Examining some of the most common grades of hardwood lumber.
The grading standard established by the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) has been in place since 1898. While the hardwood lumber industry has undergone many changes, the same basic standards set over a century ago are largely still in place. While we can argue over the suitability of some of the NHLA standards for particular species or uses, having a standardized classification system in place is undeniably helpful. Being able to easily communicate a board’s quality and the amount of clear wood in each board in universally recognized terms is not something to take for granted. While the current system is limited to North American hardwood species, its helpfulness cannot be overstated.
At its inception, the NHLA focused on the furniture industry, then the leading consumers of hardwood lumber. That fact explains why some of the grading qualifications may not correspond as easily to the needs of other industries. For starters, both First and Seconds (FAS) and Common grades specify a certain amount of clear wood. In addition, all grades have minimum requirements of a particular percentage of clear wood, allowing some 100% boards to be classified as something other than FAS.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common grades.
In order to achieve an FAS classification, both faces of a board must be at least 6 inches by 8 feet, with a minimum cutting size of 4 inches by 5 feet or 3 inches by 7 feet. Its yield must be a minimum of 83.33%.
2. FAS 1 Face and Select
Not one of the original grades established, this classification provides separate treatment of a board with one face exhibiting FAS quality while the other meets requirements for No. 1 Common grade or better. In order to attain “Select” status, the minimum board size is 4 inches by 6 feet.
3. No. 1 Common
With a minimum board size of 3 inches by 4 feet and cutting size of 4 inches by 2 feet or 3 inches by 3 feet, the minimum yield is 66.66%.
4. No. 2 & 3 Common
The minimum board size here is 3 inches by 4 feet, with a cutting size of at least 3 inches by 2 feet, and the minimum yield is 50%.
In “Hardwood Lumber Grading, Part 2,” we’ll look at how so-called defects can spice up the system, but for now, let’s at least understand that the system is not perfect; not all FAS boards are created equal. Instead, the system operates as a starting point for negotiations and communications between buyers and sellers. While it might seem like a more thorough grading system would be helpful, not all industries that utilize lumber have the same priorities, so no system would ever be perfect. While the NHLA system certainly helps, buyers still need to communicate their needs and planned end uses to suppliers in order to ensure that the lumber they purchase meets their needs.