Why Do We Have Hardwood Lumber Grades and What Do They Mean?
For someone just beginning to purchase hardwood lumber, lumber grades can be overwhelming. Most lumber companies use the generally accepted grading rules set by the National Hardwood Lumber Association.
To help you understand what these grades mean, here’s a short description on those grades.
What Does a Lumber Grade Mean?
Grades are based on the amount of usable clear material in a board. The highest grade boards are FAS and Select, followed by #1 Common and #2 Common. What grade you choose depends on your project. Some projects, such as tabletops and high quality furniture, may dictate the highest grade available. Many other projects are just as easily adapted to #1 Common (often referred to as cabinet grade) – kitchen cabinet doors, smaller projects and items where some character is acceptable.
About Hardwood Lumber Grading
The National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA: www.natlhardwood.org) rules were designed to provide the furniture industry a mathematically measurable method to grade lumber for its amount of clear, defect free wood. Since then, they’ve been be adopted across the hardwood industry as a way to consistently provide a similar product to customers time and time again.
Hardwood grades are based on the size and number of clear pieces that can be obtained from a board when it is cut up to be used to make a product. Grades are not determined by gut reactions to what a person thinks the grade should be, but actual measurements of clear sections and definitions for defects.
In practice, some of the above grades are rarely used in the commercial trade and others are typically combined. For example, lumber graded “Select & Better” would include FAS, F1F, and Select boards.
What Lumber Grade Should I Use?
The upper grades, FAS, F1F and SEL, are most suitable for mouldings, joinery products such as door frames, architectural interiors and furniture requiring a high percentage of long wide cuttings. It should be noticed that FAS – the highest grade – is not synonymous with being 100% clear material.
The Common grades are likely to be most suitable for the cabinet industry, most furniture parts and flooring. Explore the use of the common grades to achieve the most value considering lumber cost and yield.
The Steps in Determining Lumber Grade:
- Determine species.
- Calculate the Surface Measure (SM).
- Determine the poor side of the board.
- From this poor face, calculate the percentage of clear wood available.
Note: If Number 1 Common is the grade of the poor face, check the better face to see if it will grade FAS for the F1F or Selects grades to be achieved.
- Once the grade is determined, check for any special features such as sapwood or heartwood cuttings for special color sorts.
- Sort to bundles according to buyer and seller specifications.
When you’re constructing a deck or building Adirondack chairs for your backyard, you want to make sure you choose a wood that can stand up to the elements. While many people go straight to treated yellow pine for outdoor projects (it is the cheapest and most common option), there are plenty of wood species that hold up at least as well even when left untreated. Here are a few woods to consider for your next outdoor project.
This tropical hardwood from Central and South America makes an excellent choice for outdoor projects, including decking. Ipe is very hard and dense and resists warping, cracking, and decay extremely well. Its oil and extractive content makes it highly resistant to insects and fungi, and untreated ipe can last up to 40 years outdoors. Its density makes it fairly impervious to denting and foot traffic, but also hard to cut.
Long a popular choice for boat building, teak is another good candidate for outdoor applications. Teak is prized for its beauty as well as its durability outdoors, and you can expect to pay a premium for it. Teak’s high stability means it won’t shrink or expand much with changes in humidity, and its natural oils and extractives repel water and deter insects. Unlike ipe, teak works easily. One caveat: most teak on the market is not sustainably sourced, so if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your wood choices, look for certified sustainable forested teak.
Less expensive than teak but more expensive than ipe, African mahogany is another top of the line choice for outdoor applications. African mahogany is a durable hardwood that resists decay, infestation, and warping and is easy to work. Left untreated, its durability will endure a very long time, but its beautiful reddish color will fade to gray.
Vertical Grain (VG) Fir has been a traditional choice for porches for over a century due to its wide availability and durability, both of which still make it a good choice today. VG fir is quite dimensionally stable, so it expands and contracts evenly and is unlikely to warp. Naturally resistant to decay and insects, VG fir can last 10-15 years outdoors untreated, and is an affordable choice.
Western Red Cedar
Western Red Cedar is another widely available, reasonably affordable choice for outdoor use. It’s dimensionally stable, typically straight-grained, and resists warping, decay, and insects (including termites). Untreated, Western Red Cedar will last about 20 years outdoors. As cedar is a softwood, you can expect to see some damage from foot traffic if using it as decking or flooring. Beware of splitting when driving fasteners, and expect tannins to appear as stains around them.
