Evaluating Lumber Trends: Does Species Make a Difference?

Black Walnut tree

Black Walnut tree

Does wood species really make a difference? We’ll start, again, with the short answer: a resounding YES! We ended the previous post in this series on lumber trends by recommending that designers and architects keep the “undiscovered gold” of short boards in mind. Now, we’re going to take it a step further and discuss how keeping species in view during the design phase is absolutely crucial.

Imagine creating a plan for a structure made from popsicle sticks when only toothpicks were available, and you’ll get the basic idea. Such has been the case for boat builders who are used to working with Teak but receiving requests for other species, such as Walnut. It is possible, but some re-designing will be needed.

First, you need to know a little bit about Walnut — or whatever other species you are planning to use. With Walnut, in particular, there are some peculiarities of size and grading that require careful consideration. Your customer will probably come to you with a species request, enthusiastic about trying something different. Listen and take notes, but don’t make any promises. If the species is unfamiliar to you, you’ll need to do a little homework before you can respond. If they and you are used to working with Teak, you may know the sizes and grades of availability for that species; however, you may be completely in the dark about how other species run.

Stacks of Walnut lumber

Stacks of Walnut lumber

Education is a good thing, and here at J. Gibson McIlvain lumber company, we’re always glad to share our lumber knowledge and expertise with our customers. As you grow in your understanding of the particular species, you may be frustrated, at first. (After all, you may find out you have only toothpicks with which to build something designed with popsicle sticks.) As you adjust your expectations, though, and become increasingly open to how the job can be redesigned with a different species in mind, you may be surprised!

With the shift from Teak to Walnut, the necessity of having to work around knots can be quite a challenge. But a challenge doesn’t mean impossibility. When you’re willing to think outside the box — or, rather, around the defects — you’ll eliminate waste of both clear lumber and added funds. Even if you’re used to working with Teak (and the high prices that come with it), you’ll no doubt be impressed at how a little value engineering can affect your bottom line. Even if pricing isn’t a factor for you or your customer, clear Walnut is simply difficult to source, so designing with it in mind will only lead to disappointment down the road.

When you as the customer are open about your lumber needs with your lumber supplier, the education process goes both ways. When we know what customers need, we can more specifically source the lumber that will meet their needs. If we know that many prefer a higher grade of Walnut, for instance, we can justify keeping it in stock. We can also instruct an individual grader about the specific requirements for a particular customer’s order, making sure to keep exactly what that customer needs on hand.

Moulding quality control at J Gibson McIlvain

Moulding quality control at J Gibson McIlvain

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.

As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

Share Your Thoughts

*