Hardwood Flooring Grade Differences (They do Exist!)


Forgive me for not having a blog post sooner, things have been busy around here with us trying to have great deals on flooring for you!  I wanted to bring up something today that I think is very important for hardwood flooring customers to know.  Remember, the better informed you are, the happier you will be with your purchase. 

When it comes to hardwood flooring, there are different grades.  Different grades have different characteristics and coloring variations.  The grades that we at Lumber Liquidators deal most with are Select, Natural, Rustic, and Utility.  Select has the most uniform color with no large knots and the longest average length of planks.  This is not to say there won’t be a blemish here or there or short boards. We also say to estimate a waste factor of 5% for domestic woods and 10% for exotics for Select, Natural, and Rustic Grades. Natural Grade has some color variation, mineral coloring, and small knots.  Rustic Grade has larger tight knots and the most color variation.  It’s a great choice when character marks and contrasting appearance are desired.  Utility will have defects, knots, open knots, missing tongues, machine burns, splits in the wood, and short pieces.  This is a good low cost option.  Expect a waste percentage of 20% or greater.  

One other product which isn’t a grade, per-se, is Odd Lots.  Odd Lots, simply put, are factory seconds which are sold as-is.

Want more detail?  Here are the different grades along with detailed descriptions of them.  For Select, Natural, and Rustic, I have included pictures of our Bellawood Red Oak so you can see how the different grades may vary for the same species.  But please remember, your computer may render these pictures differently on your computer than what they look like in real life.  Before you make a decision, we recommend either ordering samples or visiting your local store to find what you like best.

Select – Also referred to as Clear or First Grade

Select Red Oak

Select Grade flooring contains natural characteristics such as small knots an minor color variations produced by differences in natural heartwood and sapwood; however, has a more uniform color and longer average plank lengths compared to Natural Grade flooring products.

Specific characteristics of Select Grade products will vary by wood species.  They typically include such things as slight imperfections in milling, slight variations in face-work which can be readily removed by an ordinary method of sanding, occasional small, tight pin knots or small pin holes, burls, and a reasonable amount of slightly open checks.  Select Grade pre-finished flooring will have a plank face that is practically free of most finishing defects including debris, skips, streaks, blisters, chipping, or scratches.  When assembled, Select Grade flooring should not exhibit gaps exceeding 0.025" or end/side over-wood (e.g. height variation between adjacent boards) exceeding 0.020".

Natural – Also referred to as First or Second Grade, Millrun or #1 Common

Natural Red Oak

Natural Grade flooring contains distinct variations in coloration and varying wood characters.  Natural Grade flooring will have a slightly longer average plank length compared to Rustic Grade products.

Specific characteristics of Natural grade flooring will vary widely by wood species.  Typically these include minor imperfections in milling, imperfections in face-work which cannot be wholly removed by an ordinary method of sanding, slight variations in angle of end matching, varying wood characteristics such as spots, streaks, slightly open checks, and pin/work holes, small splits, broken knots or knot holes, and shallow back.  Natural Grade pre-finished flooring will have a plank face that is free of most finishing imperfection, however, may contain a limited amount of minor blemishes including but not limited to light grainy surface/debris, bubbles, streaks, uncoated bevel, finish chipping, dents, or equivalent type characters.  When assembled, Natural Grade flooring should not exhibit gaps exceeding 0.031" or end/side over-wood exceeding 0.030".

Rustic – Also referred to as Third Grade or #2 Common

Rustic Red Oak

The purpose of Rustic Grade flooring is to produce a floor suitable for homes, general utility use, or where character marks and contrasting appearance is desired.  Rustic Grade flooring has a lower average plank length than Natural Grade flooring.

Rustic Grade flooring may contain all natural variations in coloration and sound wood characters except severe defects such as shattered or rotten ends, badly split ends, shake, advanced rot, or severe milling imperfections which would materially impair the serviceability of the floor.  Knot holes and open characters which can be readily filled are admitted.  Rustic Grade pre-finished flooring may have a plank face that contains a limited amount of finishing imperfections including but not limited to light/moderate grainy surface, debris, streaks, uncoated bevel, dents/scratches, lipped ends, or orange peel/ropey finish.  Finish skips are not permitted.  When assembled, Rustic Grade flooring should not exhibit gaps exceeding 0.031" or end/side over-wood exceeding 0/030". 

Utility – Also referred to as Cabin or Tavern Grade. 

This product comes in square edge or v-groove and may be mixed product.  Will have defects, knots, open knots, missing tongues, machine burns, splits in the wood, and short pieces (8"-12").  No returns allowed.  Cabin, tavern, or utility grade hardwood can provide a low-cost option in hardwood.  When purchasing this grade, be sure to add 20%-25% waste to complete the project.

Utility Grade flooring will contain significant variation in wood coloration and character.  Such imperfection s should still provide a serviceable floor.  Utility Grade has the lowest average board length of all standard wood grades.

Utility Grade flooring will admit a limited amount of unfilled and unfinished open characters including open knots, splits, or cracks.  Severely mis-manufactured boards, shattered or rotten ends, pieces with less than 1/4 tongue, or other unsound defects of a similar nature are typically not permitted.  Utility Grade pre-finished flooring will contain a limited amount of pieces with finish irregularities including, but not limited to bubbles, finish skips or lines, severe streaks, stain/color variation, surface handling scratches, and grainy surface/debris.  When assembled, Utility grade flooring may exhibit gapping that exceeds 0.031" and end/side over-wood that exceeds 0.030".

Odd Lots – Odd Lot flooring is factory seconds, sold as-is.  It is possible that more than 50% of the material may contain one or more milling, grading, or finishing defects including but not limited to severley mis-milled boards, mis-graded boards, warp, wood characters including holes, splits, cracks, severe color variation that is not typical for the wood species, missing or off-color stain, missing/improperly cured finish, severe grainy surface/debris, chips, blisters, scratches, and peeling finish.  All sales of Odd Lot products are final, product returns are not permitted.



  1. I really like the look of the natural floor. Do you provide hardwood flooring in phoenix? It’s about time for me to get a new floor and I have been convinced that I need to get a hardwood floor. They just look so nice.

  2. Hi Liam, there are so many hardwoods to choose from it can be difficult to decide! If you visit or call one of our stores, a sales associate can help you determine the best floor for your specific home and needs. Two of our most popular floors are Brazilian Cherry and Tobacco Road Acacia. Thanks for your inquiry!

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