Hardwood lumber supplier, J. Gibson McIlvain uses nationally recognized, industry-standard grading systems used by the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) and others; however, we see these systems as more of a starting point than the final word regarding lumber quality.
One reason for our determination to avoid relying solely on such grading systems is that they were originally developed for use by the furniture industry, which was once the primary consumer of lumber. While we certainly do not deny the merit of such systems, we do consider their shortcomings, particularly relating to projects requiring architectural millwork and other applications requiring long runs.
Regardless of its limitations, the grading system developed by the NHLA is an industry-wide standardized system, even forming the basis of many international hardwood lumber supplier standards. The widespread use of the NHLA system makes understanding its basic guidelines helpful to those in the building or furniture-making industries.
The NHLA holds to eight basic hardwood lumber grades, with the higher-graded lumber having larger clear areas than the lower-graded wood. To determine a board’s grade, the poorest face is used, regardless of its thickness. From highest to lowest, below is a brief description of each grade:
Once short-hand for “First and Seconds,” this is top-quality hardwood lumber. Most FAS lumber in the U.S., when kiln-dried, is sold for over $2 per board foot, wholesale.
2. FAS 1-Face (F1F)
This select lumber has one face that can be graded FAS and must be 6 inches wide or wider. This grade is often exported or used in the southern parts of the U.S.
This wood has one face that grades as FAS but the other side as No. 1 Common. Note that the price of F1F and Select lumber tends to match that of FAS. This grade is also exported routinely but is also commonly used in the northern part of the U.S.
4. No. 1 Common
Also referred to simply as “Common” or “No. 1,” this lumber is standard furniture grade.
5. No. 2A Common
Also known as just “No. 2 Common,” this lumber is the standard grade used for millwork and cabinets. It can also be used for some furniture.
6. No. 2B Common
Similar to 2A Common, except for coloring defects, this grade of lumber is perfect for painting.
7. No. 3A Common
Sometimes this is combined with No. 3B Common, and it’s used most often for pallets and flooring applications.
8. No. 3B Common
The lowest grade of lumber, this wood is graded based on sound cuttings, not clear cuttings. It is used to make crates and pallets.
By understanding the basics of the NHLA grading system, you’ll be better equipped to understand the pricing and quality of the hardwood lumber that you buy. J. Gibson McIlvain particularly strives to provide exceptional quality FAS hardwood lumber for long-run millwork applications.