Did you know that the most common complaint contractors hear from homeowners after finishing jobs are about the way the wood looks? Interestingly, the complaints aren’t about the quality of installation, but the grade of wood. The reason this happens is that too often, the grade of wood used doesn’t match with what the customer had in mind. When installing hardwood floors, you should know much more than the species of wood. In this article, we’ll explain the various hardwood flooring grades to help you make sure your next project is perfect!

Prefinished
Prefinished Hardwood Flooring Grades
Clear Grade
– Few to no visual or physical flaws
– Little color variation
– Considered the ‘best’ grade
Select and Better
– Few knots and visual imperfections
– Little color variation
#1 Common
– Higher color variation
– Knots and pinholes are more likely than the previous two grades
#2 Common
– More of a natural-looking wood-
– Chance of knots and pinholes is increased
Cabin Grade
– Rough-hewn look
– Unfilled knot holes
– No splits
Shorts
– Has the most visible character of the prefinished hardwood grades-
– Highest color variation
– Several knots and pinholes

Pros and Cons of Prefinished Hardwood Floors
Depending on the style and use of your hardwood floors, there may be reasons why you should or shouldn’t go with prefinished hardwood flooring.
Reasons you should choose prefinished hardwood flooring:
► Simple and easy installation for renovations
► Convenient
► Ready to go as soon as installation is complete
► Finishing has already been done
► Faster process
► No odor
You’ll know exactly what you’re getting

Reasons you might not want prefinished hardwood flooring:
► Limited options
► Can be more expensive
► Gaps between boards
► Limited warranty
► The installer may be inexperienced or not very knowledgeable
► Not a good choice for kitchens
► Micro-bevel breaks ups continuity
► Doesn’t allow for borders or other fancy flooring techniques (e.g. herringbone, basket weaves, etc.)

Unfinished:
Unfinished Hardwood Flooring Grades
Clear Grade
– Few to no visual or physical flaws
– Little color variation
– Considered the ‘best’ grade
Select and Better
– Few knots and visual imperfections
– Little color variation
Country or Exclusive Grades
– High color variation
– Chance of knots and pinholes is increased

Traditional, Antique, Character Grades
– Natural look
– Increased chance of knots and pinholes
Tavern or Cabin Grade
– Most visible character
– High color variation
– Several knots and pinholes

Pros and Cons of Unfinished Hardwood Floors
The best option for you comes down to where the hardwood will be installed and the look and feel you want it to have. The flooring community generally agrees that finished-on-site hardwood floors provide a look that just can’t be matched.
Reasons you should choose unfinished hardwood flooring:
► Few problems in the future
► Ability to incorporate customizations
► Higher quality floor; looks better
► Wears better
► Much better option for kitchens because of solid surface
► More options (e.g. Rift & Quarter Sawn)
► More skill needed for installation usually means working with a contractor that is very knowledgeable
► Warmer, gentler feel
► Can easily be fixed/refinished if needed
Reasons you may not want unfinished hardwood flooring:
► Messy installation
► nstallation takes longer
► More skill needed to install
► More expensive
Summary
There isn’t one standard of grades for all hardwood floors. In fact, manufacturers sometimes have their own proprietary grades and may even combine them. There are industry associations like the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association that have established grading systems. Before selecting your hardwood flooring of choice, ask the manufacturer for the grades they have along with samples. Consider where the hardwood will be placed and the function of the room it will be in. Above all, make sure you have fun and choose a flooring option you love!

AUTHOR BIO:

Bruce MacDonald leads the team at MacDonald Hardwoods, a hardwood flooring store in Denver, Colorado. For over three decades they have serviced Colorado with installations, cleaning, and even conducted educational classes to help customers take care of their floors.

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