Hardwood Flooring Product Descriptions & Warranties
Product Descriptions & Warranties
Hardwood floors are produced according to a “Product Specification”. This specification defines every aspect of the product from its species to its dimensions, profile, finish, gloss level, etc. Part of this specification also lays out a description of the grading standards for each product or SKU. These grade standards fall into two primary categories: “Natural Character” and “Milling/Manufacturing Characteristics”. Natural Character is defined as characteristics inherent in the wood itself. Examples include mineral streaks, color variation in the wood, knots, bark pockets, unusual grain patterns (e.g. “birds-eye or “curly” grain), etc. Milling and Manufacturing Characteristics include variation or inconsistencies in finish or gloss level including rough finish, finish thickness and “orange peel”. It also includes variations and/or inconsistencies in width, thickness, bevels, edge and end profiles, etc.
Note that we are using the term “characteristics” in this description, not “defects”. In today’s world of hardwood flooring, the definition of a “defect” is not what it was years ago. In the past, most hardwood floors were judged based on standard industry grading rules that came from the unfinished solid hardwood flooring market. These definitions (e.g. Select & Better, # 1 Common, #2 Common, etc.) defined what was allowed in each “grade”.
For instance, the Select grade had much more restrictive definition of allowable mineral streaks, knots, and other natural character that did the #2 Common. The Select grade may allow no knots larger than 1/8” whereas under the standard for #2 Common, knots up to ¾” in size may be allowable. Note that the result was a grading system that allowed for less character and fewer manufacturing “defects” such as uneven profile milling, edge or end breakage, evenness or nicks, dents and dings in the face of the boards, etc. as you went from the #2 Common grade up to Select grade. In other words, all floors were judged on the same basis and the system was based on “cleaner” grading as you went up the scale.
This grading method made perfect sense in a hardwood flooring market made up primarily of standard solid oak hardwood floors. However, in today’s hardwood flooring market, the sheer number and variety of types of floors and choices of species, specialty visuals and distressing techniques makes this grading process much more difficult.
As an example, today we offer a variety of “Country Natural” products in species such as Maple, Hickory and Cherry. We also offer a variety of distressed and hand-scrapped floors. Under the old grading rules and definitions of “defects”, many of the characteristics intentionally built into these floors- physical distressing, color variation, open knots, uneven edge and end profiles- would be considered defects. However, based on how these floors are designed and marketed today, many consumers may say that a floor is “defective” if it did NOT have enough of these characteristics.
In summary, the old definitions of defects (whether in Natural or Milling and Manufacturing Characteristics) no longer apply across the board. What is a defect in one product may be a required characteristic in another.
With that said, however, this does not mean that grading rules and specific definitions of defects do not exist or apply. In fact, in today’s competitive hardwood flooring market, these specifications and adherence to them are what define product quality and takes them very seriously. The key to understanding product quality is not in applying a standard definitions to all products. Rather it is in understanding and applying the correct definitions for what is a “characteristic” that is part of the product specification and what is truly a “defect”.
With all of the preceding as background, we can now define the term defective. A product contains a defect, or is “defective”, when it does not meet the production specifications and grade standards that apply to it. That is the actual definition of a “defect”.
It is very important to note, however, that this definition also extends to the floor as a whole. We define product quality and quality standards in terms of defects on a board-by-board basis AND in the overall collection of boards that make up a floor. In other words, the product specifications define what is allowed on any individual board as well as the % of defects in the overall floor. Although an individual board may have a “defect” per the product specification, the overall floor may not be considered “defective” for purposes of judging product quality or claims unless the total % of defective boards exceeds some maximum limit. For practical purposes, because each floor is a different size overall (i.e. number of sq. ft.), this definition may also be applied to the % of defects in a carton of flooring.
