All wood flooring is “appearance graded”, meaning visual features of the planks affect the grade – features such as color variations, grain variations, knots and other character markings such as pitch pockets, worm holes, mineral streaks and occasionally, hairline cracks. All grades are equally strong and serviceable, but each affords you a different look.
In Hardwoods (other than Maple)
Clear Grade is a flooring product with minimal character marks that provides the most uniform appearance. It may still include the natural color variations inherent in the species and varying grain patterns.
Select Grade is a flooring product with natural heartwood/sapwood color variations and varying grain patterns that may also include very small infrequent knots and mineral streaks, etc.
#1 Common Grade has more natural characteristics such as small tight knots, color and grain variations and wormholes than either clear or select grades, and often is chosen because of these natural features and the character they bring to a room.
#1 and #2 Common Grade has larger and more frequent knots than #1 Common Grade, with similar grain and color variations. It is available in wider widths and longer lengths than #1 Common Grade and is often specified for that reason.
#2 and #3 Common Grade is rustic in appearance and emphasizes all wood characteristics of the species – large, possibly open knots, color and grain variations, mineral streaks and worm holes and tracks.
First Grade has a uniform appearance, natural color variations and limited character marks. It is similar to a select grade.
Second Grade is varied in appearance and features knots and some variation in color. It is similar to a #1 Common grade.
Third Grade is rustic in appearance allowing all wood characteristics of the species. It is similar to a #2 & #3 Common grade.
D & Better Grade has more character such as knots and color and grain variations than C Grade – similar to a #1 Common Grade in hardwoods
#2 Grade is a rustic grade, with lots of color and grain variations along with large, possibly open knots and pitch pockets. This grade is similar to a #2 and #3 Common Grade in hardwoods.
Grain Patterns Available
The angle of the growth rings, when viewed from the butt end of the plank, determines the grain pattern on the face and ultimately how the finished product looks. Wood flooring is either plain sawn, quarter sawn or rift sawn.
Plain Sawn is the most common cut. The growth rings are at an angle from 0° – 30° (more or less parallel) to the face – which is why it is sometimes called Flat Sawn. Surface characteristics are its wavy, flame like (some say cathedral) grain appearance. It is the least expensive because it is easier to produce from the log. This grade is available in all species.
Quarter Sawn is more expensive than plain sawn – with the growth rings from 45° – 90° to the face. Characteristics are relatively straight parallel grain lines and more uniform grain appearance with iridescent ray flecks in Red & White Oak. Other woods, such as Walnut & Beech can exhibit a wavy undulating appearance to the grain.
Rift Sawn is more expensive than plain sawn, as well – with its growth rings typically from 30° – 60° to the face of the board. It has the same straight parallel grain as quarter sawn but without the ray flecks, giving it the most benign and minimalist appearance. It is separated from Quarter Sawn in Red and White Oak only – in all other species it is sold mixed with Quarter Sawn.
Livesawn, sometimes referred to as French Cut, is available in White Oak and occasionally in other hardwood species like Red Oak and Walnut. Its appearance is determined by the manner in which the planks were sawn from the log – sawing straight through the log, so that each plank contains a mix of Plain Sawn grain down the middle (typically containing the knots) with Rift & Quarter Sawn grain along the edges.