General Wood Knowledge

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Hardwood lumber grades and grading rules have been established and are governed by the National Hardwood Lumber Association or NHLA. Flooring grades have been set and are maintained by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association or NOFMA.

NHLA grading system

Sawmills and their customers use the NHLA grading system, which describes the amount of usable clear material in a board. Boards with the highest grade—FAS—are long, wide and free of character marks. Select boards may contain slight character marks such as pinholes or small tight knots. The NHLA grading system includes:

FASNo. 1 Common
SELECTNo. 2 Common
No. 3 Common

NOFMA grading system

The NOFMA standards grade oak and other species of flooring. This system is appearance-based with grades determined by the occurrence of character marks. These grades include:

FASNo. 1 Common
SELECTNo. 2 Common

Clear and Select grades are further identified by the sawing method. NOFMA also has separate grading standards for pre-finished flooring–Prime, Standard and Tavern.


Hardwood logs become lumber by one of several sawing methods. Each gives hardwood boards a distinct grain pattern, along with performance characteristics you need to consider when specifying.

Plain-Sawn Lumber: cutting tangentially to a tree’s growth rings produces these boards. That creates the familiar “flame-shaped” or “cathedral” grain found in most hardwood flooring and millwork. This sawing method also produces the most lumber from each log, making it a cost-effective design choice.

Quarter-Sawn Lumber: This method means cutting a log radially, or 90-degree angle to the growth rings. This produces vertical graining, and results in fewer and narrower boards per log, which increases costs. Quarter-sawn boards are popular for decorative applications such as cabinet faces and wainscoting.

Rift-Sawn Lumber: Rift sawing at a 30-degree or greater angle to the growth rings produces narrow boards with accentuated vertical or straight grain patterns. These boards are often favored for fine furniture and other applications where matching grain is important. Rift-sawn lumber is available in limited quantities and species.


Consider pre-finished or site-finished wood products for bathroom floors, tub surrounds, cabinetry and moldings. Oak, maple, cherry, ash, walnut and hickory are favored for bathroom applications. They are especially moisture-stable, strong, hard, durable and shock-resistant.

Pre-Finished hardwoods

Are recommended for many bathroom applications. Their shop-quality finishes are attractive and highly moisture resistant. They are more expensive, but less demanding in terms of skill level and site preparation. Most bathroom cabinetry, for example, is installed pre-finished due to its intricacies.

Site-Finished hardwoods

Are still preferred by many builders because of the lower material cost and higher degree of project control. Recent progress in water-resistant finishes has made site finishing increasingly popular for major bathroom applications, such as built-ins and tub surrounds, as well as flooring and millwork.

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