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Article: Lumber Grades

Lumber Grades & Ways Lumber Is Priced & Sold, Author Johnny W. Morlan: In this article I will not go into explaining the rules of grading hardwood or softwood lumber as they are very complicated and lengthy. I will list the grades that are sold, the dimensions that are available and the ways retailers price and sell lumber. Johnny J W Morlan
January 20 2004

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Lumber Grades & Ways Lumber Is Priced & Sold
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In this article I will not go into explaining the rules of grading hardwood or softwood lumber as they are very complicated and lengthy. I will list the grades that are sold, the dimensions that are available and the ways retailers price and sell lumber. ;

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Hardwood Lumber Grades
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In 1897 the National Hardwood Lumber Association {NHLA} was established to regulate hardwood lumber grading. Hardwood lumber grading does not require having a license to grade or even to be certified. Hardwood lumber does not have a system of stamps and symbols indicating to the consumer what grade of lumber it is. The grade is determined by how much clear surface {knot free, clear cuttings} of area is on the worst face side. It is almost always expressed by a certain percentage and is called the yield. The thickness {edges} are never used in determining the grade, only the two face sides of the lumber. There have been only minute changes in the rules of the NHLA since the 1930's. ;

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The clear cuttings of a board may not have the following peculiarities that are considered a defect, bark pockets, bird pecks, checks, decay {rot}, neither sound or unsound knots, splits, sticker stains, wanes, worm holes, piths or grub holes. ;

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Today There Are Basically
Eight Hardwood Lumber Grades Used.
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FAS "First & Seconds" - Yield At Least 83 1/3%
Minimum 6 Inches x 8 Foot
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I only buy FAS grade lumber. The yield is almost always 95% - 100%. ;

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This is the best grade. You can buy this grade with different surface, rough and planed combinations. For instance, both the faces and both edges will be planed {2S2E or 4S}, both faces planed and the two edges not planed {rough} {2S}, both faces planed with one edge planed, and the other edge not planed {rough} {2S1E}, both edges planed with one face planed and the other face not planed {rough} {1S2E} and last but not least both faces and both edges not planed {rough} {Roughsawn}. Some retailers take the FAS stock, plane it if needed, then sand all four surfaces, then mark and sell it as A, AA, AAA and AAAA lumber. The 4A being the finest, {almost flawless} that you can buy. ;

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FAS 1-Face {F1F} - Yield At Least 83 1/3%
Minimum 6 Inches x 8 Foot
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Select {Northern}, 1-Face {Southern} - Yield At Least 83 1/3%
Graded The Same As FAS.
Minimum 4 Inches x 6 Foot
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The better face is FAS and the poor face No. 1 Common. The price is about the same as FAS.
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No. 1 Common, Common, No. 1 - Yield At Least 66 2/3%
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Standard furniture grade.
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No. 2A Common, No. 2 Common - Yield At Least 50%
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Used as a standard grade for cabinets and millwork.
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No. 2B Common - Yield 33 1/3% - 50%
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Used as a standard paint grade.
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No. 3A Common - Yield At Least 33 1/3%
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Flooring and pallets. No. 3A common is sometimes mixed with No. 3B Common and sold as No. 3 Common
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No. 3B Common - Yield At Least 25%
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Used for pallets and crating
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Softwood Lumber Grades
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The American Softwood Lumber Standard PS 20-99, which went into effect September 1, 1999 is what most softwood lumber in the United States is graded by. A lot of softwood lumber that comes from Canada into the US is also graded by this standard. Because of how strong each piece of wood has to be and the safety factors involved in construction you have to be certified and licensed to grade softwood lumber. ;

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Softwood lumber has two groups, construction and remanufacture. Construction grade lumber can be further split up into three categories, stress graded, no stress graded and appearance. Appearance and no stress grade lumber is commonly called yard lumber and is what is usually sold at retail lumberyards and is what a lot of woodworkers use. With stress and no stress the most important factor is how strong the piece of lumber is. With appearance it is how aesthetically pleasing the piece looks. Like hardwoods, softwoods are also graded by the worst face. Unlike hardwoods, softwoods are always stamped with the grade. ;

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The grades, Appearance Lumber Finish & Appearance Lumber Selects below can be quite confusing. The names of grades are actually an option given the lumber grading agencies and thus are not standardized throughout the United States. ;

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In my own experience, I have bought Sugar Pine Appearance Lumber Selects graded B&BTR {B and Better} and it was better than the so called Sugar Pine Appearance Lumber Finish graded B&BTR {B and Better} that another lumberyard had across town. I have also bought 12" wide D Select Sugar Pine, that was perfect on both sides and should of been graded at the least, B&BTR {B and Better} ;

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Appearance Lumber Finish
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Used For Making Fine Quality Softwood Furniture
Or Projects Using A Natural Finish.
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The best grade of appearance lumber is Finish. It is split up into grades designated by letters, combination of letters and names, such as Superior, Prime, B&BTR {B and Better}, C, and D. There is also a grade called S4S {surfaced on all four sides}. ;

