A Guide to Wood Flooring Grades

Understanding the different grades of wood flooring can be confusing. To clarify, the grade of the wood floor will depict how the wood looks for the style you are wanting to achieve. At WoodCo, we describe the wood flooring grades starting with the cleanest. Therefore, grading, in order, goes from clear, select, character, to rustic. Though you may already have a picture in your mind of what all these wood floor grades look like, let’s dive a little deeper into the definition of each one.

Clear Grade

A mostly heartwood flooring product that allows all the natural heartwood color variations with minimal character marks and limited color variation. This combination features the infinitely variable grain patterns with the minimal distraction from character marks and color variation. (NWFA/NOFMA, n.d.)

Clear grade means that almost all the natural marking in the wood have been cut out and removed and is therefore gives the cleanest looking flooring. In the reclaimed woods, there will be very few small nail holes and zero bolt holes in the wood. This grade of wood is often used in minimalist designs and contemporary spaces.

Select Grade

Contains all the variations in coloration produced by the contrasting differences of heartwood and sapwood. Also included are minimal character marks, such as small knots, worm holes, and mineral streaks, as well as slightly open characters. The combination creates a floor where the light sapwood and dark heartwood are combined with small characters and other small color interruptions. (NWFA/NOFMA, n.d.)

Select grade is a common grade for many wood floors, wall, and furniture applications. There will be almost zero knots (with only an occasional pin knot) and minimal checking in the boards. In the reclaimed woods, there will be small tight knots, minimal nail holes and zero bolt holes in the wood. This grade of wood flooring portrays a natural looking floor that is still very clean.

Character Grade

A flooring product characterized by prominent color variation that also contains prominent characters (with size limits) such as knots, open checks, worm holes, along with machining and drying variations. Character grade is a tasteful floor where prominent variation is expected. (NWFA/NOFMA, n.d.)

Character grade is currently our most popular grade of wood flooring as it has a good balance of the natural markings in each board. This grade will include mixed grains, cathedral patterns, and some more unique swirly grain patterns. Knots are common throughout the boards and any holes are considered fillable. There will be check marks and other natural marks throughout. In the reclaimed woods, there will be nail holes and small bolt holes in the wood.

Rustic Grade

Contains sound natural and manufacturing variations including knot holes, open worm holes, and other open characters along with prominent color variations. Manufacturing variations include drying characters and machining irregularities. Rustic grade flooring is most desirable for applications where numerous notable character marks and prominent color contrast is desired. (NWFA/NOFMA, n.d.)

As you may guess from the name, this grade of flooring will have a lot of character. You will see a lot of grain variation -- from straight to swirly. The colors will tend to vary, from the blonds to the golden browns, although this will also depend on your wood species. There will be a wide variety of knots in this grade, including open ones. In the reclaimed woods, there will be nail holes and bolt holes.


Because of the random growth patterns of trees, there will be multiple grades in each piece of lumber before it is cut and milled. To get a select grade floor you must defect the wood which means to cut out the areas that does not make the grade. As you move down the scale to the rustic grades you do not need to cut as much out, leaving more scope for longer lengths and wider widths. If you plan to stain the wood, the more select grades will tend to give you more even coloring. The grading of the wood does not affect the durability or strength, it is simply a visual aspect. Because less wood must be defected to make the grade, the price will tend to decrease in price with the more character you leave in.

Sometimes the floor that you need for your space does not fit exactly into one of these grade categories. If this is the case, let us know, we can customize almost all aspects of your flooring project needs.

If you are not sure what grade is right for your project, do not hesitate to contact us. Our friendly wood experts are available to discuss the grade of flooring that is best for you. Give us a call at (210) 298-9663, we look forward to helping you enhance your design with our expertise and personalized service.

Works Cited

NWFA/NOFMA. (n.d.). NWFA/NOFMA Grade Photos. Retrieved from NWFA: https://nwfa.org/nofma-grade-photos/ 

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