November 17, 2022

Your Ultimate Guide to Hardwood Flooring Cuts and Grades

In 2022, style and authenticity are everything for the remodeling industry. One of the best ways homeowners and remodelers keep up with the trends is through hardwood flooring installation. While durability and longevity are their best assets, many also choose these floors because of their appearance. Contrary to what most believe, the look of hardwood planks differs not only from their species but more from their grade and cut. Identifying these two factors is essential to find the most suitable hardwood planks for your home or office. Learn more about flooring grades and cuts before starting your flooring project.

The Importance of Grades and Cuts

There are several reasons why aspiring hardwood floor owners need to know about grades and cuts. Flooring grades are one of the major factors that influence the appearance of any hardwood plank or boards. Most, if not all, hardwood flooring available in the U.S have grades according to the standards set by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA). These standards help create a consistent quality of Oak flooring across the country. Nowadays, they use it for virtually grading all hardwood flooring and are promoted by the National Hardwood Flooring Association (NWFA).

Although the NOFMA grading system is more related to the guidelines for all hardwood lumber, it focuses on the appearance of the lack of certain characteristic marks. The NOFMA grades often indicate what buyers can expect their hardwood to look like instead of its quality, stability, and hardness.

Hardwood Flooring Grades

The basis of the grading system for hardwood floors is the number of natural characteristics present in the piece of lumber. They can be knot holes, mineral streaks, or tone variations and can range from a clear to a rustic grade. Each grade can showcase minimal wood markings or an array of characteristics and variations.

Clear Grade

Clear-grade hardwood planks are lumber pieces that allow natural color variations with few character marks and limited color variety. These strips or boards have an infinite variable grain pattern and the least number of markings and tones to distract its overall look.

Select Grade/ Cleaner Overall Grade

This grade contains all the color varieties that come from the contrast differences between heartwood and sapwood. They also include limited character marks like little knots, worm holes, and mineral streaks. Hardwood floors in this grade combine light and dark lumber with tiny characters and color distractions.

No. 1 Common

These are hardwood floorings with prominent color variations and characters like knots, checks, and wormholes. They can also include machining and drying marks. While buyers can expect noticeable variations in No. 1 Common planks, the marks and tones have limited sizes.

No. 2 Common

Hardwood planks that contain natural sound and manufacturing variations, markings, and colors are No. 2 Common. The hardwood in this grade is most suitable for buyers preferring a contrast of character marks and color.

Mill Run

The Mill Run is a blend of several grades consisting of Nos. 1 and 2 Common with a mix of select grades. Mill Run-graded hardwood floors happen when the mill can't sort them during the cut. After thorough quality control, they get packed randomly to show all the natural beauty of the wood.

Utility Grade

Utility Grades offers rustic-looking hardwood floors with many imperfections. They can have shattered or rotten ends, huge broken knots, or excessive bad milling work. The average length of utility-grade floor boards is shorter than higher grades and can have more unusual sizes. Homeowners availing of these wooden floorings should prepare for more work in its installation. Unlike other levels, professional advice is essential when buying them.

Common Hardwood Flooring Cuts and Marks

Cuts and marks are lumber features that give each hardwood a unique look and add to its character. Some planks and strips can have several cuts and marks in different sizes, while others have distinctive markings and tone variety.


These are dense, round spots that form at the base of branches or twigs. Hardwood floorings have “sound” knots. While the knot distracts the wood grain, the board remains smooth and complete. Buyers can deal with open knots by filling them with wood putty before finishing their installation.


Mineral streaks are the results of mineral deposits in a tree’s rings. Depending on the wood species, they can also be gum streaks or darkened areas due to the tree’s sap. These are long, thin areas having different colors due to the presence of minerals.


These marks are little imperfections in the faces of hardwood boards from worms making their way into the tree. Although most wormholes are a quarter-inch wide, bigger grubs can make grub holes or virtual trenches. While you can fill them with putty, many homeowners leave them open for rustic-style designs.

Plain/Flat Sawn

These are the most common lumber available and inexpensive manufacturing methods on the market. Plain-sawn-cut lumber displays a cathedral pattern on the wooden board’s face.

Quartered Sawn

These hardwood flooring cuts have great straight-grained patterns that can also work as a part of a design. In every cutting, logs get sawn at a radial angle into four quarters. In some hardwood species, dramatic flecking is present.

Live Sawn/ French Cut

Live-sawn cuts are a combination of each sawn type. Because of that, these hardwood planks have more stability and offer more unique graining mixtures popular across Europe. These often come from a natural-grade wood that allows knots and other markings to provide homes with an antique look and feel.

Getting to Know Hardwood Flooring Grades and Cuts

Species and quality are not the only factors affecting a hardwood flooring’s appearance. While they can influence certain features and markings on each plank or strip, grades and cuts affect their look more than the rest. Knowing the differences between each cut and grade is critical. They can help you find which hardwood best fits your general style or design.

Get a consultation for your hardwood floorings in Austin today with Kelly Hardwood Floors!