instance), have naturally occurring patterning and ‘beauty marks’ no matter what section of the lumber their floor will be taken from.

After all, wood floors are natural materials.  And nature is all about variation, and about natural characteristics.  Yet, when it comes to the floor they imagine in their heads,  it’s a more refined and and continuous floor color range and grain pattern they want.  So, in looking for a hard maple wood floor for instance, they might go with this kind of look:

But, this is only one perspective.

Embrace of the random

Another point of view when it comes to wood floors is the embrace of random patterns, colors, and character.  Buyers with this kind of look in mind are interested in really obvious patterning like larger knot holes, mineral streaking, and other sources of color variation.  For these buyers, the wood floor they imagine in their minds tells the story of where their floor comes from; The Wild, and all of the wild artistry that a real wood floor can afford.

This type of buyer, also looking for a hard maple floor,  may be more interested in this kind of look:

These two examples depicted in the above photos are the same species. The boards in a chosen batch, decided upon by a grading system,  have been taken from sections of the lumber to meet the myriad of expectations of the buying public along a spectrum.

Differing expectations, varied options

And this, friends, is what wood floor grading is all about. The industry recognizes that buyers have different expectations of what a wood floor should look like.  It’s not that one grade is better quality than another.  It’s that a specified grade appeals to a certain set of aesthetics.

There are a few characteristics that set the standards:

  • large knotholes, which are always ‘secure’ (they don’t pop out)
  • small knotholes, or ‘pinholes’
  • mineral streaking and other color variation

So a ‘select’ grade will have fewer instances of this.  And a ‘natural’ grade (sometimes called ‘folk’ or ‘rustic’) will feature more of these characteristics proudly.

Wood floors are diverse.  And luckily, the industry helps to make choosing the right look that you’re going to love pretty easy.



Rob Jones

Rob served as Editor-In-Chief of BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home from 2007-2016. He is a writer, Dad, content strategist, and music fan.


  1. John C Davies Reply to John

    This post can really help consumers bridge the gap between expectation and reality. It is so important for consumers to research industry terminology and ask specific questions. At the same time it’s also incumbent upon us as vendors to make sure that clients know what they are in for. Misunderstandings, although understandable in some cases, can lead to client / vendor friction. A sticky situation to be sure. Information is one of the many critical lubricants that make transactions easy and hassle free for everyone.
    Thanks again Rob,

  2. Cheers for comments, John.

    With something like flooring, communication between sellers and buyers is vital. It’s a long-term investment, and often in the case of homeowners, a once in a lifetime purchase. As such, it’s in everyone’s best interest to know the facts, and from out of that, know what aesthetic effect they’re after. For a long-term investment, everyone should get something out of it. And starting from an informed position really helps.

    Thanks again for comments, John – as always!

  3. Beryn Hammil Reply to Beryn

    Great tutorial for consumer and professional alike! My perspective about flooring is that there is no one right answer; the homeowner will live with it for years to come, so as a designer or flooring consultant, when give guidance and advice make sure it suits their lifestyle, their budget, and the overall look of their home.

  4. Rob, I do love how you dispel myths and truly educate readers about hardwood flooring. Thanks, CB

  5. CB and Beryn – thanks a lot for your comments!

    I think the takeaway from this, which I hope comes across, is that wood flooring offers options to the consumer. CB, there are myths about it, and I think some of them comes down to the terminology. And Beryn, yes a floor is something that will endure for a long time, particularly a wood floor. It’s important to lay out all of the facts before purchasing, with a design consultant such as yourself, and/or with samples of the products.

    Thanks again for comments, guys!

  6. Rob,

    I had no idea that there were so many things to think about when it comes to materials. Its something that really excites me. There really is something for everyone.

    My learning curve is still very high-but I am glad there are resources such as yours to help guide me.

  7. Fantastic Rob! This is a great new and concise way to explain flooring grades to our clients. Thanks so much.

  8. Laura and Catherine,

    A big rush for our guys selling wood flooring here is that moment when a customer, who wasn’t previously aware of the range of choices open to them, finally narrows down what it is which would be the perfect fit for them. As a company, it’s great to be a part of that.

    Thanks so much for comments today!

  9. This is one of my favorites of your posts. I happen to love wood species that show off mother nature’s design skills. Bring on the grain, knots, holes, spots, marks, imperfections and anything else that makes the floor unique! Great job on an educational post with examples.

  10. Alan Blake Reply to Alan


    Very good comments and when one can speak to a consumer’s expectations that is always terrific. One suggestion to add. While lower grades offer more in terms of color and grain, the lengths tend to be shorter, which can make for a very busy floor pattern. The lumber mills are looking for the best yield possible, so often longer lengths will get raised to a higher grade. The good news is with prefinished floors, shorter lengths are becoming the norm as well. Europe mills flooring often in 2 lengths, one being just about a meter and the other is about 2′ in length.

    The article was excellent.


  11. Great informative post. It seems to be in my experience, not many consumers do their research when looking for hardwoods. The knowledge doesn’t seem to go any further than knowing whether they want light or dark flooring! So, something like this helps to expose people to the world of flooring and educate possible consumers!

  12. When starting to read this article I expected to read about the truth, nor some kind of personal opinion without any hard facts.

    Grades are: FAS, 1-com, 2com, A B C D grades and so on.

    Taste can be discussed but to say its basicly all the same is rediculous.

    • Hey James,

      I think you’re right. Saying that all the grades are the same would be ridiculous. Luckily, I wasn’t saying that. The lumber is graded at the mill based on character marks in the wood, and this is done in a very meticulous way, and from species to species with their own grades. But, to say that one grade is inferior to another is a misconception.

      I’d be interested to know specifically what kind of information you were after when you say you ‘expected to read about truth’, and if you’d care to go into more detail about some of your own perspectives on what that truth might be.

      Thanks a lot for comments! :-)

  13. John Barton Reply to John

    This is a great article,with good information.Im the owner of Timber Creek Flooring in New Jersey and I make sure on all the installs that I sell the wood in a least number one common or greater. When you start useing bad grades of flooring it tends to have bad milling as well.The thickness and the widths of wood tend to vary causeing gaps in the flooring and height differances in the wood.

    I do not install wood flooring that the customer buys because they get sold products that they don’t know about.As the installer it makes the installation a night mare.The better grade flooring you buy will make the installation go better and there will be no defects in the wood flooring.

  14. While lower grades offer more in terms of color and grain, the lengths tend to be shorter, which can make for a very busy floor pattern. The lumber mills are looking for the best yield possible, so often longer lengths will get raised to a higher grade. The good news is with refinished floors, shorter lengths are becoming the norm as well. As the installer it makes the installation a night mare. The better grade flooring you buy will make the installation go better and there will be no defects in the wood flooring.
    Engineered Timber Flooring

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.