Guest Blog by Ron Smith
We’ve all heard the adage: work smarter, not harder. It makes good sense, so here are eight woodworking tips to make your shop work easier and more efficient:
1 – Sanding made easier
Sanding woodwork by hand may seem like a chore, but with special tools and high-quality sandpaper, you’ll get excellent results that often outshine a power sander. Besides, it’s quieter, doesn’t produce clouds of dust, and may get into places power sanders can’t.
Use a sanding block for faster, more efficient results. It distributes sanding pressure more evenly and maintains a flatter surface than merely folding a piece of sandpaper. Also, change sandpaper often.
Sand with the grain of the wood, especially for the final grits. To remove deep scratches and stains, angle across the grain up to about 45º for the first sanding. Before moving to the next finer grit, sand with the grain to remove all cross-grain scratches.
For sanding painted surfaces, buy clog-resistant sandpaper. The paint will build up slower than on standard sandpaper.
2 – Avoid drywall screws for woodworking
When screwing two pieces of wood together, use the traditional wood screw over the drywall screw for better results.
A drywall screw is threaded the full length. Since the top threads tend to grip the first board it enters, this can force two pieces of wood apart slightly because you have threads in both boards.
The top part of a wood screw, on the other hand, has a smooth shank that won’t grip the first board. This makes it easier to clamp two pieces of wood together.
There’s another reason to avoid drywall screws: The hardened, brittle steel shafts of drywall screws will often break during installation, especially when screwed into hardwoods. Removing them from a finished material is nearly impossible and getting them out damages the surface.
Wood screws are made of thicker, softer metal, so they’re break-resistant.
Wood screws do, however, require you drill:
- A pilot hole for the threads
- A wider counterbore hole the length of the non-threaded shaft
- A countersink hole for setting the head
However, you can easily handle all three drilling chores by buying a set of three countersinking bits. They handle most common screw sizes.
3 – Know your wood’s moisture content
When building with wood, you must know the correct moisture content of each piece of wood.
Too dry, and the finished product may swell or crack. Too moist, and the end product may shrink or warp. It’s no wonder experts say incorrect moisture causes 80% of all woodworking problems.
Therefore, it’s critical to know the moisture content of each piece of wood before it is used. For instance, if you’re planning an inlay job using two different species of wood, you’ll need to know the moisture content of each type so that your inlay glue joints stay intact.
A failsafe way to avoid a ruined project is to use a moisture meter.
Wagner Meters is one provider for both professionals and hobbyists a variety of highly accurate, professional-grade moisture meters.
Use a free wood moisture app
To help solve your moisture problems easily and quickly, Wagner offers you the FREE Wood H2O mobile app. This handy app calculates equilibrium moisture content (EMC), troubleshoots many common wood moisture problems, and accesses helpful resources.
Download your FREE mobile app here.
4 – Prevent excess glue stains
To eliminate stains caused by oozing glue along joints, clamp the pieces together without glue. Apply masking tape over the joint and then cut it with a utility knife.
Next, separate the pieces, apply the glue, and clamp them together again. The glue will ooze onto the tape, not the wood. Remove the tape before the glue dries.
5 – Measure with a drafting square
Make accurate measuring and marking layouts on boards faster and easier with a drafting square – available at any art supply store.
When you need an accurate square in the 2- to 3-foot range, drafting squares beat the cumbersome drywall squares for accuracy and eliminate the hassle of hooking up a carpenter square.
6 – Keep a clean, orderly workspace
Achieving efficiency in your shop can sometimes be as simple as clearing clutter from your work area. A disorderly work area can hinder your productivity.
Another tip: Only keep out items that you use daily. Everything else should be put in designated areas so they’re quickly retrievable when needed.
7 – Keep a well-lit shop
Pay special attention to lighting. You should have consistent and ample illumination on all work areas so you can work from any angle without casting shadows. This ensures safety and productivity.
- Overhead lighting
- Focused lighting
- On-tool lights
Painting walls and the ceiling white can help diffuse the light.