In the market today, the industry standard, or benchmark, is to allow “a maximum of 10% defects in the carton”. This definition (or standard) was developed with the understanding that during the installation process, the installer would be cutting boards as starter pieces or to install around fixtures, cabinetry, door openings, etc. It was what is known as a “cutting allowance”. It also took into account that some product may be installed in locations that are out of sight such as closets or where fixed appliances may be located. In the process of installing the floor, it is expected that the installer will inspect the floor before beginning and throughout the installation process. Any defective boards should be ear-marked for cutting as starter boards or for other uses where these defects will not be seen on the installed floor. In general, the amount of waste (or cutting) in a professionally-installed floor is around 10%, hence the 10% benchmark.
However, it is important to note that this is 10% is simply a benchmark. The product specifications may be more or less restrictive. Higher quality (and higher cost) floors may have an allowance of now more than 5% defects in the box. On the other hand, lower quality (and lower cost) floors may have as many as 20% or more defects in the box without being considered defective overall…It all depends on the product specification and grade standard for the individual floor.
1st Quality, Off-goods and Mill-Run
Based on the preceding definition of “defect”, we can now move on to define two important terms: 1st Quality Products and Off-goods 
Although the product specifications and process of grading floors may be relatively complex, the definitions of 1st Quality and Off-goods are not. In the simplest terms, a 1st Quality floor is one that meets or exceeds the product specifications and grade standards for that product. An off-goods product is one that falls below the grade standard for that product. In other words, Off-goods includes ANY and ONLY product that does not meet the 1st Quality grade standard. This applies both to the individual boards as well as to the floor as a whole.
During the production and manufacturing process for hardwood floors, the product goes through a variety of steps that turn it from raw lumber into a finished product. At each stage of the process, manufactures have quality checks that are in place to review and grade the floor against the defined product specification. During each of these checks, the product is examined for any characteristics that are not within the standards. If the product is outside these standards, it is sorted out and “down-graded” into the Off-goods category. These individual pieces are collectively boxed and then sold as Off-goods.
Generally speaking, the manufacturing process and our quality inspection and grading systems result in approximately 8-12% of the total production output being sold as Off-goods. .
As a reminder, when thinking about the terms 1st Quality and Off-goods it is important to remember our earlier definition of defects. Although an individual board may contain one or more “defects”, the floor may still be well within the grade standard for 1st Quality if the overall % of defects in the carton is under the maximum allowed for that product. However, all the material (i.e. each individual board) in an Off-goods carton should exhibit one or more “defects”- whether natural character or as a result of milling and manufacturing.
One last term that we want to define in this section is “Mill-run”. Mill-run products refer to those that are manufactured using a particular product specification but for which the Off-goods product is not sorted or down-graded into a separate category. In other words, a mill-run grade standard allows all material (1st Quality and Off-goods) in the carton. Normally there are limits placed on the % of off-goods that may be included in the carton, most commonly 20%.
It may be useful to think of these grade standards in terms of a product grade and specification matrix.
What Is Not Covered By These Warranties?
The Timberland Collection or Tavern Grade / Cabin Grade (both standard off-goods and Value Grade products) is intended to be an economy grade of flooring. This means that the minimum standard for acceptance per our grading rules is that the floor must be “installable” and “serviceable”. In other words, it must be able to be fit together and be secured to the sub-floor using the recommended installation methods for that type of flooring. In the case of Engineered flooring, this also means that the floor will not delaminate within the warranty period.
As an economy grade of flooring, this product will contain a variety of characteristics which are either naturally occurring within the wood itself or the result of milling, manufacturing, grading or finishing processes. These characteristics are not considered defects under the grading standards for the “Timberland Collection” and may include, but are not limited to, the following:
 Note: The term “Off-goods” is the generic term used to describe the products that do not meet the 1st Quality grade standards. However, you may hear other terms used to reference these products. “Seconds” is another common overall term. In the hardwood flooring industry, the terms “Cabin” and “Tavern” grade are also used. Cabin typically refers to the engineered hardwood floors in the off-goods category. Tavern typically refers to solid hardwood flooring. There is no real difference between any of these grade standards and many parts of the industry may use them interchangeably to refer to off-goods.