Hardwood lumber is a catch-all term encompassing the processed wood from deciduous or leaf-bearing trees. After the trees are harvested they are cut on a head rig into boards of green lumber. Green lumber refers to the fact this wood still contains a high percentage of moisture. Most species require air drying of the boards prior to drying them in kilns. As a general rule, the denser the species, the longer the air drying process is. Most hardwood lumber bought by end-users is kiln dried to the industry standard of 6% to 8% moisture content. At this point the lumber is stable and less subject to movement.

The National Hardwood Lumber Association or NHLA is the primary authority regarding the grading rules for hardwood lumber in North America. Most species, including imported hardwoods sold in the U.S. are graded using these standards as a guide. The NHLA rules book considers the yield of the lumber as related to defects such as knots, splits, wane, cup, twist, side bend, stain and other issues arising from the processing of the wood and from factors inherent in the wood itself.

The three main grades of lumber are FAS (Firsts and Seconds) / Select and Better, which calls for clear face cuttings (free of defects) of 83 1/3% or better. This is the top grade, but it is important to note that it is not graded as completely clear. This grade is used for where long clear cuttings are required for such things as mouldings, windows and doors.

The next grade down is #1C (1 common). This grade requires a minimum of 66 2/3% – 83% clear face cuttings. It is primarily used by cabinet and furniture manufacturers that require shorter clear cuttings.

#2C (2 common) consists of 2a and 2b grades. 2a requires 50%-66 1/3% clear cuttings and 2b requires 50%-66 1/3% sound cuttings. This grade is primarily used by hardwood flooring manufacturers. There is also a 3c grade, but this a little used grade that only requires 33 1/3% yield.

For the vast majority of hardwood lumber buyers in America the question is not one of grade, but of appearance. Appearance falls into two categories, clarity and color. Clarity is the presence or absence of knots, mineral streaks, gum pockets or other natural characteristics. Color primarily refers to heartwood and/or sapwood content of the wood

Heartwood comes from the center of the log and is the lumber from the part of the tree that was dead before the tree was harvested. Sapwood is the outside, living part of the log when it was cut. The sought after color (heart or sap) is relative to the species. In species such as cherry and walnut the more popular color is the heartwood. In Maple the white sapwood commands a premium price. In walnut it is common to steam the green lumber to blend heat and sapwood to create a more uniform look.

In addition to appearance the usage and dimensions play a major role in the proper selection of hardwood lumber. Outdoor applications such as gazebos, siding, decking and lawn furniture require exotic wood such as teak, mahogany, and ipe to withstand the rigors of the elements. The amount of contact or abuse the final application is going to take can also help determine which type of hardwood to use. Alder and Cherry work great for kitchen cabinets, but may not be the best choice for commercial hardwood flooring or stair treads due to their relative softness.

The other factor to consider is the dimension of hardwoods needed. The standard rough (not surfaced) thickness for hardwood lumber is 1″, referred to as 4/4 (pronounced four-quarter). Each 1/4 refers to a 1/4 inch of thickness. 5/4 = 1 1/4″ thick, 6/4 is 1 1/2″ thick and so on. Hardwood lumber is commonly available in 5/4, 6/4, 8/4 and in limited species and quantities 12/4 and 16/4. Widths are typically random and vary according to specie.

For many buyers dimensional hardwoods are a good choice. Dimensional hardwoods come ripped to your specified width and are also available as s4s (surfaced four sides). Dimensional hardwood lumber is more expensive initially because the milling facility has already incurred the waste, but often the consumer saves money when all is said and done due to time and money saved in processing the lumber as well as the risk of miscalculation of how much raw lumber to purchase is alleviated.

Hardwood lumber is measured in 3 dimensional measurement units called board feet. One board foot is the equivalent of 1″ (or less) thick x 12″ wide x 12″ long. Dimensional hardwoods are measured by length only. A 1 x 6 x 12' board measures 12 lineal feet. There are several good board foot calculators available on-line to help determine amount of board footage required for a project by converting rip sizes into board feet.

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Source: http://www.sooperarticles.com/business-articles/basics-hardwood-lumber-grades-characteristics-610959.html

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. QUESTION:
    How much would it cost to install Brazilian Cherry Hardwood Floors?
    i’m considering installing braz cherry hardwood floors throughout the whole house. it would be about 1400 square feet of flooring. i know prices very among brand, quality, etc…but generally how much would it cost to buy flooring and have it professionally installed??

    • ANSWER:
      Both the material and the labor can vary but your looking in the 10/12$ a s/f range .
      7/8$ a s/f for the Brazilian Cherry and in the ball park of 2.50/3.50 a s/f for the labor to install. But with that large amount of both wood and labor you should get a discount.
      Make sure you get a discount on the wood since this will be pallet pricing. This is installation only, no rip out of old or floor prep,etc. But you may be able to get that free or a discount since your doing that larger amount.
      If it was old carpet we sometimes did that for free as part to get the job.
      So at a minimum your looking at 14,000/16,800 $
      Any questions you can e mail me through my avatar. GL

  2. QUESTION:
    Is this a good price for 300 sf of installed hardwood flooring by Empire? Seems pricey to me.?
    ,000 for Brazilian Cherry hardwood 3/4 inch

    • ANSWER:
      Very pricey… The wood you ve picked is a very good hard wood and more expensive than your average wood but this is a bit to much at 13$ a s/f.
      Check around on the wood and labor cost. You had better received a written estimate and what it includes. Labor on average ( it can vary some ) is 3/ 3.5 a s/f. That leaves 10$ a s/f for wood and even for Brazilian cherry thats a bit much.
      Now if your job needs some rip out or floor prep, this may or may not be out of line..
      Any questions you can e mail me through my avatar. GL

  3. QUESTION:
    Why is Brazilian Ebony hardwood flooring so expensive?
    When looking at a number of Janka hardness charts, the Brazilians seem to be at the top (Walnut, Cherry, Teak and Ebony). However, despite how close they are to one another in this respect, Brazilian Ebony seems to skyrocket in price. Why is this? I can’t seem to find much literature online (other than the fact that it’s not as common as the others). Is that the only reason?
    In response to the first answer, yes – when I was referring to the limited literature on the subject, that was literally the limited literature I found as well. However, referring to that main quote:

    “However, less logging, stricter regulations, the decking market, and a slower American economy have limited commodities and caused slightly higher prices of this product in this country.”

    How does this single out Brazilian Ebony? Seems to me this is applicable to all exotic hard woods. And this stuff isn’t just slightly higher in price than the other Brazilians, it’s typically well over twice as much. I suppose it’s simply due to rarity.

    • ANSWER:
      “There is a moderate amount of Gombera in South America, and it is not endangered. However, less logging, stricter regulations, the decking market, and a slower American economy have limited commodities and caused slightly higher prices of this product in this country. ”


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