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When it comes to hardwood flooring, the term "grading" is sure to come up. Grading refers to the system used by manufacturers to assess the appearance of hardwood floors. NOFMA: The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association grades emphasize color, grain pattern and other markings that occur in wood. Color is determined by what part of the tree the wood comes from, and the grain pattern is determined by species and how the wood is cut.


Heartwood, the oldest, densest, innermost section of the log, is often darker and richer in color than sapwood, which lies closest to the bark. The color difference may be so pronounced that heartwood and sapwood from the same species are marketed under separate names.


Boards can be cut from a hardwood log in several directions: tangent to the annual rings (plain-sawn or flat-sawn), or radially, across the rings (quarter-sawn and rift-sawn).

Arched or flame-shaped markings, evident in bold-grained hardwoods such as oak, characterize plain-sawn wood, while rift-sawn and quarter-sawn or "quartered" boards show a pattern of roughly parallel lines. Both have advantages depending on application and species.

Unfinished Flooring

If your choice is unfinished oak, you will have four NOFMA grades to choose from:

  • NOFMA Clear
  • NOFMA Select
  • NOFMA No. 1 Common
  • NOFMA No. 2 Common

NOFMA Clear and select grades are further identified by sawing direction:

  • NOFMA Clear Plain
  • NOFMA Clear Quartered
  • NOFMA select Plain
  • NOFMA Select Quartered

Factory finished

NOFMA also maintains grading standards for pre-finished oak flooring:

  • NOFMA Prime
  • NOFMA Standard
  • NOFMA Tavern

For more information on flooring grades:

Article courtesy of the American Hardwood Information Center.