What are ''Cabin Grade'' and Flooring ''Seconds''

What are ''Cabin Grade'' and Flooring ''Seconds''

We get a lot of questions about Cabin Grade hardwood. It’s one of our bestsellers and we do our best to offer as much information as possible about what to expect from a Cabin Grade floor. 

Is it worth an extra 3-4$/sqft to have fewer smaller boards to install? Even if it takes a little longer, once the installation is done, it's done! Then you're just someone with a beautiful floor that took a little longer to put down once.

A just finished installation picture from one of our customers

On our site you will find products listed as "Factory Seconds", "Second Quality" or "Cabin Grade". What is that; what does it mean? Are we selling you our trash? Is it a euphemism for "junk Flooring"?

No, it really isn't.

Cabin Grade Hardwood is for do-it-yourselfers and frugal shoppers who are willing to have a slightly longer and more thought out installation process to get a great looking hardwood floor at about 70% off the standard cost.

Take a look at this video, because showing seconds is the best way to explain them. Floors To Your Home owner, Dan Kahn, introduces them very well, and our former Quality Assurance Director, Hayley, who installed two floors in her own house with our seconds, goes into more detail. We shot a lot of this at her place, so the flooring you'll see her sorting through - that's the stuff she used. Every plank of her finished floor was a second quality purchase.

Now, if that's not for you, that's great! Because we still have tons of First Quality flooring at WAY better prices than most people, so we can get you taken care of too

But if this sounds interesting, then read on, because a lot of people are looking for Cabin Grade. That's why we always carry such a huge selection of it. 

What Is Cabin Grade?

It's the flooring manufacturers set aside when making their prestige products, and it's often pulled out for pretty small reasons. A premium priced hardwood will have a very narrow set of guidelines for color variability, plank lengths, and natural wood features. Planks that fall outside the guidelines for a particular product line are set aside. People who spend a ton of money for a Piano Finish Merlot Cherry Red Oak want every plank to look alike, so it's reasonable to be so precise with those plank selections. 

Meanwhle, the same wood, possibly even from the very same tree, run through the same mills, in the same production lines, that happens to fall outside those specific guidelines gets set aside as 'Cabin Grade', or 'Seconds.' Is it nice looking? Yes it is. Is it installable? Yep! Will there be any real defects? There can be, and you may have to cut off part of a plank, but every plank will be installable. 

Do the planks vary in look from each other more than the Select Product? Most do indeed, and variation from board to board is something a lot of people prefer. These floors will usually have more natural wood features such as greater color variation, a stronger presence of grain, mineral colorations, small knots, and a greater variety of board lengths. On the other hand, darker floors may actually have less contrast from plank to plank, giving you a more even looking floor than usual for that color.

There is no "supposed to" with how floors can look. There is what you like, and what you don't. If a cabin grade option looks great to you, then who cares what the manufacturer wished those planks looked like so they could charge more? And again, if a particular cabin graded floor isn't right for you, we still have great prices on the manufacturers' select material.

Cabin Grade making a nice, rustic kitchen floor

Cabin Grade making a nice, rustic kitchen floor


Why Would You Buy Cabin Grade?


Even with the small bump up in the extra square footage already recommended with any floor, you will save a lot of money. A $7,000 job could turn into $2,500, with the final floor looking just as good to you and your neighbors.


Everything we sell is currently in stock, so whether you save a lot of money on a manufacturer's first choice flooring, or save even more money on a cabin grade product, we have it in stock right now, ready to ship to you in one or two business days, likely to arrive at your home within a week.

The Finished Floor

The people who buy our cabin grade hardwood, or even seconds in laminate or vinyl, are happy with the their finished floors!

A richly colored floor in a living room

Here, I pulled this from our old Reviews page:

Erin writes: "Adam, Just wanted to let you know we had part of the flooring laid this past weekend. It is beautiful. You mentioned that it was seconds but we only found 3 boards out of about 20 boxes that had issues. The man that laid it for us had his wife come look at it and asked for your web address to order for their home. My husband and I were concerned about ordering from the internet especially when you said it was seconds. Thank you for being a honest online company. I will definitely recommend you to friends."

What Will My Finished Cabin Grade Floor Look Like?

This is a tricky one. Part of Cabin Grade’s appeal is the variation present in the flooring. Since we purchase all of our Cabin Grade flooring sight unseen and don’t open the boxes prior to selling them, it’s impossible for us to say exactly what the variations will be on a specific flooring order.

Not all planks will even have imperfections; some will look perfect while others will have some sort of visible surface flaw, including but not limited to:

  • Color Variation between a cabin grade floor and its corresponding First Quality counterpart.  Your planks might be darker or lighter than the manufacturer wanted for that particular product.  This may be due to their own staining process or just naturally occurring deviations in different pieces of wood.  Color variation in hardwood comes straight from the tree, because no two trees are the same.
  • Natural Hardwood Variation because hardwood is a natural thing. Cabin Grade hardwood might have more of the pinholes, knots and mineral streaks common to trees. Pinholes and wormholes are the result of insect activity before the wood is harvested. They tend to be very small, and may or may not be noticeable. Knotholes, by contrast, are more visible. All three of these are natural occurrences and have no effect on a board’s structural integrity. These most common of imperfections in Cabin Grade flooring are surface imperfections that present an aesthetic issue instead of a structural one.

