Hardwood Flooring Grades

Grading of hardwood floors is more prevalent with unfinished flooring as it is with Videoprefinished. Reasons being you will find prefinished manufacturers prefer to stay within a defined area of flooring that is basically more uniform in appearance, unless otherwise specified. More consistent equates into fewer customers that may have been lead to believe the final appearance should have been different.

You Will See Some Prefinished Grading

With prefinished manufacturers nearly all will have variations in how they describe the grading of their individual product lines; if they offer a description. Their grading is not as industry followed as it is with unfinished hardwoods, but published grading is available through the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) under names that include prime, standard, and tavern grade.

Most prefinished manufacturers offer assorted names such as traditional, exclusive, character, and other names in between. Some place a marketable name on it andCharacter grade hardwood floor nothing else. Appearances from one prefinished manufacturer to the next can be different. Pictured to the right is Homerwood; a company that specializes in character grade flooring.

Prefinished Character Grade

Character grade is more consistent from one brand to the next. The term is relatively new and is more along the lines of a distressed hardwood. Knots, mineral streaking, wide color variations from one board to another are common. Many of today's character grades command higher price tags. Generally they have some form of distressing that increases the cost of manufacturing.

Cabin or Tavern Grade Prefinished Floors

These products are often sold prefinished with no warranty. Actual makeup may beHardwood grading done in small mill quite different from one manufacturer to another. Some may contain a large amount of color variation while others may have small and large knots, and major mineral streaking throughout. In addition, some of these floors may have milling inconsistencies such as no tongues, ends not cut square, and the finish may not be up to standards. If cabin or tavern grade hardwoods are appealing because of the low price, expect the characteristics mentioned.

Nearly all larger solid and engineered prefinished manufacturers produce cabin grade flooring. Most come from hand grading when unfinished hardwood is sorted before it goes into the initial phases of prefinished production. All material is used. Hence the availability of cabin grade flooring.

Unfinished Hardwood Grading

NOFMA¹ (National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association) is an organization that publishes actual unfinished grading on red and white oak in the USA. Not all unfinished manufacturers follow their grading rules religiously, and when they do not, product is usually a slightly higher grade than it actually is.

All wood species go under different grading specifications due to their general makeup. Shown below is a sampling of the two most often used species for flooring.

Red Oak

Clear- Most uniform in color consisting of mostly heartwood.
Select- Similar to clear, but may contain natural characteristics
#1 Common- Will offer a variety of color, mineral streaking, and smaller knots
#2 Common- Numerous color variations and larger natural aspects

Clear red oak Select red oak #1 common red oak #2 common red oak
#1 Common
#2 Common


First- has the best appearance, natural color variations and limited character marks.
Second & Better- Varied color, numerous steaks, sapwood, and sound knots
Third & Better- Rustic in appearance with numerous characteristics allowed

First grade maple Second & better Maple Third & better Maple

Second & Better
Third & Better


To determine the (nominal) length of a piece of flooring, 3/4" end match allowance shall be added to the actual face length when measuring. Individual strips may range in length from 9" minimum to 102" maximum. The average length as referred to in the Official Flooring Grading Rules apply to the total footage of any one shipment consisting of 1,000 sq. ft. or greater amounts. The percentages under 4', as referred to in the Official Flooring Grading Rules apply to the total footage of any one shipment consisting of 1,000 sq. ft. or greater amount.

• Bundled flooring- an individual bundle contains pieces from 6" over to 6" under the nominal length of the bundle. Bundle lengths ranging from 1 1/4' to 7' or 8', as the stock will produce, and placed (nested) end to end in units (pallets) of 8' nominal length are designated “standard packaging”; or units of 7' and shorter nominal length are designated “shorter packaging”.

• Nested Flooring- a nested bundle contains flooring strips positioned end to end continuously in runs measuring from 6" over to 6" under the nominal length of the nested bundle. For 3/4 x 2 1/4" Flooring- a 12 run, 8' nominal length bundle, containing 24 bd. ft. of flooring is designated “standard packaging”. Nested bundles shorter than 8' nominal length are designated “shorter packaging”.

• Shorter Nested Bundles or Boxes- bundles or boxes containing more or fewer runs of flooring are “non standard packaging” and considered acceptable packaging where the average length is maintained.

¹ Merged with the National Wood Flooring Association late 2008.

Information above originally obtained from the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.

Wide Plank Grading Video

Ryan Marion CEO of Heidelberg Flooring who specializes in both solid and engineered wide plank hardwoods talks about grading on their White Oak and Walnut products.

What's Covered

Character Grade
Select and Clear Grades
Rift & Quartered
Quarter Sawn

Related Pages

Cabin Grade
Other Colors
Oak Grades
Other Colors Properties
Oak Flooring Grades Photo gallery