Understanding Flooring Grades for Exotics and Domestic Wood

Wood species dictates Janka hardness ratings as well as the flooring’s general appearance, such as color and grain pattern. So how do flooring grades fit into the mix? And why do exotic wood floors have a different grading system than domestic wood floors?

Understanding Exotic Wood Floor Grading

Jatoba wood flooring, also known as Brazilian Cherry, comes in two main grading categories:

  • Clear grade – derived from the heart of the tree, this flooring grade is one of the most popular exotic species and presents a warm, consistent red color throughout.
  • Select grade (sometimes termed Select and Better) – moving beyond the heart, this flooring grade contains some tan coloring with lighter shades of red.

Most Brazilian wood species follow the same grading scale as Jatoba.

It’s important to understand that grade has more to do with appearance, and less to do with overall quality. All Brazilian Cherry grades carry the same Janka hardness rating – an impressive score of 2350.

Clear grade exotic wood floors are widely available and in high demand. You may find Select grade for a lower price, but be sure to take a good look at the store samples and understand what you’re paying for.

Some exotic species, like Brazilian Ebony or Brazilian Oak, are mainly available in Clear grade. For a distinctive, natural look, consider sourcing out Rustic grade Brazilian wood flooring. This grade presents a dramatic variation of color in each plank.

Understanding Domestic Wood Floor Grading

Domestic wood species, such as Beech, Ash, Maple and Oak, are graded on a slightly different scale. Look for these two grades at your hardwood flooring retailer:

  • Select grade (sometimes termed Select or Better) – the top flooring grade in domestic species presents fairly consistent coloring and is relatively free of knots, defects, streaks and cracks. Derived from #1 Common lumber, this grade holds a prominent place in the market, although the demand for Natural grade is rising.
  • Natural grade (sometimes termed #2 Common or Rustic) – this flooring grade presents much more character and inconsistencies, including knots, sapwood, heartwood, and various defects. Choose this grade for an aged look, or simply to appreciate the beauty of natural wood.

You may also come across #1 Common grade, which falls somewhere between these two. The most dramatic color variations are filtered out, and any knots larger than a dime are discarded. You’ll find mineral streaks in #1 Common wood flooring as well.

Differences in Quality


All lumber used for wood flooring is conditioned to remove excess moisture, resulting in better quality flooring designed to last for decades. Although knots and cracks found in Natural grade may pose potential problems, a good conditioning will ensure this flooring grade meets the quality of Select grade.

Understanding the differences between exotic wood flooring grades and domestic wood flooring grades helps you buy smarter. Know the look you want and browse through the various grades and species before making your final purchase. Hardwood and engineered flooring retailers are always happy to help you make the best selection for your home.