Red Label Hardwood Flooring

Red Label Prefinished Hardwood Floors 4 Colors on Display

Last updated on January 14th, 2021 at 05:28 pm

Our Red Label product is unique to the flooring industry and is another great example of offering value that cannot be found anywhere else. I realize that is a pretty bold statement, but if you will pull up a chair, I will do my best to give you a full explanation….

What is Red Label Hardwood? It’s All in the Grading

Where to start? In this video we touched on the Red Label product description, and where it comes from. This blog will go a little further, including more technical points. Here’s a video to help explain what our Red Label has to offer.

Defining what is allowed in our Red Label is not possible. The reason for this is that the Red Label is all culled from the Mill Run. Mill Run is the grade of flooring that has been sorted out before the flooring goes through the finishing process. It is the grader’s job to pull every single board that does not fit the grading parameters of their premium product. So, wood is not graded into the Red Label, but out of the Premium. Approximately 10% of the run will wind up in the Red Label grade.

What defects should you expect to see? In times gone by, all grading standards were the responsibility of NOFMA, National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association. In February 2009, NOFMA grading was taken over by  NWFA National Wood Flooring Association, and grading rules since then have been standardized. Talk about getting technical! Unfinished grading rules were very strict, and very well defined. Anything from the average board length, to the precise milling requirements, to the size of the knot that is allowed, all are covered by NWFA grading. Why? Because the consumer needed to know what they were getting, and rules were needed to divide the entire yield of the tree into definable piles.

Want to Learn More About Hardwood Grades?

Check out our blog post titled Hardwood Grading 101 for more information on the process. We show 4 different grades of red oak natural for you to discern for yourself. I go over a few grader criteria like:

  • A Grader’s Mindset
  • Natural Defect Selection
  • Color Density
  • Color Variation
  • Manufacturer Defects

If you’d rather watch a video on the topic check it out below.

How is Red Label Graded?

Then the prefinished business started picking up and things started to get murky. Prefinished manufacturers could not use all of the different grades that were defined under the unfinished umbrella, mainly because the cost of maintaining 5 or 6 different grades was too high. Plus, few customers wanted a floor graded Clear, as it had no color. So, we saw the prefinished grades being defined by the manufacturers instead of NWFA. 

Well, you can imagine how well this worked. It seemed like the sales departments were in charge of the grading. Terms like meet or exceed, or in accordance, or minimum average board length was replaced with flowery language better suited for a used car lot than a manufacturer’s website or brochure. So, NWFA jumped in to save the day. A new grading parameter was started, and its name is Standard. Yes, that is the name of the prefinished grade as certified by NWFA. Standard. What other grades are there? None. Just Standard. What about everything that doesn’t make the Standard grade? Oh, that is non-Standard.

Don’t get me wrong….NWFA does a tremendous job giving the manufacturers quality rules that must be followed, including milling, moisture content, and overwood. However, aesthetics (grading due to appearance) is pretty much up to the manufacturers. 

Asleep yet? If you have avoided the Sandman this far, you should be okay.

Red Label Prefinished Solid Product Image

A picture of our red label hardwood in the oak natural finish.

#1 Common Hardwood

Now you know that A) Unfinished grading standards like #1 Common, Select and Better, or Clear, mean virtually nothing in the prefinished world., and B) if you want to know what is in the box, look at an open box. Yes, we will do our best to explain to you what can be found in a box of Red Label, but pay close attention to the pictures and videos, as these will best represent the mosaic of an installed floor.

Red Label flooring is made up of any board that displays a visual defect, either natural or manufacturing, that will preclude that board being within the grading standards the manufacturer has set for the Premium product that is being run. That is the definition of our Red Label. Now let’s take a peek at the description.

#2 Common Hardwood

A good place to start on a description is the NWFA allowances for #2 Common: “May contain sound natural variations of the forest product and manufacturing imperfections. The purpose of this grade is to furnish a floor suitable for homes, general utility use, or where character marks and contrasting appearance is desired.”

