Premium Color versus Firsts and Seconds
(There is no difference except color)
Color Changes - When mature trees are harvested, various enzymes left by insects and plant viruses over many years may change color; these chemicals in the wood "developing" in the heat of the kiln. In the end, the dried lumber shows numerous dark streaks and spots. These streaks and spots are harmless. They are just as hard, and have no effect on durability. About half the lumber is streaked this way.
Two Classes of Color - Our Hard Maple Blocks are all made the same way, at the same time, in the same sizes, with the same sanding and care. We loosely regard them as being composed of two classes of color: (1) Firsts, and (2) Seconds (there is no clear cut dividing line). The Seconds have spots and streaks of gray or darker brown. When we make our Premium Sets we select only Firsts; what remain are the Firsts and Seconds composed of both types. We give a discount of about 15% for Sets assembled from Firsts and Seconds. Many people who buy them wonder what the difference is as they are very similar. The difference is color only. If color doesn't matter to you or you feel that the blocks should be more natural buy firsts and seconds.
Which to Buy - Which should you buy? Here's my best answer: in 6-12 months you may not be able to tell the difference. Blocks get a lot of rough play and they show lots of marks and stains, after a time developing a patina that shows plenty of use. I think many of you should buy Firsts and Seconds. This is what wood really looks like and the blocks are exactly the same otherwise. In short order you probably won't notice.
The problem is that if you buy F&S and don't like them, it is pretty expensive to make the changeover. So if color is really important to you, don't listen to me - buy premium blocks. For 10% to 15% more you get a creamy, evenly colored block.
Examples of both kinds are shown below.
Here is a Premium Base A Set (all Firsts)
Here is the Same Set in Firsts and Seconds