Types of Hardwood Flooring Grades

Are you thinking about replacing the floors in your home? If so, then you have many decisions to make. An increasing number of homeowners are choosing hardwood floors because they are:

  • Beautiful
  • Practical
  • Durable
  • Low maintenance
  • Versatile

After deciding that hardwood flooring is right for your home, the next step is deciding which wood best suits your taste and décor. It could be oak, maple, cherry, bamboo, walnut, mahogany ash, or even something exotic like mesquite, teak, or jarrah.

Each hardwood type brings its unique appearance and characteristics to your home. Most hardwood flooring choices are available in a variety of grades.

What are the hardwood flooring grades? How do you know which grade is right for your home? You have come to the right place. Here at Atlas Floors, we can answer all these questions and ensure you make a great choice for your new flooring.

Hardwood Flooring Grades

Manufacturers rely on a hardwood grading scale to help other professionals and consumers get the exact type of hardwood flooring they seek. Each grade of hardwood flooring is distinguished by the number of markings that it contains. Rather than flaws, these are natural irregularities and additional characteristics that give each hardwood flooring choice a unique personality and appearance.

Character markings that commonly are found in hardwood flooring include:

  • Wormholes, which are left behind after boring insects dig into a living tree
  • Mineral deposit streaks
  • Tree sap streaks
  • Knots left behind by the base of a branch or twig

Many people find these traits desirable in hardwood flooring, but they don’t necessarily want to see too many streaks or knots. This means they may be looking for hardwood flooring with a less rustic look.

Some customers look for hardwood flooring that has an abundance of these markings. They want to see character and personality on their floors.

To help guide the choices of all consumers, the National Hardwood Lumber Association, or NHLA, has created a standardized set of grading rules for hardwood.

A hardwood’s grade designation does not reflect its structural integrity or durability. Instead, grading simply helps contractors and homeowners identify the perfect type of hardwood flooring for a particular project.

Whether you choose a sleek and sophisticated Clear Grade hardwood floor or a homey and cozy Cabin Grade hardwood floor, the NHLA’s grading standards will make your selection much easier.

Clear Grade

When you compare a piece of Clear Grade hardwood flooring with other grades, you will quickly see distinctive differences. Perhaps the most obvious difference is that Clear Grade hardwood flooring has virtually no markings. If you want flooring that exhibits few or no holes and knots, then Clear Grade is the right choice.

Clear-grade hardwood flooring features improved consistency in grain and color from one board to the next, providing finished floors with excellent uniformity. Because of characteristics like these, many contractors, vendors, and other industry professionals consider Clear Grade the premium selection.

Of course, these premium characteristics also come at an added cost because it is more difficult to find cuttings that are generally free of character markings. For people who are really excited about this look, the extra expense usually is only a minor consideration.

As you browse through different options, it helps to remember that Clear Grade hardwood floors are sometimes referred to as First Grade or Select hardwood flooring. Manufacturers frequently place a Select Grade hardwood floor in this category if it has a few more character markings than Clear Grade flooring but still exhibits acceptable overall variations in grain and color.

Number One Common Grade

Often noted as “#1 Common Grade,” these hardwood flooring choices show more markings and variations than Clear or Select Grade flooring. These #1 Common Grade floors may look more natural as there are additional streaks, swirls, and designs in the grain. Still, these markings are subtler and smaller than in subsequent grades.

Knots and wormholes tend to be more prevalent in #1 Common Grade hardwood flooring, and there is also more color variation. Some homeowners love having more and bolder transitions between dark and light colors on the different boards.

You will also see more variation in board length at the #1 Common Grade designation than with the more uniform Clear or Select Grade options.

If you want to let the natural beauty of your hardwood floors shine with the minimum of interference from people, this could be a great choice for your home.

In fact, homes with children, pets, and high traffic are particularly excellent places to use #1 Common Grade hardwood flooring. This is because the pattern, grain, and color variations make it far easier to disguise any scratches or dings that the floor might acquire.

Number Two Common Grade

For example, #1 Common Grade and #2 Common Grade hardwood flooring have more rustic characteristics than Clear or Select Grade flooring. Mineral streaks and grain swirls will probably be more prominent in this grade, and you are likely to see far more wormholes and knots than you did with the previous categories.

Color variations in this grade can be quite stark, and the character markings tend to be bold. If you have a personal style that emphasizes organics or just want to accentuate the appearance of natural wood, this would be the ideal choice for your home.

You might hear some industry insiders referring to this grade as Rustic Grade, which is a great way to describe the boards in this category. Hickory wood, in particular, is recognized as an outstanding example of #1 Common and #2 Common Grade hardwood flooring.

Cabin Grade

If you want the most rustic-looking hardwood floors for your home, this is where you need to be. Cabin-grade hardwood flooring heavily emphasizes authentic, rustic wood that is hardly touched by human hands.


You’ll love the rough-hewn look of these floors that exhibit virtually no consistency in grain patterns and color variations. Mineral streaks, knots, and holes cover most of the visible surface and make it possible to hide all sorts of minor damage in high-traffic areas. For instance, many people choose cabin-grade hardwood flooring for a fishing or camping retreat, while others place this flooring in a workshop or playroom.

Choose Your Grade

Many homeowners are shocked when it is time for their hardwood floor to be installed because they discover that it doesn’t match the picture they had in mind. Frequently, this is because they did not know about the different grades of hardwood flooring. Perhaps they focused more on the type of wood they wanted without realizing that the wood is probably available in various grades.

Contact us when you are ready to redo the floors in your home. We’ll walk you through the process to ensure you are delighted with the results.

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