For those who want a hardwood floor that’s unique and distinctive, this can be a good thing! Here’s a finished Cabin Grade project chock full of variety and character.

Meanwhile, other finished Cabin Grade projects can look more uniform.

  • Length Variation: Many top price hardwood floors have boards of equal lengths, and usually pretty long lengths, six to seven feet isn't unheard of.  But not every part of a tree can be cut into a seven foot long, seven inch wide, 1/2 inch thick plank, so a lot of cabin grade will have those shorter boards.  They're the same boards, they just didn't reach the length goal.  They can still be installed, and even help give cabin grade floors a unique look. Short boards should be expected and planned for. 

For example, we once featured in a refurbishment focused blog.   Jenna Sue got a great deal on a really nice looking style of engineered hardwood, but she had not planned on smaller planks.  Her post starts out with a tone of "Oh no!" but once the floor was down, she really liked its look, writing, "I was pleasantly surprised to discover that everything just blended together and the board length was not a big deal at all." For the next few years, we could barely keep that particular color in stock, all because of her Bad News post.

Since many Cabin Grade products are random length designs, there’s no way to predict how many shorter pieces will be present per box. Short boards are another trait that adds real personality to Cabin Grade hardwood. They’re great for lending a rustic look.

  • Manufacturing Variation. These floors are manufactured on the very same equipment and production lines as the first quality products. It's the same flooring, but these planks are set aside due to discrepancies such as roughness, surface cracks, or reduced finish thickness. They may also have inconsistencies in the tongue & groove or locking mechanisms, but all planks will be installable.
  • Milling Variation. This includes differences in product thickness, width, edge defects such as bevels and out of square edges, and corner breaks.  Some Cabin Grade pieces may have surface splits. The boards themselves shouldn’t be damaged, but a visible crack to the very top layer may be noticeable. If desired, these can easily be repaired with wood filler, available at your local hardware store.

  • Shape Variation. A Cabin Grade hardwood plank may be bent or crooked or have edge defects such as bevels and out of square edges.

Other visual or physical variations that don’t prevent installation or proper use.

So What’s The Bottom Line?

As you can see in the video above, there is a little extra work to do in installing, deciding which boards to use where, but the finished floors looked great.  

Here’s a finished Cabin Grade project from happy customer Jen C. Thanks for the great photos, Jen!

We cannot estimate exactly how much of the flooring will contain surface imperfections or short boards. We can, however, say with certainty that 95% of our customers who order fifteen to twenty percent overage on Cabin Grade hardwood are able to complete their flooring project. That doesn’t mean that 80% of the flooring is perfect. It means that the material can be installed as a floor and you can finish your project.

What are the takeaways?

The Good

  • You absolutely can wind up with a beautiful floor that you're proud of.
  • You will save a lot of money. A LOT of money. Seriously. That's why we sell this stuff, and we sell a lot of it - to a lot of happy people.

The "Bad"

  • Instead of 10%, you should order at least 20% more than your needed square footage to accommodate any removal and hiding of blemishes. 95% of our customers who follow this advice are able to finish their floors.
  • This will be like a puzzle. Not a Rubik's Cube, just a puzzle, but you will have to do a little extra work, the kind Hayley shows us in the video, to install your floor.

Bad? Sure, okay. It's true that seconds floors are not for everyone. Dan says that at the beginning of the video. You have to ask yourself if those two bads are worth the money you will save on the flooring. Really, it's just the second one. The first, the extra material? You'll still save a ton of money, even with 20% extra. Heck, you need 5%-10% extra with a first quality floor anyway.

Our customer service people are very open to talking honestly about second quality flooring, both in general and with specific products, so if you're looking at any of it you should feel free to call them and ask questions. We're not hiding anything, we will answer whatever you ask us.

The only exception is with opening boxes. As we pointed out, we never see inside these boxes of seconds. They come in wrapped up, and they leave us to go to you still wrapped up. We don't inspect them, and we don't sort through them. You will be the first person outside the manufacturer to see the actual flooring.

It’s important to put some extra forethought into installing cabin grade hardwood. As we show in the video, if you want the surface imperfections hidden, plan to install those boards in closets or in areas of the room that will be hidden from view, such as under furniture or throw rugs.  You can also cut away those parts of a board.  

We sell cabin grade flooring every day, so we carry a lot of it, usually having 50-100 different products in stock at any one time.  We do our best to explain the possibilities involved with a cabin grade flooring installation, and we encourage you to call our office during normal business hours to speak with one of our flooring experts. They will be more than happy to answer your questions about cabin grade flooring!

The bottom line: we want you to be happy with your flooring. If you’re looking for big savings and a unique, characterful hardwood floor, than this product is for you!

And if this product clearly is not your cup of tea, we have an even greater variety of First Quality flooring, still a better prices than you'll find anywhere else.

– – – –

Three writers did this!

- - - -David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty
- - - -  Meredith is a content writer at Floors To Your Home. Away from the office she's a published author, hockey fan, music lover, and mom to a vampire-fanged rescue cat.
- - - - Some of this is also paraphrased from the owner himself. 

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