8 – Keep your blades sharp
Dull tools such as chisels, blades, planes, scrapers and gouges don’t cut cleanly. They tear at the wood fibers resulting in a fuzzy, uneven, unprofessional look.
Tools that have been chipped or nicked require grinding. A bench grinder, wet grinder, or even a belt sander can be used.
Avoid letting your tool get too hot when using a bench grinder or belt sander to prevent it from losing temper. Dipping it in a pan of cool water every few seconds will help.
After grinding, proceed to honing using either a flat wet stone or oil stone. A wet stone is preferred when doing fine woodworking.
The final step is polishing using a fine wet stone, a stropping wheel or leather.
Tools with sharper blades make woodworking easier, more efficient, and safer.
Achieving efficiency in your shop won’t just improve your productivity and help you work faster and easier, it’ll also make you feel accomplished and more satisfied.
Special Thanks to Wagner Meters for Providing This Blog.
Walnut – A Timeless Hardwood Choice
Walnut, a popular, widely available hardwood, has a straight grain and varies in color from a yellow sapwood to a rich, deep brown heartwood. Black Walnut, the most common variety, is grown in the eastern hardwood forests, while English Walnut is grown in California. Walnut is the only dark brown domestic wood.
Common Uses for Walnut
Walnut is a popular choice for furniture, flooring, and countertops, as well as small projects. It is also used in gunstocks because it withstands heavy recoil and does not warp. Many high quality early American furniture was made of walnut. Today, walnut is a favored choice for live edge tables.
Wood Properties of Walnut
Walnut is quite strong, with a score of 1010 on the Janka scale—comparable to cherry. It is moderately heavy and hard and has a fine, open grain, which is generally straight, although it can be irregular. Color can vary widely, even across the same board, from yellow sapwood to deep chocolate brown heartwood. Walnut dries slowly, with little shrinkage. Its rich patina and luster improve with age. Walnut has a high resistance to decay, although it is vulnerable to insect damage. While it still compares favorably in price to exotics, walnut is one of the most expensive domestic hardwoods.
Woodworking with Walnut
Walnut is quite easy to work with as long as it has a straight, regular grain (which it typically does). It works easily with hand and machine tools and nails, screws, and glues well. Walnut also holds stain well and polishes nicely. It is excellent for turning or carving and responds well to steam bending. If less color variation is desired, walnut can be steamed to match the sapwood to the heartwood.
Cool Facts about Walnut
Walnut tree roots release juglone, a toxin that kills other plants growing above them.
Dogs can become ill after eating the husks from black walnuts.
Early American colonists exported walnut wood to England as early as 1610.
The hickories are an important group within the eastern hardwood forests. Botanically, they are split into two groups; the true hickories, and the pecan hickories (fruit bearing). The wood is virtually the same for both and is usually sold together. The sapwood of hickory and pecan is white, tinged with brown while the heartwood is pale to reddish brown. Both are coarse textured and the grain is usually straight but can be wavy or irregular.
Common Uses for Hickory
Hickory is being used more and more for hardwood flooring, furniture, and cabinetry. Lending itself to an attractive rustic look and its hard-wearing properties, hickory is an excellent choice when durability is a key factor. Hardness and durability are key reasons that Hickory has long been popular for tool handles, wooden ladders, dowels, and sporting goods.
Hickory is also often sought after for home projects. The durability and sturdiness of hickory cabinets and hardwood flooring makes hickory a good choice for home and commercial projects. The strength and moisture-resistance of hickory also lend it to use in areas like kitchens, laundry rooms, high-traffic areas, and even children’s bedrooms.
Working with Hickory Wood
The heaviest of American hardwoods, hickory can be difficult to machine and glue, and are very hard to work with hand tools, so care is needed. The wood hold nails and screws well, but with a tendency to split so pre-boring is advised. The wood can be sanded to a good finish. The wood is well-known for its very good strength and shock resistance and also has excellent steam-bending properties. It is extremely tough and resilient, quite hard, but only moderately heavy. Read more on the specific wood qualities of hickory.
Wood Properties of Hickory
Perhaps the most desirable aspect of hickory wood is the unique combination of strength, hardness, and toughness that cannot be found in any other species. It is considered an extremely durable wood, thought to be able to withstand nearly anything. On the Janka scale, hickory comes in at an impressive 1820. That’s about 41% harder than the traditional Red Oak. It is the second hardest hardwood species in North America.
