grades of maple wood

How to Pick the Right Grade of Maple Wood for Your Sports Floor

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Before it gets installed in your sports facility, maple hardwood undergoes a long milling process in the lumber mill.  But, since it’s a natural product, maple wood comes in many variations. Because every board is unique and different, precise specifications designate exact grades of maple based on its characteristics.  Continue reading to learn about the different maple classes and how to pick the right grade of maple wood for your sports floor.

Grading Rules for Hardwood Maple Floors

As a natural product, maple hardwood comes in many sizes, colors, and variations.  When it comes to sports flooring, variations in knotting, markings, and bark streaks are marked as defects. The Maple Floors Manufacturer’s Association (MFMA) grading rules define three standard grades of maple. 

Before we dive into the grading rules and definitions, it’s important to note that the grade of maple doesn’t impact how well a gym floor performs.  Instead, these grades mainly refer to the visual appearance of the floor. 

First Grade Maple Sports Flooring

First grade maple sports flooring is the highest-rated MFMA grade hardwood.  It adheres to the strictest standards and is hand-picked to minimize variations of the maple species.  First grade maple is used in many sports arenas and is desired for professional competitions.  With no visual defects, first grade maple makes for a lighter-colored and smoother-looking floor. 

Because first grade maple adheres to the highest industry standards, first grade maple flooring comes with a higher price point.  Also, first grade maple standards include:

  • Pin knots no more than 1/8’’ in diameter
  • No bark streaks
  • No dark green or black spots larger than 1/4’’ wide and 3’’ long
  • The underside of the flooring doesn’t have any shallow places longer than 12’’

Second Grade Maple Sports Flooring

Second grade maple flooring is the most commonly specified grade, and it allows for more natural variations than first grade maple flooring.  Second grade maple will have some knotting, but knots can’t be on the edges or ends of the strips.  It also admits distinct variations in color, as well as numerous dark green or black spots.

While it exhibits more variations, second grade maple flooring won’t have bark streaks.  Second grade maple flooring is a popular choice for venues that don’t host high-level sports competitions, such as high school gyms and some commercial facilities.

Third Grade Maple Sports Flooring

The difference between first grade, second grade, and third grade maple flooring is mainly aesthetic.  Due to the more natural variations, third grade maple often comes in darker-looking finished variants.  In fact, some sports facilities prefer installing third grade maple floors.  It provides them with more natural tones and adds unique character to their court.

While third grade maple sports flooring is allowed to have certain natural defects, the wood still must be of good quality and structurally sound.  Any imperfections that could affect performance are removed during the floorboard milling treatment.

Important Considerations for Your Sports Floor

When considering what grade of maple wood is right for your sports facility, you should consider a few essential aspects.  These include the cost of the floor, appearance, and key performance attributes.  Let’s take a brief look at each of these characteristics next. 


This aspect plays a significant role in the decision-making process of nearly every sports facility owner.  In terms of cost, you should consider two factors — the cost of installation and the long-term value. 

Compared to other sports flooring solutions, maple hardwood floors have a high cost of installation and require a relatively significant initial investment.  However, when you factor in the long-term cost, maple hardwood floors prove to be the best flooring solution.  They’re not very expensive to maintain and can last much longer than all other sports flooring materials.


Unlike an objective specification, such as the cost of the floor, the appearance of the floor is an entirely subjective consideration.  Each of the three above-specified grades of maple floors has specific aesthetic characteristics. Based on what color schemes and visual appearance you’re looking for, you need to choose an appropriate grade of maple hardwood boards. When choosing, keep in mind what we mentioned above — the grade of maple flooring only affects the visual appearance, not performance.

Key Attributes

The previous two factors are critical when choosing a flooring surface.  But, there’s also one more essential factor to consider — the end use of your floor. Make sure to pick a flooring surface that offers the appropriate benefits for the sports and types of activities you plan to carry out in the facility.  These factors don’t depend much on the grade of the maple itself but the variety of the wood.  The most important performance characteristics are:

  • Surface Friction — Also called the coefficient of friction, surface friction measures the floor’s capabilities of controlling sliding on the surface.  For a maple hardwood floor, surface friction must be high enough to prevent players from slipping and possibly injuring themselves.  The recommended sliding coefficient value is between 80 and 110 for sports like basketball and volleyball.
  • Shock Absorption — This is a vital aspect of any sports floor installation.  A quality maple hardwood floor with the right amount of shock absorption makes a big impact on player longevity and long-term joint problems.  A hardwood floor that hosts games played on a high competition level should have a shock absorption level of at least 22%. The American Society for Testing and Materials precisely specifies these and many other rules in their ASTM F2772 guidelines.
  • Deflection – Vertical deflection and area of deflection are two measurements that form a benchmark for vertical displacement.  The former deals with vertical displacement of the floor during impact.  The latter measures the area of the floor set into motion during impact.
  • Ball Bounce – Ball bounce is a measurement reflecting the ball’s response reflecting off of the hardwood maple surface.  In sports like basketball, having just the right bounce height is imperative for a quality hardwood floor.

Get Help Choosing the Right Flooring Solution

Maple hardwood floors are the best and most practical choice for sports flooring. They’re aesthetically pleasing, resilient, and environmentally-friendly. Most importantly, hardwood maple floors possess the best physical characteristics out of all sports flooring solutions. As a natural product, maple hardwood floors come in many variations.  If you have any questions or need help choosing the right grade of maple for your sports flooring project, call us today at (973) 801-7219 or fill out our short online form.