Hardwood Lumber Grading And Grading Standards: What You Need To Know

When it comes to fine woodworking projects such as home decor, the quality of your materials can make all the difference. Hardwood lumber, with its timeless beauty and exceptional durability, is a popular choice among artisans and DIY enthusiasts. 

But how do you ensure you’re selecting the right grade of hardwood lumber for your specific needs? Fear not, for we are here to shed light on the intricacies of the hardwood lumber grading system as outlined by the national hardwood lumber association

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the different grades of hardwood lumber, from the finest(FAS-grade) to the more economical options(2a and 2b common grades). Get ready to unravel the secrets that will elevate your woodworking endeavours.

Hardwood Lumber Grades: Decoding the Hierarchy

Hardwood lumber grading involves categorizing wood based on size, percentage yield, and clear-wood cuttings within each board. This grading system ensures you can make an informed decision when purchasing hardwood lumber. On top of the grading system, we’ve FAS and Select grade and then the common grades (2a common and 2b common).

Let’s explore each grade in detail:

#1 FAS Grade: The Epitome of Excellence

Let’s start with the crème de la crème of hardwood lumber grades – FAS, which stands for First And Seconds. It represents the pinnacle of hardwood lumber quality and commands a higher price point. FAS lumber offers exceptional clarity, ensuring that you’ll have access to the clearest and most visually appealing wood for your projects. With FAS-grade lumber, you can expect a yield of over 83% usable lumber per board. The minimum size requirements for FAS boards are 6 inches wide by 8 feet long, with clear-cutting sizes of 4 inches by 5 feet or 3 inches by 7 feet. This grade is ideal for fine woodworking and projects that demand two faces of superior quality.

#2 Select Grade: Balancing Quality and Cost

Next in line is Select Grade hardwood lumber, which balances quality and affordability. Select grade lumber combines the characteristics of FAS and Number 1 Common grades. One side of the board meets the requirements of FAS, while the other meets the criteria for Number 1 Common (discussed below). This makes Select grade lumber an excellent choice for woodworking projects where only one face of the board will be visible. Select grade lumber offers an 83% yield, similar to FAS grade, making it an excellent choice for woodworking and furniture-building projects that require a balance between quality and cost-effectiveness.

#3 Number 1 Common Grade: The Cabinet Maker’s Ally

Moving down the grading scale, we come to Number 1 Common grade lumber. Also known as Cabinet grade, it finds its niche in kitchen cabinet construction and furniture parts. It offers a yield of approximately 66% to 75% per board, with clear-cutting sizes of 4 inches by 2 feet or 3 inches by 3 feet. The minimum size requirement for Number 1 Common boards is 3 inches wide by 4 feet long. And while it may not boast the same visual clarity as FAS or Select grade lumber, it is an excellent option for hobby woodworkers and those seeking affordable hardwood lumber. You can produce remarkable pieces from this grade with careful selection and craftsmanship.

#4 Number 2 Common Grade: The Economical Choice

At the lower end of the hardwood grading spectrum, we have Number 2 Common grade lumber, which caters to those seeking a more economical option. It typically comes in boards at least 3 inches wide and 4 feet long. However, the yield per board ranges from 50% to 65%, with a minimum clear-cutting size of 3 inches by 2 feet. 

Although we don’t recommend it for intricate woodworking projects due to its lower yield and potential waste, it still finds its purpose in applications such as panelling, hardwood flooring, and lower-quality furniture.

The table below summarizes the hardwood lumber grading system:

GradeDescriptionMinimum Board SizeClear-Cutting SizeYieldCommon Uses
FASFirst and Seconds6″ wide x 8′ long4″ x 5′ or 3″ x 7′>83% on both sidesFine woodworking, superior quality projects
SelectA blend of FAS and Number 1 Common4″ wide x 6′ long4″ x 5′ or 3″ x 7′>83% on one sideWoodworking, furniture building
Number 1 CommonAlso known as Cabinet grade3″ wide x 4′ long4″ x 2′ or 3″ x 3′66% – 75%Furniture parts, affordable lumber
Number 2 CommonEconomy gradeAt least 3″ wide x 4′ long3″ x 2′50% – 65%Panelling, hardwood flooring, and other lower-quality projects

Which Hardwood Lumber Grade Should You Buy?

Now that we’ve explored the different grades of hardwood lumber, you might be wondering which grade you should buy for your woodworking project. Here are a few considerations to help guide your decision:

  • Project Requirements: Evaluate the specific needs of your project. Does it demand the utmost clarity and visual appeal? In that case, FAS-grade lumber might be the ideal choice. Select-grade lumber can balance quality and cost savings if you only require one face of superior quality.
  • Budget: Determine your budgetary constraints. While FAS-grade lumber provides the highest quality, it comes at a higher price point. Consider whether the additional cost is justifiable for the project at hand or if opting for a lower grade, such as Number 1 Common or Number 2 Common, would be a more economical choice without compromising the overall outcome.
  • Yield and Waste: Assess the amount of usable lumber you can obtain from each grade. FAS and Select grades offer higher yields, reducing waste and maximizing efficiency. If yield and waste reduction are essential for your project, you should prioritize these grades.
  • Aesthetic Requirements: Consider the visibility of the lumber within your project. If only one face is exposed, as is often the case in furniture-making, Select grade lumber can provide the necessary quality while offering cost savings. However, FAS-grade lumber ensures consistency and excellence for applications where both sides will be visible, such as a freestanding bookshelf or room divider.

Carve Your Legacy: Consult Tropical Forest on Hardwood Lumber Grading

Congratulations! You are now a master in the art of hardwood lumber grading. With this valuable knowledge, you are the key to unlocking extraordinary woodworking projects. 

If you have any questions about hardwood lumber grading, contact Tropical Forest Products at (855) 344-4500. We’ll provide you with the detailed information and insights you need to make informed decisions and achieve outstanding results.

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