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The Confusing World of Grading Wood Products

You may have seen hardwood, plywood & lumber being graded, like FAS, S&B, #1 common, CDX, BC, A-4, A-1, B/BB etc.... It can be very confusing.    -   Lets start with the list below.

  • Lumber that you build a house with like 2x4's etc...

  • Plywood sheeting that you build your house with

  • Hardwood Plywood

  • Cabinet Grade Plywood

  • Domestic Hardwood

  • Imported Exotic Hardwood

  • Baltic Birch Plywood

  • Finland Birch Plywood

  • Italian Poplar Plywood

Everyone of these types of wood have a completely different grading system.  Everyone also has many different grades within it's own category. For instance Walnut Hardwood is graded different than Red Oak Hardwood. I won't go into the different grading systems as it would take many pages to show you.

Now for what they do have in common  -  Every type is graded while they are being manufactured on high speed equipment. Every mill has a quota to meet on each grade. Every type is graded by human eyes, but not every board. When the shifts change a different set of eyes grades the wood. Mills produce sometimes hundreds of thousands of feet a day. So they can not be grading each piece. In other words the grading of wood is very subjective.

Hardwood Plywood's are graded on a Letter & Number System. The Front Face is graded by Letters A, B, C, or D with "A" being the best almost no defects at all if any. The Back Face is graded by numbers 1, 2, 3, or 4 with "1" being the best but not as good as a front face A grade. If a sheet has a  4 grade on the back face allows large knot holes, wide splits, and most of the time will be a different species that the front face. You can Special Order an AA grade but you have to order many (25-100) full size sheets depending on the mill used and also pay for the shop grade sheets (2-10) that comes off the special run. It will be VERY EXPENSIVE !!!

So with that said let me explain about the grading system of our wood.

 I have been buying and selling every type of wood listed above for more than 30 years. I have bought and sold many thousands of truckloads of wood. Just because it says it grade A-4, grade #1common, grade S&B, grade B/BB, grade CDX or any other grade doesn't mean a lot. I have seen the so called best grade of wood look awful and the middle grades look perfect. Many times when you cut the bands on a unit of wood the top pieces are on grade and the middle pieces are off grade. How many of you have been to Home Depot to buy some 2x4's which they state are a #1 grade only to find it full of knots & splits but on your next trip every board is fine. They really were the same grade, it's just how they are graded that makes the difference. Remember every type of wood is graded by humans... and not each board either. 

The only grade we will ever state on the hardwoods we sell is "GOOD WOOD" or Premium Grade which means we cull out boards everyday that don't meet our standards. We then mark this cull wood down and the people that live close enough or are driving through the area stop in our shop get some really good deals. The only grade that really matters is that it is "GOOD WOOD" It  really doesn't  matter what the mill graded it if it's not good wood, does it?

Just a few of my thoughts on the subject of wood grading,  David Sloan of Sloan's Woodshop


 

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Sloan's Woodshop - 3453 Callis Road - Lebanon, TN 37090

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