hardwood lumber

What are Hardwood Lumber Grades Anyway?

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.

lumbergrade

A lumber grader inspects lumber to designate a lumber grade.

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:

  1. Determine species.
  2. Calculate the Surface Measure (SM).
  3. Determine the poor side of the board.
  4. 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.

  1. Once the grade is determined, check for any special features such as sapwood or heartwood cuttings for special color sorts.
  2. Sort to bundles according to buyer and seller specifications.

 

 

For a full illustrated guide to the various grades.

Learn more about NHLA.

Wood Highlight: American Walnut

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.

walnutwoodgrainWood 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.

walnutwoodenlampWoodworking 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.

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