Why Does Wood Grade Matter When Selecting Kitchen Cabinets?

Select cherry wood cabinets

Wood changes with age, and the less uniform the wood is, the more change you will see over time. For example, the heartwood of cherry ages much differently than the sapwood, creating obvious differences in color as time goes on. There are certain types of wood, like hickory, that are meant to be a little more rustic and show off the unique characteristics of the wood, but for most wood types, especially for cabinetry, a more uniform appearance is preferred.

Generally, the lower the grade of wood, the more variation and defects it will have. At American Wood Reface, we only use select hardwood for your cabinetry to ensure lasting durability and beauty.

Visualizing the Differences in Wood Grade

Standard Grade Cherry Wood

Select grade cherry wood cabinets installed by American Wood Reface

Select Grade Cherry Wood

Take a look at the differences in the cabinets in the pictures above. The picture on the left is a Before photo of a kitchen that was remodeled by the team at American Wood Reface. The cabinets are standard grade cherry wood. The picture to the right is an example of select cherry wood cabinets that were installed by our team.

You’ll notice that the cabinets in the picture on the left show drastic color differences. This is because the heartwood of cherry ages much differently than the sapwood, and there is much more heartwood and sapwood used in standard grade wood than in select grade.

What is heartwood and sapwood?

  • Heartwood - The more mature part of tree that naturally has more stored sugars, dyes, and oils, making it darker than sapwood. Heartwood is generally preferred for cabinetry, furniture, and flooring because it has a richer color and is stronger than sapwood.
  • Sapwood - The outer, living layers of a tree formed between the heartwood and the bark. Sapwood is typically softer and lighter in color.

Select vs. Standard

Hardwood used for cabinets or furniture is graded according to the expected number of clear face cuts a board will yield. Boards that have very few defects or character markings are considered select and are ideal for crafting cabinets in which a uniform appearance is desired.

Select/Premium Grade

  • Few defects or character markings
  • Few knots or holes
  • Uniform in color
  • Small, tight knots permitted every 3 feet
  • More expensive than lower grades because less of the tree is able to be used

Standard Grade

  • Standard grade may also be referred to as cabinet grade or construction grade
  • More natural characteristics like heartwood and sapwood
  • Cheaper than select grades due to increased production and yield

Take a look at this kitchen transformation in which we gave the cabinets a complete makeover, from peeling thermofoil to gorgeous select hardwood.

Common Characteristics of Wood

Some call it character, some call it a defect. Woodworkers come across many different defects in wood, some more common than others, and many that make the wood weaker and more susceptible to damage over time. Below are some common wood defects you might see in lower grade lumber.

  • Sound Knots - Also called tight knots, these types of knots are solid, free from decay, and can’t be knocked loose because they are grown into the wood’s growth rings.
  • Unsound Knots - These types of knots are formed by dead branches or twigs that were cut down. They are very likely to fall out if pushed on.
  • Wormholes - Holes created by larvae burrowing into the wood. These holes vary in size and are often found in groupings.
  • Bird Pecks - Marks created by birds, typically woodpeckers, pecking into trees. Each peck causes a small injury to the tree, causing a change in grain.
  • Burls - A deformity that resembles a swirl or twist in the wood grain caused by shock or injury to a tree in its young age.
  • Sugar Tracks - Streaks of color that run throughout the wood, ranging from yellow to dark brown.
  • Mineral Streaks - Streaks of color ranging from olive to blackish brown that follow the grain pattern.
  • Gum Spots - Mineral-like streaks of color naturally occurring in random spots.

Take the Next Step In Getting Your Dream Kitchen Cabinets

If you’re looking to transform your cabinets into a quality and beautiful focal point of your kitchen, our team can help! Cabinet refacing allows us to transform your structurally sound but dated cabinets into updated, high quality cabinets that you love. We use only select hardwood for your cabinets. Start browsing door styles online now or contact us to schedule a free in-home consultation!

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