hardwood design specifications

Hardwood Design Specs: grades, edges, gloss texture, and more

Specifications can be kind of boring.

But on the other hand, the specifications of the wood you choose makes a big difference in how it looks, and in some cases, how it performs.

The goal of this article is to get familiar with the design options and specs that impact your hardwood purchase. This helps for two reasons:

  • you aren’t confuse if you see the specifications
  • you know what options are out there

What I mean by the second point is maybe you find a wood you kind of like, but you aren’t 100% sold on it. If you know what options there are, you can say I like this would but would like __ grade. Rather than, can we look at other wood floors?

Knowing your options is important. So let’s start:

What’s not included in this article

This article covers everything you need to know that makes your wood appearance, except the wood itself. That is a topic of its own. You can check out my guide to wood species here. Once you’ve picked out your wood, there are some things left that will determine how it looks. Helping you sort through those is the purpose of this article.

Hardwood grade

One common misconception about wood grades is that they are based on the quality of the wood. They are actually based on appearance. Specifically, the grade tells you how much “clear” area of wood there is. By clear, they are looking for areas without knots and “imperfections.”

This doesn’t affect the performance of the wood, but generally, you will pay more for a “higher” grade wood because it’s more difficult to find a wood with fewer defects. And in general, fewer defects is more desirable. But this isn’t always the case, there are many times where people will request a “lower” grade wood because they want a more rustic, less perfect look.

More power to them because they get an equal quality wood often at a lower price.

Now let’s review the grades of wood:


Captain’s notice! Not all manufacturers/retailers play by the same rules. The grades below on the most commonly used, but there are other grades out there. You also might find grades like “common and better,” which means what it sounds like: common or higher grades. In these cases, I assume I’m getting the lowest grade mentioned unless the retailer will specify the exact mix.

Cabin grade:

Cabin grade wood looks rustic like you might expect in a cabin. It’s as if the wood has been chopped down in the nearby forest to create the floor. The look is highlighted by knots and pinholes. Depending on the batch, the boards may vary in color (although they all come from the same species, so colors should be similar)

Common grade:

Common grade is a step up in purity from cabin grade. You will still find some knots and pinholes, and there will likely be color variation. This type of flooring is more versatile than cabin grade because it gives off such a rustic look. There are two grades within the common grade. #1 common grade is slightly more pure than #2 grade.

Select and Better

Select and better wood is where you start to get flawless looking flooring. You won’t find any knots, and the colors are pretty much identical board to board.

Clear grade

Clear grade is the highest grade flooring. Expect all boards to look the same. You won’t find the “character” of lower grades, but clear grade can really pull together a luxury room.

What to consider with grades other than appearance

The clear difference between grades is appearance, but there are a couple of other considerations. The higher the grade, the easier it will be to stain and sand down. Also, lower grades can trap dust and debris in the knots. That’s not easy to sweep out!

These usually are big issues, especially with common grades and higher, but worth considering. And as we touched on before, also expect to pay a premium for higher grades.

Woodcuts: plainsawn, riftsawn, quartersawn

So far, you have the wood species and the grade of the wood species.

Another thing to consider is how the wood is cut. The direction of the cuts of the woods makes a difference in how your wood floor will appear. It can get a little confusing, but let’s keep it simple:

“Plainsawn” is the most uniform cut because it is with the grain. This means you’ll see a fairly consistent arch-like pattern to the wood color. Other cuts like quartersawn and riftsawn have a lot more irregularity in the pattern of the colors of each board.

You can go into a lot more detail than that (and probably more than I could explain) on how exactly the wood is cut, but as a shopper, I think the above is all you really need to know.

Edge types

There are several kinds of edges to choose from. The edges are one more way to give your wood floor a unique appearance.

Square Edge boards will meet together uniformly for the evenest appearance. These floors are smooth all the way across.

Beveled edges have a dip between each plank. If it is called a bevel edge, it is a very noticeable v-gap between each hardwood plank. This usually only works with more rustic setups. If it is a micro-bevel edge, it is more subtle. This can highlight the separation of each plank, but it’s subtle enough that it gives the floor character in any room.

A more distinctive look is captured in the French Bleed Edge. This edge uses a dark brown or black stain on the edges of distressed wood to draw attention to the lines where the boards meet. It’s darkest where the edges meet and “bleeds” or fades out an inch or two toward the center of the board.

Surface texture

We’ve already talked some about texture, but you’ll have additional options to specify the exact texture of your wood.

Each texture can drastically change how even the same wood species or stain color looks when installed in your home, so you will want to match the texture to the overall decorating theme and style.

Smooth floors are made with the traditional milling practice. This is what most people envision when they imagine hardwood floors. If you are installing wood floors in your home with an eye towards its resale value, this option will appeal to the most home buyers.

You’ll also find other options that give a more “beat up” or character appearances:

  • distressed
  • antique
  • hand-scraped
  • wire brushed

Each of these gives wood characteristics that can be trendy, but also may not have quite the formal or high-end look. There are differences between each type, but not much worth noting. Just remember if you like a wood, but it looks a little plain, you can ask if there are other textures.

High vs low-gloss

A hardwood floor finish can be high or low gloss. A high gloss adds an extra shine to your floors and some protection against scratches. This comes with one trade-off: any scratches that do occur are more noticeable with high gloss.

Low-gloss floors are less shiny. There is slightly less protection against scratching, but it will hide them better than a high-gloss floor.

If you cannot decide between high or low-gloss finishes, you can also purchase semi-gloss, which splits the difference between the two.

Width

Hardwood floors will usually have two standard widths: planks and strips. And then there are different design options related to width. Let’s take a look at your options:

Strips refer to any flooring laid down that is 3 inches or less across. These are better suited for narrow or small rooms, such as a hallway or a bedroom.

Planks are boards wider than 3 inches. While they may be overwhelming in a small room, they are broad enough to show textures and wood grain patterns and will match the size of a large room such as a living room or open dining area.

Random Width means that the floors are sold with different widths inside the box, so you can have a little bit of both. This is a better fit for modern or chic home designs but can look amazing when done right.

Parquet floors are another trendy variation on the traditional floor. They have a pre-set design which will emerge as the floor is laid out to specific instructions. Parquet floors are more time-consuming to install but you will be certain of having an interesting pattern once they are done.

The good news for widths is you don’t have to worry about it much. Just pick what you think looks good.

Captain’s parting words!

The number of options for your hardwood design alone can seem overwhelming.

But you can see most of these options don’t have much of an impact on the durability or performance of the wood. There are just many different ways to make a wood floor look unique.

So whether you want a pristine clear grade, plainsawn, flat edge, smooth, high gloss, strip hardwood, or a high-character cabin grade, riftsawn, bevel-edge, plank hardwood, you have options. And options are good. As long as you don’t stress about them.

Speaking of options, make sure to check out our unbiased hardwood guide if you haven’t already. It simplifies what you need to know when buying hardwood, so you make the most of your investment.

Any questions on hardwood design or specifications? Let me know in the comments below.

Leave a Reply