Where Has All the Hardwood Lumber Gone?

If you are involved with the hardwood lumber industry you probably have noticed a change in lumber availability recently. Whether it be specific products such as 4/4 white oak being scarce or 4/4 walnut being harder to find, it seems lumber is not as readily available as it once was.

A recent industry report indicated that in May U.S. hardwood sawmill production dipped to the lowest level it has been since the 1960’s. At one point North American hardwood sawmill production approached a high of nearly 13 billion board feet and this year it appears it could be less than 5 billion board feet. There seems to be little doubt that the past foreign trade wars and the recent pandemic have had a significant negative impact on the hardwood sawmill industry. We have heard reports of mills implementing extended shutdowns and in certain instances choosing to close for good.  We have seen mills being forced to slow overall production as a result of safety guidelines to operate during the pandemic. And we have also been told that mills have struggled to secure the logs they need to continue their preferred pace of production.  Perhaps all of these scenarios support the reality of reduced production.hardwoodsupply

So if you rely on hardwood lumber how can you prepare? In our conversations with our customers, we are suggesting a few things to consider.

  • Analyze the benefits of buying ahead. In times of low production, it could make sense to buy inventory ahead of time. If you require a product that may see dwindling supply in the near future, it might make sense to order ahead and schedule release dates with your supplier. Develop a program. This could help you secure the supply you need in advance and smooth out the peaks and valleys of availability. This is especially useful for customers that require “just-in-time” deliveries.

  • Consider product alternatives. If you can use alternate species in your production, it may be something to consider. For instance, consider trying to use ash for cherry or hard maple for soft maple. Also remember alder and even Red Grandis, (although not a North American species) could provide solutions to declining supply.
  • Utilize higher-yielding products. In times of short supply, getting the most out of each board and improving your overall lumber yield can make quite a difference. This can be achieved in a variety of ways.
    • Customized Grades – Working with a trusted supplier to develop a specific lumber sort that works best for you can help you increase yields and reduce waste by providing only the subset of the lumber grade that is best for increasing your yields.
    • Request more width sorted lumber - Width sorts are very popular with flooring manufacturers and window and door manufacturers. These sorts provide manufactures bundles of lumber that are less random and thus increase their yields.
    • Moulder Ready Blanks -  Ripped to width hardwoods are excellent for moulding, cabinetry, furniture, and flooring applications. Hardwood ripping allows manufacturers to purchase the exact width lumber they need to insert into their manufacturing processes which streamlines production, decreases waste, and of course, improves lumber yields! 

If we can help you in any way let us know. We do have supply and continue to work hand in hand with our customers to provide them the best solutions to meet their needs. We would be happy to be a resource for your hardwood lumber supply needs as well.  

Tony Cimorelli
Baillie Lumber
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