Cool facts about Hickory in History
- In Eastern North America, it survived the catastrophic changes of the Glacial Epoch 50 million years ago, earning the title of first strictly American hardwood species.
- Pioneers heading westward made hickory wagon wheels a prerequisite.
- The Wright brothers whittled hickory for their “flying contraption.”
- Hickory sawdust and chips are used to flavor meat by smoking.
Wood and Moisture: It’s All Biology
The hardwood lumber that you buy at the lumberyard began as a living tree. As a living tree, the trunk of the tree provided a way to transport water from the roots to the leaves. When the tree is cut down that water moving system is still present in that tree and much of that water is still in the lumber when it is first sawn.
Hardwood lumber just cut, referred to as green lumber, can have a moisture content of 40% or more! After hardwood lumber is sawn, it is typically air-dried to around 15% moisture content. Hardwood lumber will be continued to be dried in a kiln to a moisture content of 6-9%.
Wood is hygroscopic, which means just like a sponge the moisture content will change depending on the relative humidity of the surrounding air. When humidity increases, the wood absorbs moisture from the air causing the wood to expand. When the humidity decreases, the wood releases water into the air and the wood shrinks.
What Direction Does Wood Expand In?
When wood expands and contracts because of changes in moisture content, hardwood will move in a predictable way. Wood shrinks most in the direction of the annual growth rings (tangentially), and half as much across the rings (radially), and only slightly along the grain (longitudinally). or from the center of the tree to the outer edge).
Hardwood shrinks most in the direction of the annual growth rings (tangentially), about half as much across the growth rings (radially), and only slightly along the grain (longitudinally).
Flat-sawn boards will cup away from the heart of the tree. The shrinking will occur mostly in its width.
Rift-sawn boards will warp and shrink into a diamond or trapezoidal shape.
Quarter-sawn boards will shrink slightly in both length and width.
What Do I Do About Moisture and Wood Movement?
The solution to this problem is quite simple: don’t stop the wood from moving, but rather account for its movement. With a little bit of knowledge, you can predict the degree of wood movement, and take action to accommodate the movement.
Quarter sawn hardwoods are beautiful and distinctive. The unique look of quarter sawn hardwoods lend itself to an array of design styles, from traditional to modern.
But, when designing with solid quarter sawn hardwoods, it is important to understand how the uniqueness of this wood comes with a limitation in product width.
Why Is Quarter Sawn Lumber Narrow?
In order to obtain the distinctive straight-grained appearance of quarter sawn lumber, logs must be sawn in a different way. The log is first cut in half and then into halves again. After being cut into quarters, each quarter section is placed on the mill in a position so that the annual rings are as close to 90 degrees (perpendicular) to the face of each board as possible when sawn.
By sawing the log in this way, quarter sawn lumber yields more waste and therefore the end result is narrower boards, in comparison to plain sawn lumber sawing methods.
Why is Quarter Sawn Hardwood More Expensive?
Quarter sawn hardwood can command a premium over plain sawn lumber. This is primarily due to a more limited availability of quarter sawn lumber – both because of the lower number of boards made from each log and combined with a much smaller number of suppliers producing this kind of lumber. This limited availability of quarter sawn lumber results in a premium price for this type of lumber.
Is Quarter Sawn Hardwood Worth It?
The principal benefit of the quarter-sawing technique is that all of the grain will be straight, resulting in a more dimensionally stable product. Quarter sawn lumber typically does not warp, twist, or cup. A narrow grain pattern is typically evident on the face of the board. Flecks are generally evident in quarter sawn red oak and white oak, but can also be seen in other species. Read more about quarter sawn wood.
Is Quarter Sawn Wood Still A Green Choice?
Many have asked whether the higher waste involved in making quarter sawn wood result in a product that is less environmentally friendly than traditional lumber. The answer is simple – quarter sawn wood is a sound environmental choice. (Read more on why solid wood is a great design choice for our environment.) Companies who produce quarter sawn lumber use the rest of the log in a variety of ways. Bark can be turned into mulch and wood chips supply paper companies, while sawdust is often used on-site to fuel drying kilns. No part of the log is left unused.