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Appearance Lumber Selects
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A, A Select, B, B Select & B&BTR {B and Better}
Can Be Used For Making Fine Quality Softwood Furniture
Or Projects Using A Natural Finish.
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Selects is the next best grade of appearence lumber and is designated mostly by letters and names A, B, C, D, A Select, B Select C Select D Select. A and A Select being the best grade, and D and D Select the worst. A lot of times A and B, A Select and B Select are united, and then sold under the grade of B&BTR {B and Better}. ;

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A & A Select
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Does not have any knots, splits, or other visible defects. Supposedly perfect. Used for fine furniture, exposed cabinetry, trim, flooring. ;

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B & B Select
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Has a few, small defects but nearly perfect. Used for fine furniture, exposed cabinetry, trim, flooring. ;

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C & C Select
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Has small tight pin size knots. May be nearly perfect on one side. Used for mostly furniture, shelving, some trim and flooring. ;

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D & D Select
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Has more numerous pin sized knots and more small blemishes. May be used for some furniture, shelving, trim and flooring. ;

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There are some variations pertaining to particular species such as Cedar and Redwood, their grade names are Clear All Heart, Clear and Select. Some appearance lumber will have FG for flat grain, VG for vertical grain and MX for mixed grain. ;

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Stress Lumber {Dimensional}
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With this grade, the numbers and letters are standardized throughout the US. The grades for 2" x 4" or wider lumber are in descending order Select Structural, No.1, No. 2, No.3, No. 2&BTR {2 and Better} and No. 3&BTR {3 and Better}. The grades for posts, beams, timbers and such are Select Structural, No. 1 Structural {Douglas Fir}, No. 1 SR {southern pine}, No. 2 SR {southern pine}. ;

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No Stress Lumber {Common}
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The grades in this group are No.1 Construction, No. 2 Standard and No. 3 Utility, No. 4 and No. 5 economy. ;

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Ways Lumber Is Sold & Priced
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Hardwood lumber is sold a little differently than softwood. Some species are not only available and sold kiln dried but also air dried. Yes, hardwood lumber is sold primarily by the board foot 12" x 12" x 1" {144 cubic inches}. Some lumber is sold by the pound such as Snakewood, Pink Ivory, Amboyna Burl, Afzelia Burl and numerous other burls. Certain retailer's sell hardwood lumber priced by the lineal foot, some retailer's even price it by the lineal inch and some on the internet sell it by units of 1/10th. of a board foot. If you want 2 board foot, you order 20 units, 1 1/2 board foot, you order 15 units, so on and so forth. ;

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With softwood lumber when you pay for 4/4, you actually get 3/4" thick dressed out and with 8/4 you get 1 1/2" dressed out. This is not necessarily true with hardwood. I have received 4/4 thick lumber {2S} that ranged from exactly 3/4" thick all the way up to 1 1/16" thick and 8/4 thick lumber {2S} that ranged from 1 3/4" thick up to 2 1/16" thick. For example you can buy one board foot of Rosewood from one retailer for $20 and it will be 3/4" thick, then you go to another retailer and find the same species of Rosewood runs $25.00 per board foot but find out the thickness is a full 1". ;

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Some retailers sell the more used hardwoods such as Oak, Walnut, Cherry, Mahogany, Cocobolo Rosewood and Purpleheart, 1/8", 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" thick, in lengths up to 6 foot and surfaced {planed} all 4 sides {S4}. ;

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Because of the many different species of hardwood that are available, time and space does not allow me to actually go into the different dimensions that one may purchase. They vary so widely and are always changing with each particular species. ;

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You can purchase burls weighing from a few pounds to over 1200 pounds in some species and slabs from 18" through 30" wide x 48" through 72" long x 1 1/2" through 4" thick to make tables out of. When ordering hardwood lumber be sure to specify widths and lengths, otherwise it will come in random widths and lengths. The extra charge for specifying widths and lengths varies greatly from one retailer to another. It can run from 5% all the way up to 25% per board foot. ;

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Softwood lumber in the majority of lumber yards and home centers is usually sold by the piece. The price per piece is figured by using a board foot price. I have also seen softwood lumber sold by the lineal foot. Softwood lumber is always kiln dried. 1" softwood lumber comes in widths of 2", 4", 6", 8", 10", 12" with lengths up to 16' { 2' increments}. 2" and thicker comes in widths of 2", 4", 6", 8" 10" and 12" with lengths sometimes of up to 24' depending on the species. Softwood 4/4 is 3/4" thick and 8/4 is 1 1/2" thick. 1" x 4" is actually 3/4" x 3 1/2", 1" x 6" is 3/4" x 5 1/2", 2" x 4" is 1 1/2" x 3 1/2". ;

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Acknowledgements & References
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National Hardwood Lumber Association {NHLA}
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American Softwood Lumber Standard PS 20-99


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