Evaluating Lumber Trends: Is Bigger Always Better?

Air drying lumber

Air drying lumber

With lumber, is bigger always better? In brief, the answer to this question is “No, not always.” In the lumber industry, we’ve noticed a trend toward customers ordering longer, wider boards. Okay, that makes sense when we’re talking about using large timbers or wide decking. However, when we take the time to ask customers about their intended end use applications, we’ve been surprised to discover how often they’re ordering lumber in sizes much bigger than required for their jobs.

If they’re willing to pay for larger boards than they need, why should we care? Here are a few reasons over-buying lumber can be a problem.

It Isn’t Necessarily Better

Often, when customers order bigger boards than they need, it’s because they believe that allowing for a higher percentage of waste per board will lead to a better color match. (Some also plan to rip the boards apart and glue them back together — a bad idea for many reasons!) In fact, some of the clearest, most aesthetically pleasing boards are naturally going to be narrow and short. Why? If you understand lumber grading at all, you know it’s all about percentages (along with clear cutting size).

Grading dried lumber at J Gibson McIlvain

Grading dried lumber at J Gibson McIlvain

Because of how the system is set up, a board that’s shorter and narrower than the FAS or FEQ grade category allows will fall into the lower grade category regardless of the percentage of clear space. More often than not, when the lumber we get in doesn’t meet the qualifications for top grade, the reason is related to size, not condition; in fact, our Select and even Common Grade lumber is typically 100% defect free! Since it is too small to qualify as higher grade, though, the customer benefits by getting it for a price that matches the grade.

It Isn’t Always Needed

Sometimes, a long or particularly wide board is required. (Mouldings, boat cover boards, and specialty wood flooring designs come to mind.) In such cases, we’re more than happy to help our customers. Unfortunately, the more those who don’t really need larger sizes purchase oversized lumber, the less it will be available for those who truly need it.

McIlvain lumberyard

McIlvain lumberyard

If what a customer has in mind, though, is making that extra-long, wide board into a design that looks like the screen of a Tetris game, we highly recommend that they order smaller boards instead. They’re ordering lumber like it’s a sheet good, when it’s nothing of the sort. As increasing numbers of customers purchase long and wide boards, they leave heaps of short, narrow boards piling up. Heaps from which neither they nor others wish to order. Not only will purchasing such by-products of the long-and-wide craze help reduce your waste and price point, but it will also free up the larger boards for projects that require them.

In our next post about lumber trends, we’ll look at how buying short lumber, in particular, can benefit your build.

Stacks of Cherry in front of a lumber truck

Stacks of Cherry in front of a lumber truck

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.

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