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What Makes the Grade in Timber?

What Makes the Grade in Timber?

Many people dream of a beautiful wooden floor and imagine that it will look exactly like the sample they see in a store or on an online website. But wood is a natural material and can be extremely variable. The fact that it is so variable is part of its charm, of course. Even cut and polished timber planks from the same type of tree – even from the same stand within a forest – can vary.

And then there are the personal preferences amongst the customers themselves. Some would be really better off with a more uniform product like a laminated floor. Others love knots and pinholes but many don’t.  Some like to see a totally uniform coloration while others prefer natural variation. Wood is a bit like a fingerprint. Everyone has fingerprints, but no one set of fingerprints are the same as another.

So how is wood graded and how can the customer tell the difference between a good piece of wood and one that’s not so good? When raw timber (lumber – or simply trees) is cut in a forest and then further cut into planks, it is graded. The grade depends on the uniformity of color, grain clarity and general appearance. The most uniform in color and clearest timber is usually snapped up by top quality furniture manufacturers. The rest is bought up by a number of other manufacturers including flooring specialists.

Wooden floor manufacturers will buy up a lot of timber of the type they want to turn into planking and usually they will further grade their supply according to more refined criteria. The best quality flooring wood is graded as ‘Clear’. The next grade down from ‘Clear’ is usually called ‘Select’ or ‘Better. ‘Below these grades are those called ‘Country, ‘Prime’, ‘Traditional’, ‘Rustic’, ‘Pacific’ etc. The lowest grades are often referred to in the trade as ‘Cabin’, ‘Tavern’ and ‘Value’.

Sometimes, the graders get it wrong and a plank will be mislabeled as a higher or lower quality grade when it really belongs to another grade. Some timber is naturally variable. Hickory, for example is in this category.

Not all manufacturers use the same names for the grades, which is a little confusing. Some floorboards are also labeled as ‘seconds’ simply because they may have a few imperfections like staining or knots. Typically, these seconds are bought up by a number of liquidators who sell them at a cheaper price. Most wooden floor manufacturers, but not all, belong to the Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association which has established standards for wood flooring.

When buying wood flooring it is worthwhile knowing the grade of the timber you are buying and adjust your expectations accordingly. Expect to pay more for higher grades of timber floor but the trade off is that your floor will look fantastic and there is less wastage.

As an example of wastage, expect that a typical ‘clear’ grade wooden flooring with the least amount of color variation, fewer knots and so on may still involve around 5% wastage. At the other end of the scale, ‘seconds’ may involve 15% wastage and even then the flooring will be much more variable than a higher grade with more knots and color variation.

If you love wood, the fact that it is so unpredictable will be one of those features that attracts you to it. The more you learn about it, the more fascinating it becomes and the more likely you will buy exactly what you want within your price range.


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Above Board Flooring is Charlotte North Carolina's leading flooring expert. Learn More About Us

Mecklenburg County Towns and Neighborhoods we service:

South Charlotte:
Including Ballentyne, Matthews, Mint Hill & Indian Trail:
The Arboretum on Pineville-Matthews Road,Ayrsley in the Southwest corner of Charlotte, Ballantyne off Johnston road near South Carolina, Barclay Downs by the SouthPark Mall, Beverly Woods by Park Road in South Park, Carmel Village by Carmel Road, Blakeney near Ballantyne neighborhoods, Chantilly around Plaza-Midwood, Cotswold, Dilworth, Landsdowne, Madison Park by E Woodlawn Road and Park Road, Myers Park, Nations Ford,Parkdale, Piper Glen, Quail Hollow, SouthPark, Steele Creek

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Derita, Highland Creek, NoDa, University City, Northlake, Hidden Valley, Pleasant Grove, Croft, Newell

Lake Norman, NC:
Including Mooresville, Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius, Troutman, Statesville, Sherrils Ford and Denver , NC

The Peninsula,The Point, River Run,Birkdale, The Hamptons, Govenors Island, Alexander Island, Wynfield, MacAulay, The Farms, Northstone, Skybrook, Antiquity, Sailview, Norman Pointe

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Ashley Park, Berry Hill, Biddleville, Lincoln Heights, Oakview Terrace, Paw Creek, Shuffletown area, Thomasboro/Hoskins, Wesley Heights, Mountain Island Village,Yorkmount Park

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