Evaluating Lumber Trends: What’s Wrong with Short Lumber?

Full kiln for drying lumber

Full kiln for drying lumber

What’s wrong with short lumber? First, the short answer: nothing. Now for the extended explanation. Within the U.S. lumber industry, a “short board” is anything shorter than 8 feet. Most of our stock of “short lumber,” here at J. Gibson McIlvain lumber company, is between 6 and 8 feet long, the majority between 7 and 8. For some reason, Americans have started thinking in terms of boards that are at least 8 feet long — and often order boards that are 10-12 feet long. By contrast, European customers are accustomed to ordering what we consider “short” lumber; they simply have less of a demand for longer boards.

Variation According to Species

What this means for U.S. sawmills is that they tend to offer boards that are 8 feet and longer. Unlike those domestic species, foreign sawmills across the globe produce a large quantity of shorts that will be readily accepted by the European market. When U.S. wholesalers like J. Gibson McIlvain purchase containers of tropical species, a small percentage of shorts is included as a by-product of the longer-length boards.

McIlvain lumberyard

McIlvain lumberyard

The percentage of short boards will vary, based on species. For instance, when we place an order for Genuine Mahogany, it usually comes from several mills throughout Central and South America. Because of the relatively smaller trees (compared to those that grew during the 1700s, the “Golden Age of Mahogany”), a greater volume of smaller lengths accompanies each order — 20% of each load will typically be considered “shorts.”

Sapele and Utile, both African hardwoods, grow to be quite large. As a result, we can easily receive a majority of extra-long, wide, thick boards, in a container, with only about 5% classified as “shorts.” Many other exotic species, such as Spanish Cedar and African Mahogany, include a percentage of shorts between those two extremes.

Opportunities for Lumber Customers

Unloading Ipe wood

Unloading Ipe wood

Because we order in large quantities, we inevitably end up receiving short lumber in just about any species. The U.S. market largely ignores those perfectly good boards, making it akin to “undiscovered gold.” As a result, we’re able to offer it at steep discounts, sometimes up to 30% off the typical per-foot price! Now, we understand that some projects simply won’t allow for short lumber. But if you ask your architect or designer to work out a plan that intentionally includes short lumber, you may be surprised at how easy it is to incorporate it into a build.

While you may feel a little humbled to purchase others’ cast-offs, there is another way to think of it: You’re contributing to the global ecosystem by helping eliminate would-be waste that’s really perfectly good lumber. While a single builder may not be able to impact the global lumber industry like Bob Taylor has the Ebony, we can all do our little part to raise awareness and be good stewards of our natural resources.

J Gibson McIlvain truck by stacked wood

J Gibson McIlvain truck by stacked wood

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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