As you begin to understand why Walnut is graded differently than other domestic species, you may wonder about how different the grading requirements really are and how to think about and order Walnut, as a result.
To compare typical FAS standards to the downgraded standards to Walnut, consider the following list of characteristics for most lumber, with those for Walnut in parentheses:
· 83.3% clear of defects on both faces
· a minimum board size of 6” by 8’ (5” by 6’ with 80% of the pack yielding 8’ and longer)
· a minimum clear cutting size of (4”x3’ or 3”x6’ with pieces 8” and wider admitted with 2 defects)
Now consider Selects:
· 83.3% clear on 1 face only & the other face meeting standards for #2 Common Grade
· a minimum board size of 4”x6’ -a minimum clear cutting size the same as FAS but for only 1 face (same as other species)
· a minimum clear cutting size of 3″x7′ or 4″x5′ (4″ x 3′ or 3″ x 6′)
Here are the characteristics for #1 Common Grade:
· 66.6% clear on both faces
· minimum board size of 3″ x 4′
· minimum clear cutting size of 3″ x 3′ or 4″ x 2′ (3” x 2’)
The requirements for meeting #2 Common are as follows:
· 50% clear on the better face
· a minimum board size of 3″ x 4′
· a minimum clear cutting size of 3″ x 2′ (2” with no length requirements)
Because the clear cutting size for #2 Common Grade is similar to the minimum board size, basically one side of the board will be clear but small. That fact makes #2 Common the ideal grade for hardwood flooring manufacturers who prefer narrow boards and need only one clear face; however, the small pieces of Walnut that can fit into this category are unsuitable for most applications.
Once you accept the fact that smaller boards and more defects simply come with buying Walnut, you can appreciate the unique beauties of this distinctive species. For instance, the stark contrast between sapwood and heartwood can be lessened by steaming, but even then, the distinction is marked. Many craftsmen appreciate the color variation in unsteamed Walnut. Walnut remains among the most sought-after American hardwoods, prized by high-end cabinet makers, flooring manufacturers, and millwork professionals. Many of them realize that with a little extra planning, it is possible to cut around the defects or make the project work by starting with a narrower, shorter board.
One final consideration is that a grading system sets the standard for the minimum allowable, and better-than-grade lumber that can be found. When our customers (particularly for millwork) require better lumber than what FAS standards dictate, we can usually help them meet those needs by pulling and sorting from various packs; of course, that kind of extra effort is accompanied by greater overhead costs, which we must pass along. In addition, the remaining parts of the packs from which the above-grade lumber are pulled become devalued.