What you won’t find in #2 Common

Equally important is what is not allowed: “The following are not admitted: shattered or rotten ends, large broken knots, excessive bad millwork, shake, advanced rot, and similar unsound defects. Dark machine burns exceeding 3/64″ (.0469”) (1.19 mm) deep not admitted. Knot holes and open characters which will readily fill are admitted. Occasional scant thickness (hit or miss) on the back of the flooring board the entire length of the piece admitted, providing there is full bearing across the board at some point within three inches of the ends. A limited number of pieces with no tongue admitted.”

Natural color variations, knots, and wormholes are the most common causes for a board to be downgraded, but another very important factor in grading is the average board length. While the Standard grade will have an average board length, as opposed to a minimum board length, sub-standard (our Red Label) floors will not.

Red Label will have lots of shorts! Why? Imagine a beautiful, clear piece of Red Oak is coming down the line….with one knot, right in the middle of it. If the knot is not cut out, the whole board will fall into Red Label. That would be a bad move for the manufacturer! So, a grader marks the spots that he wants cut, and the board goes down to the next station, where a sawman cuts out the offending defect so that the remainder of the board can be sold at a much higher price. Most of the time these spans of low-graded wood are small, so the result of the cut-off is a short board.

Red Label Creates a Mosaic

“Well, that is what I want! Not a floor where all the boards look alike!”

You will hear (or read) us using the word mosaic a lot when talking about the Red Label. The reason for that is, like a mosaic, it’s appeal lies in the finished product, not the individual boards. I wish I knew how many times I have heard a customer say, upon seeing a display box racked out, “Well, that is what I want! Not a floor where all the boards look alike!” I would also like to know how many customers have called in after opening one box and said, “I thought you said there wouldn’t be any shorts in this? It’s all shorts!” Ugh! Yes, it will have lots of shorts in it. And you will not throw them out, or you will have 50% waste. Use them.

Red Label Solid Hardwood Gunstock & Smoke-Weathered Displayed

Our Red Label Solid in Gunstock (above) & Smoke-Weathered (below)

As you can see in the picture above and below, the finished product does not lose appeal due to a large amount of shorts. Note…if you are paying an installer to lay your floor, let him know ahead of time the grade you are using. While most installers don’t mind, we do not want a claim because your installer doesn’t like it. If you want a floor with fewer shorts, let us know. And bring more money. Like 2 or 3 times as much.

Red Label Solid Hardwood Oak Natural & Butterscotch Display

Our Red Label Solid in Oak Natural (above) & Butterscotch (below)

Why do we sell the Red Label? Two reasons….1, like the butcher’s ground beef, it is a byproduct that must be dealt with. 2, it offers a tremendous value to the customer that has a need to save money, or just likes a rustic floor. 

Large Quantities Available

Another great characteristic of the Red Label is its availability. Remember, it was pulled out before the finish was applied, so it can be finished in any color we want. To keep prices as low as possible, we run all of the inventory in 4 colors-Oak natural (can be a mix of Red and White, or one or the other) Gunstock, Mystic, and Smoke. This allows us to keep large amounts of stock on hand, It also allows us to offer semi-custom colors on orders of 10,000 sq ft or more, at no extra charge. 

Expectations & The Reality of Red Label

I hope I have been able to represent what is in the boxes of Red Label as accurately and honestly as possible. As a company, we figured out the secret to happy customers many years ago. Due to you have read this far, I am willing to share this secret, with the expectation that you will keep it to yourself. The secret? Make sure that our reality meets your expectations. That is how we train our salespeople. If we know what the reality of the contents of the box are, and represent it honestly, all we have to do is meet your expectation.

I prefer we blow by your expectations like a 1982 Ford Fiesta going by a gas station, but I will settle for meeting them. Sometimes….sometimes! we meet a customer with unreal expectations. It is our salespeople’s job to either lower your expectations or move you to another product. Our salespeople are very, very good at what they do. Give them a call. If the Red Label isn’t for you, they will be happy to describe another product to you that better fits your needs, budget, or expectations!