A beginner’s guide to basic grades for lumber in the Midwest
November 30, 2021

When starting a project that requires lumber, understanding grades for lumber in the Midwest is crucial. Failing to select the right kind of lumber can ruin your project and pose a significant hazard. However, that’s easier said than done. Luckily, at Phoenix Mat, we are experts in lumber and proudly service the gas/oil, hydro-energy, windmill, and electrical transmission line industries. With premier, collaborative, tailored wood solutions, we’ll ensure your project has an auspicious start.

Here’s our guide to lumber grades:

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What lumber grades mean

Lumber does not have a uniform consistency. Different kinds of lumber contain defects that impact the appearance and structural integrity of the wood.

Lumber grades in the Midwest and throughout the U.S. are designated so consumers understand the quality of the lumber products, the estimated costs, and the best application for that piece of wood.

Moreover, the type of wood and the number of defects present determine the grade. Generally, we divide lumber into two categories: softwood and hardwood. Softwood is harvested from coniferous trees, which are typically lighter and have a lower density.

Hardwoods are harvested from angiosperms, giving them pleasing grain patterns and higher density. Ultimately, this higher density makes hardwoods stronger, durable, and ideal for industrial or construction projects.


Typically, hardwood is preferable for construction and industrial projects, so understanding how to grade this lumber in the midwest is crucial. Gradings include:

  • Firsts & Seconds (FAS): This is the premium, most expensive grade. It is preferable for architectural millwork, furniture making, and molding manufacturing. More importantly, it is recommended for applications where durable, wide boards are needed.
  • Select No. 1 Common: This is considered a typical thrift or ‘shop’ grade, and it provides good value for the price. It’s particularly effective when you plan to use smaller pieces, and it’s often used to produce kitchen cabinets and furniture parts.
  • No. 2A & 2B Common: The hardwood flooring industry often uses this grade. It’s also used for the manufacturing of small furniture components and paneling.
  • No. 3A & 3B Common: This grade denotes an economic choice, and this type of lumber is ideal for rough utility applications, like crates, palettes, fencing, etc.


Generally speaking, softwood lumber is construction lumber, too. More complicated than grading hardwood lumber, breaking down softwood grades can best be done in subdivisions. Here are softwood grades for lumber in the Midwest:

  • Stress-graded lumber: Stress-graded lumber is used for things like beams, studs, rafters, posts, and joists. Essentially, these parts perform a load-bearing function and can expect working stresses.
  • Nonstress-graded lumber: Nonstress-graded lumber is graded based on the strength of wood, too. However, this lumber is also graded on aesthetics, making it ideal when appearance and durability are priorities. Ideal for shelving, paneling, and some furniture, it’s easily painted.
  • Appearance-graded lumber: With appearance lumber, the focus is more on the aesthetic and physical look. Particularly good for cabinets and furniture, we designate appearance lumber as a finish.

Understanding grades requires extensive expertise and experience, which is crucial to finding the optimal wood for your project. Luckily, at Phoenix Mat, we’re happy to help.

Schedule a call to request a free quote!

If you need premium wood tailored to your project, Phoenix Mat is the leading solution. From selecting the optimal grade of lumber in the Midwest to personalizing it for you and your industry, we can meet your unique construction or industrial demands. Our top-of-the-line, efficient, and customized wood products are crucial to the structural integrity of your project, and ultimately, its success. Schedule a call to request a free quote now!

Stacked wood that displays different grades for lumber in the Midwest.