Wood Grading

Wood Grades

Combining grades: FAS and Select

Our basic philosophy about the FAS and Select grades is to not combine them like our competitors. To understand why, first we have to look at the differences between the grades FAS, Select and #1 common to understand what the grades mean, and why these grades exist.

NHWA Lumber Grading

For all of you out there that have not been through a NHWA grading course or school, and don’t have the grading rules handbook, I will explain the main differences. Once a person understands better the grading rules, you will see why we don’t combine FAS and Select. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but coming from a woodworking background, why pay for something you don’t need, or get something that you can’t use.

First, let us look at the grades for hardwoods as shown in the rules handbook, and a brief description on how boards are graded. Lumber is graded on appearance. We are looking for the largest areas of a board that are clear, without defects. I won’t get into any definitions about defect in a board. These areas are called cuttings, or clear cuttings. Different grades allow different sizes and amounts of cuttings on the face of a board. The better the grade, the bigger the area of clear wood there is.

The next thing to remember is that a board is graded on both sides, and the worse side determines the final grade. The best grade is called FAS. This stands for Firsts and Seconds. These grades are the best you can get and were combined, or adopted, by the NHWA because the members, who are the people in the lumber industry, voted it in. Firsts required 91 2/3 percent clear area and Seconds required 81 2/3 percent. Now, FAS, which is both Firsts and Seconds combined, requires 83 1/3 percent clear area. Some people think that FAS stands for "face all sides".

The second best grade is called F1F, or FAS1F, (FAS 1 Face). This grade is not used much here in the Midwest because the trees are not as big as in other parts of the country. F1F is a bit better than Select and graded the same, except the minimum board size is 6 inches wide and 8 foot long.

The next grade is Select, or SEL. This is a combination of FAS on one face and #1 on the other face. Select boards must be 4 inches wide and 6 feet long or bigger. The better face still needs to grade 83 1/3 percent clear for the given area of the board, but it does not have to be as large as FAS graded lumber.

The next grade is #1 Common. This grade requires 66 2/3 percent clear area on the worse face.

Then you have 2A, and 2B at 50 percent, and 3A, and 3B at 33 1/3 percent. Basically, the required clear area drops as you get down to a 3A board.

Choosing the Right Grade For Your Application

Now let us look at two types of applications and what grade one would use. If you were going to build a piece of furniture, like a open bookshelf, and wanted to use clear solid hardwood for the sides, top, and shelves, the best choice would be FAS because of its higher area of clear wood. Because both sides of each board are exposed, you wouldn’t want to spend money on lumber that has knots on one side. You need long pieces of clear lumber, clear on both sides.

If you wanted to build a dresser, or piece of furniture where you only see one side of a given board, you would want to chose a Select grade because the worse side grades a #1 Common, and you don’t see that side.

So back to our way of thinking about keeping the grades separate. Many boards, when they are being milled off a given log, will be clear on one side. As the board is cut and taken off, the backside is exposed and if one or more knots appear on that face, that worse face will determine the grade of that board. So a board with one face that is totally clear of any defect may have one knot on the other face. That knot might be right in the middle or near one end. If you are building bookshelves and you can only buy Select or Better, how much Select are you going to get and how much will be FAS? If half of it grades Select, you have half a pile of wood that won’t work for the sides of the bookcase you are building. You don’t want knots showing up on an exposed side. So you paid for wood that you can’t use. So then you are stuck cutting shelves out of the "Select" graded boards; cutting around that one knot that is on the worse face.

The other side of this is if you are building a dresser and buy Select and Better where half the boards are FAS and clear on both faces. What a waste of a perfect board. There is a big difference between one side of a FAS board and the #1 Common side of a select board. So why pay one price for everything if you don’t need it. And why get narrow Select boards that only have to be 5 inches wide and 6 feet long when you need bigger pieces for a given project.

That’s why we grade and sell the two grades FAS and Select differently. One can see why they combined Firsts and Seconds into one grade because they were so close in appearance. But we feel that there is too big a difference between the grades FAS and Select (with a #1 Common face) to throw them into one group. If all you need is Select, that is all you should pay for. That’s why we sell them separately.