Introduction to NHLA American Hardwood Lumber Grading

Hardwood lumber is usually graded on the basis of the size and number of cuttings (pieces) that can be obtained from a board when it is cut up and used in the manufacture of a hardwood product. The NHLA rules were designed with the furniture trade in mind to provide a measurable percentage of clear, defect-free wood for each grade. The upper grades provide the user with long clear pieces, while the Common grades are designed to be re-sawn into shorter clear pieces.

The upper grades, which will include FAS, FAS-One-Face (FAS/1F) and Selects, are most suitable for long clear mouldings, joinery products such as door frames, architectural interiors; and furniture applications, which require a heavy percentage of long wide cuttings.

The Common grades, primarily Number 1 Common (No. 1C) and Number 2A Common (No. 2AC), are likely to be most suitable for the kitchen cabinet industry, most furniture parts, and plank and strip flooring. Worth noting is the fact that once re-sawn, the cuttings obtained from the Common grades will be the same clear wood as the upper grades but in smaller (shorter and/or narrower) cuttings. The grade name simply designates the percentage of clear wood in the board, not the overall appearance.


The FAS grade, which derives from an original grade "First And Seconds", will provide the user with long, clear cuttings - best suited for high quality furniture, interior joinery and solid wood mouldings. Minimum board size is 6" and wider and 8' and longer. The FAS grade includes a range of boards that yield from 83 1⁄3% (10⁄12ths) to 100% clear-wood cuttings over the entire surface of the board. The clear cuttings must be a minimum size of 3" wide by 7' long or 4" wide by 5' long. The number of these cuttings permitted depends on the size of the board with most boards permitting one to two. The minimum width and length will vary, depending on species and whether the board is green or kiln dried. Both faces of the board must meet the minimum requirement for FAS.

Note: Minimum yield 83 1⁄3% clear wood cuttings on the poor face of the board.

FAS One Face (F1F)

This grade is nearly always shipped with FAS. The better face must meet all FAS requirements while the poor face must meet all the requirements of the Number 1 Common grade, thus ensuring the buyer with at least one FAS face. Often export shipments are assembled with an 80-20 mix, 80% being the percentage of FAS boards and 20% being the percentage of F1F boards. These percentages are strictly left to individual buyer and seller agreement.


This grade is virtually the same as F1F except for the minimum board size required. Selects allow boards 4" and wider and 6' and longer in length. The Selects grade is generally associated with the northern regions of the USA and is also shipped in combination with the FAS grade.

Often export shipments of upper grades are simply referred to as FAS. The conventional business practice for American hardwoods is to ship these upper grades in some combination. Working closely with the supplier will enable the buyer to be sure that the expected quality will be received. Whether FAS is combined with F1F (Face And Better) or Selects (Sel And Better) every board in the shipment must have a minimum of one FAS face.

Prime Grade

This grade has evolved from the NHLA grade of FAS for the export market. It is square edged and virtually wane free. The minimum clear yield will be select and better with appearance being a major factor. Minimum size of the boards varies, depending on the species, region, and supplier.

Comsel Grade

This grade has evolved from the NHLA grades of Number 1 Common and Selects. For the export market the minimum clear yield should be Number 1 Common or slightly better with appearance a main factor. Minimum size of the boards varies, depending on the species, region and supplier.

Note: The terms Prime and Comsels are not standard NHLA definitions and therefore fall outside the official range of the NHLA grading rules.

Number 1 Common (No. 1C)

The Number 1 Common grade is often referred to as the Cabinet grade in the USA because of its adaptability to the standard sizes of kitchen cabinet doors used throughout the United States. Number 1 Common is widely used in the manufacture of furniture parts as well for this same reason. The Number 1 Common grades includes boards that are a minimum of 3" wide and 4' long and will yield clear face cuttings from 66 2⁄3% (8⁄12ths) up to, but not including, the minimum requirement for FAS (83 1⁄3%). The smallest clear cuttings allowed are 3" by 3' and 4" by 2'. The number of these clear cuttings is determined by the size of the board. Both faces of the board must meet the minimum requirement for Number 1 Common.

Note: If the better face meets the requirements for FAS and the poor face meets the requirements for Number 1 Common, the grade has the potential of being a F1F or Selects.

Number 2A Common (No. 2AC)

The Number 2A Common grade is often referred to as the Economy grade because of its price and suitability for a wide range of furniture parts. It is also the grade of choice for the US hardwood flooring industry. The Number 2A Common grade includes boards that are a minimum of 3" wide and 4' long that yield from 50% (6⁄12ths) up to, but not including, the minimum requirement for Number 1 Common (66 2⁄3%). The smallest clear cutting allowed is 3" by 2' and the number of these cuttings depends on the size of the board. If the poorest face meets the minimum requirements for Number 2A Common, it does not matter what the grade of the better face is.

Note: If the better face meets the requirements for either FAS or Number 1 Common and the poor face grades Number 2A Common, the grade of the board is Number 2A Common.

There are lower NHLA grades than Number 2A Common but they are usually converted into dimension parts, flooring parts, or used domestically in the USA.


These Standard Grades form the framework by which all American hardwoods are traded. It is important to note that between buyer and seller any exception to these rules is permissible and even encouraged. For a complete description of the NHLA grades, consult the NHLA's "Rules for the Measurement and Inspection of Hardwoods and Cypress".


The information above is provided courtesy of the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA). The publication from which this material originated is entitled "The Illustrated Guide to American Hardwood Lumber Grades".

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