When selecting hardwood for your next woodworking project, consider the size of the boards required. In many situations, smaller boards or lower grades are a more economical choice than the higher grades if small, clear pieces are required. For those less familiar with buying hardwood lumber, grades can be a little confusing.
Most lumber companies use the generally accepted grading rules set by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Grades are based on the amount of usable clear material in a board. The highest grade boards are FAS and Select, followed by #1 Common and #2 Common. What grade you choose depends on your project.
Some DIY projects may dictate the highest grade available. Many other projects are just as easily adapted to #1 Common (often referred to as cabinet grade) – kitchen cabinet doors, smaller projects and items where some character is acceptable, like pieces built from reclaimed materials and live edge slab lumber.
The standard hardwood lumber grades are summarized below:
Firsts and Seconds (FAS)
The best and most expensive grade. Boards 6″ and wider, 8′ and longer. Yields 83-1/3 percent of clear face cuttings with minimum sizes of 4″ x 5′, or 3″ x 7′. Board is graded from the poorer face. Suitable for fine furniture, cabinetry and applications where clear, wide boards are needed.
FAS One Face(F1F)
The same as FAS except the board is graded from the better face.
Face side is FAS, back side is No. 1 Common. Boards are 4″ and wider, 6′ and longer. Yields 83-1/3 percent clear face cuttings with minimum sizes of 4″ x 5′, or 3″ x 7′. A cost effective substitute for FAS when only one good face is required or smaller cuttings are acceptable.
No. 1 Common
A typical thrift or “shop” grade. Boards are 3″ and wider, 4′ and longer. Yields 66-2/3 percent clear face cuttings with minimum sizes of 4″ x 2′, or 3″ x 3′. Provides good value, especially if relatively small pieces can be used.
No. 2A & 2B Common
Boards are 3″ and wider, 4′ and longer. Yields 50 percent clear face cuttings 3″ and wider by 2′ and longer. Suitable for some paneling and flooring applications.
No. 3A Common
Boards are 3″ and wider, 4′ and longer. Yields 33-1/3 percent clear face cuttings 3″ and wider by 2′ and longer. Economical choice for rough utility applications:, crates, palettes, fencing, etc.
No. 3B Common
Boards are 3″ and wider, 4′ and longer. Yields 25 percent clear face cuttings 1-1/2″ and wider by 2′ and longer. Applications same as No. 3A Common.