Friday, 24 July 2015 13:08

How can you buy hardwood lumber?

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The hardwood lumber industry is often thought of as an tenured, traditional, conservative industry built on long term relationships and trust with very few new entrants.  In most instances that is true. However, just because it seems there are very few new hardwood lumber companies, it does not mean that the industry is stagnant. Companies hire new employees who join the industry on a regular basis. These new industry participants experience a long learning curve. Sometimes we can lose sight of that.

Baillie bundles of hardwood lumberRecently, while participating in a tradeshow, I was asked a seemingly simple question that I thought everyone knew.  I was asked, “in what forms can companies buy your hardwood lumber in?”  So here is an attempt to answer the question.

Hardwood lumber is traditionally sold as a raw material and in a rough form.  It is sold as boards cut from a log and the lengths and widths of the boards vary based on the actual dimensions of the log it was cut from.  Hardwood lumber is typically found in lengths ranging from 6’ to 16’ and in widths from 4” to 12” or more.  All these various sized boards are packaged together as one and sold in what is referred to as a random width and length bundle. 

Sawmills also cut hardwood lumber in different thicknesses and they are expressed in quarters of an inch such as 4/4”, 5/4”, 6/4” 8/4”, 10/4”, 12/4” and 16/4”.  As a standard, hardwood lumber bundles are packaged by thickness and are not mixed.

Since every single hardwood tree is a unique item, the characteristics of each board vary.  The characteristics of each board and the amount of clear fiber available, or the amount of space it would have between defects, determine the different quality classes of hardwood lumber. These are called hardwood lumber grades.

The hardwood lumber grades were established by the National Hardwood Lumber Association, (NHLA), in the late 1890’s.  They are almost always based on the amount of usable clear cuttings one should be able to derive from the board.  This is referred to as yield.  Standard hardwood lumber grades are categorized in the following manner:

- FAS 1F and Better – Highest quality. Will yield largest portion of clear usable parts.
- 1 Common
- 2 Common
- 3 Common  - Lowest quality of the hardwood lumber grading spectrum

Over the years, hardwood lumber suppliers have enhanced the average hardwood lumber offering by trying to accommodate certain requests from customers.  Additional services have been added to enhance a random width and length board to make it better prepared for use in a customer’s manufacturing process.   These are a few of the activities that are now commonly provided by a hardwood lumber supplier.

- Surfacing – Planing the board to convert it from a rough sawn state.  This can be done on 2 sides, (S2S) or all four sides (S4S).
- SLR1E – Straight line rip 1 edge. Squaring up the board on one edge.
- SLR2E – Straight line rip 2 edge. Squaring up the board on both edges.
- Sorting – Separating the various boards into common widths, lengths and even color and packaged together so each board is more similar.

In addition, hardwood lumber manufacturers have also developed specific customer or proprietary grades that are not covered by the NHLA rule book.  These special grades typically represent a specific type of hardwood lumber board or a certain type of characteristic that is best suited for a customer’s use.  Manufacturers would be wise to explore these options with their supplier to better understand what is available.

There is much more to hardwood lumber grading products and offerings than this. However, this is a start to answering in what forms can one buy hardwood lumber.  If you have any questions our team would be happy to help.  Please contact us and let us know if we can assist you in any way.

Tony Cimorelli
Baillie Lumber
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