When it comes to hardwood floors, a grading system is used to differentiate one style of floor from another. Don’t confuse the grade of the hardwood floor with its quality though. The same guidelines and requirements go into manufacturing a hardwood floor no matter what the grade of that floor ends up being. The primary difference in floor grades will be in color character, lengths and allowable defects.
Select & Better – A select & better grade, sometimes just referred to as “Select” tends to be the more expensive of the hardwood floor grades. This is because the wood is cut from the center of the log, has a uniform appearance with few knots, not much sap wood and minimal color variation. The average length varies by manufacturers, but in general a Select & Better floor has the longest lengths of all the hardwood flooring grades. There will be small burls, filed pinworm holes and very small off color streaks but for the most part the wood will be very consistent.
#1 Common – This hardwood floor grade has a wider range of color variation with a mix of heartwood (center of the log) and sapwood. Like Select & Better, there are minimal knots and mineral streaks. The lengths of wood with #1 Common floors are slightly shorter than Select & Better. However, like Select & Better any knots, burls or other natural characteristics are sound and filled.
#2 Common – With many manufactures, a #2 Common hardwood floor would be the least expensive of the four hardwood flooring grades. The wood will have prominent color variations with a wide range of natural characteristics. This hardwood flooring grade also has the shortest lengths with some pieces of flooring as short as 9 inches. With some manufacturers the average length in a box of flooring is sometimes as short as 18 inches. Open knots, wormholes and manufacturing irregularities such as skips, checking, stain and surface scratched are allowable by industry standards for #2 Common wood.
Character Grade – You might have seen this grade of wood listed as EuroCharacter as well and personally this grade of wood if my favorite! Hardwood Floors with a character grade are generally a mix of all three grades that give a floor a natural unique appearance. This varies by manufacture, but character grade flooring is typically comprised of approximately 60-70% #1 Common wood with 15-20% Select & Better wood and 15-20% #2 Common wood rounding out the floor. With this mixture of grades you get longer lengths too. Character grade hardwood floors generally have 2 foot to 10 foot boards with an average board length of about 50 inches.
Most all the above hardwood flooring grades are available in a variety of species of wood. White Oak, Red Oak, Hickory and Walnut are the most common and comprise a large percentage of the hardwood flooring on the market. A good hardwood flooring retailer will also have access to other species of wood as well such as Ash, Birch, Cherry, Heart Pine, Maple, Yellow Pine and many others.
Good hardwood flooring retailers and manufactures have relationships with mills and craftsman across the country, and world even, and can provide exotic, import and custom hardwood floors. Let your imagination run wild with parquet, chevron, herringbone, custom lengths, custom widths, variable width patterns and so much more………just ask the hardwood flooring retailer of your choice and if they say “no” – ask another! Something to note, hardwood flooring that is not the most common is not generally kept in stock and quickly obtained. This certainly hold true for exotic floors and obviously custom orders aren’t kept in stock or they wouldn’t be custom. Keep in mind too that custom orders come with custom lead times and custom pricing too.
Often times simply choosing a hardwood floor from a popular species in the grade of wood you like best gets the job done on time, on budget and produces a beautiful floor.