Understanding how lumber grading works & how it affects your project
In the late 1800’s, the original founders of the NHLA (National Hardwood Lumber Association) created a specific grading system for North American hardwoods. This grading system quickly established the quality of board lumber, as well as how much clear wood is available in each board.
If you are a contractor and have ever been faced with making quality decisions for lumber, you may quickly become confused at terms such as FAS. While much of the original grading system was developed around the furniture making industry and their specifications, this grading system can help an educated buyer decide what quality they need, as well as help when considering prices. Oftentimes a customer only assumes that the highest quality wood will be sold to him, yet a lower quality wood may work just fine for his project, and the lower quality wood could save him money.
So, what is FAS anyway? FAS stands for Firsts and Seconds, which is considered the most expensive, highest quality board available. This type of board will be 6 inches by 8 feet (minimum size) with a yield of between 83%-100% clear wood and is often used for projects requiring long, wider, and/or clear cuttings. Used often for high quality furniture, it can also be used for cabinetry and mouldings, as well as trim work. FAS 1 Face and Select follows the same stipulations as FAS, but the board size can be smaller at 4 inches by 6 feet.
No. 1 Common is another grading term often used for wood that is 3 inches by 4 feet minimum size and will have at least a 66.66% minimum clear yield. Number 2 and 3 Common is the same size, with only a 50% minimum clear yield.
So, what exactly does a Clear yield mean? Clear yield is essentially the amount of lumber that can be cut that is free of defects that are recognized in the NHLA grading system. Some of the defects that will affect a clear yield size include knots of any kind, rot or decay, bird markings, worm holes, pith, wane, checks/splits or bark pockets, and even sticker stain from air or kiln drying processes.
When any of these defects are spotted on a board, then the clear yield is definitely lower. The size of board that you can obtain with a clear cutting is affected by the presence of any of these defects, which, in turn, lower the grading of the board wood.
While the following listed features definitely affect the appearance of the wood, they do not affect the cutting sizes: sticker marks that are removed with a planing procedure, mineral or gum streaks, burl, and sapwood to heartwood transitions. In fact, some of these features may even make the wood more desirable, particularly the sapwood to heartwood transitions, making it a beautiful, richer option for a builder.
When considering grade, you must first consider the final product that you are attempting to build. While some pieces of wood may never reach the FAS grade, many furniture builders love a beautiful knot and may even design an entire piece around that one defect; while the knot may affect that particular piece of wood’s grading, the knot offers a beautiful uniqueness. However, a floor contractor or window builder would not choose such a piece of wood because the defect would not achieve the same unique purpose but would look inconsistent or unstable.
Ultimately, there are a few variances that affect your wood buying experience. An educated buyer, who has a basic understanding of the grading system and also has the ability to speak in detail with their lumber distributor, will have a much better experience and outcome than someone who just calls and asks for 100 board feet of FAS wood. This grading system can be used as a jumping off point for a conversation between buyer and seller. However, by discussing in detail what the product will be used for and what defects will be acceptable, the buyer will end up with the exact product needed for their project. J. Gibson McIlvain Company works hard to offer the best product to the customer based on their individual needs, whatever they may be.