American Hardwood Information Center

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Lumber Grades

You can use accepted industry standards and grading systems to describe the look you and your customer want, and the best way to achieve it within the budget.

Hardwood lumber grades and grading rules have been established and are governed by the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA).

The NHLA grading system, which is used by buyers and sellers of hardwood lumber, describes the amount of "usable" clear material in a board. The highest grade boards are long, wide and free of defects.

Boards featuring character marks are not premium grade, but they are preferred for built-ins and many other applications because they add character and visual interest. They're also a great choice for applications where wood will be painted or not be visible. Higher grades of lumber, which have few, if any, character marks, generally are preferred for applications such as fine tabletops and cabinet doors.

For a built-in desk and bookcase, for example, specify upper-grade hardwoods for visible areas, such as the desktop and cabinet doors. Build non-visible areas - sides and interior shelves - from a variety of species in No. 1 Common, a lower-cost, intermediate grade priced less than FAS.

See 22 Species in 4 Virtual Stains in our Species Guide.

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