The primary reason for grading hardwood veneer, beyond sorting for dimensional purposes, is to establish a price/value relationship for the veneer. Because we compete in an industry that can be characterized as a fashion industry, this price/value relationship is set not only by the aesthetics of the wood, but also by the demand for the species. Obviously, our industry does not experience wide fluctuations in fashion such as haute couture in women's clothing. However, the same principles of demand apply, only over a longer timeline.
The grading process begins with a dimensional evaluation of a flitch. At this point, the grader is determining the length of clear cuts and the width of the flitch. It is important to note that while width is a key factor in dimension, the dominant factor is the clear cutting length. For example; a flitch with an average sheet width of 30cm and a length of 310cm will be considered dimensionally the same as a flitch with an average sheet width of 50cm and a length of 310cm. However, given the assumption that both flitches are aesthetically equal, the wide flitch will likely command a higher price than the narrow flitch. As a general rule veneer is graded dimensionally into the following categories:
Panel lengths - Clear-cuts of 255cm and longer
Door lengths - Clear-cuts of 220cm to 250cm
Furniture lengths - Clear cuts less than 220cm, but generally no shorter than 120cm
After determining the dimensional grade of the flitch, an evaluation of the flitch is made based on the overall appearance. While appearance evaluations and the associated grade classifications differ somewhat from mill to mill, all are generally based on the standards set by Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association. For example, while HPVA standards list 'AA' as the highest face grade of hardwood veneer, most veneer mills have established an 'architectural' grade to accommodate flitches which are virtually defect free and have exceptional dimensions. The HPVA grade standards for the upper three grades of face veneers are listed below. These standards are established as a baseline for objective evaluation, but it is important to note that the grading process is also a subjective process. For this reason there is no substitute for ongoing communication between the mill and the customer to establish parameters of grades that meet the customer's needs. In some cases, this may require establishing a customer specific grade, which is entirely acceptable within the industry.