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How are Domestic Species Graded?

In order to determine how a domestic piece of wood is used, the woods appearance must be graded. The grading system in America helps mills determine where to send wood planks and for what uses they are best suited for. Before understanding how domestic species are graded, one must understand the history behind the grading system and how it became what it is today.

History of the Grading System Up until 1897, lumber mills graded wood based on their own individual systems. In 1897, the NHLA, National Hardwood Lumber Association, developed rules to standardize the grading system. The original grading system set up by the NHLA was based upon the number and size of defects in the wood. In the 1930s, the criteria changed. Now the grading system of hardwoods is determined by the size and clarity of defect-free cuttings. The appropriate grade is determined by the poorest face or side of the wood. Sometimes the best face of the wood is also taken into consideration, but this is not always the case. Here is a breakdown of these ratings, and how each grading determines the usage of a piece of lumber.

The Grading System The North American grading system contains eight grades ranging from FAS, the best, to No.3B, the worst. It must be noted that exotic species cannot be graded by this system because each piece must be judged upon certain criteria. Each piece of lumber is given a grade depending on the amount of clear board space without character marks. FAS is the highest grade a piece of lumber can receive, so let's start there.

FAS FAS is an acronym developed by old shorthand, meaning "first and second." Since first and second grade samples were marked with FAS, the acronym has stuck and now represents the best hardwood grade on the market. FAS hardwoods are virtually free of imperfections and defects. Perfection doesn't come without a price, as FAS hardwoods usually sell for roughly $2 per board foot.

No.1 No.1 grade shows some character marks, but has mostly large, clear surfaces. This grade is widely used to make furniture.

No.2A This grade has only slightly more character marks than No.1. It is for this reason this grade is almost always destined for cabinet making, millwork, and other usages that requires medium to short board lengths.

No.2B No.2B shows more stain variations than No.2A and is a great hardwood for painting purposes.

No.3A This grade commonly showcases a lot of character marks. The abundance of character makes it difficult to cut a single plank without defects; therefore, this grade is commonly used for hardwood flooring and pallet making.

No.3B Since this grade of wood has so many marks, it is largely undesirable. No.3B is usually only used in the making of pallets and wood crates.

The grading system is solely dependent on appearances; it is important to remember that all grades are equally strong and can be used for almost any application when so desired.