Thinking Outside the Box About Lumber Sizes, Part 1

logger cutting tree with chainsawDid you know that the U.S. lumber market tends to be a little different than the rest of the world? For one thing, we generally want completely perfect lumber and are unwilling to settle for anything less — for any application. For another thing, we’re big on size. Maybe too big.

We’ve looked before at how requiring sizes different from that which the global market demands has an impact on pricing and availability. Well, that’s not the only way that our pension for pickiness ends up costing us extra.

For years now there’s been a movement toward wider and longer boards. Often, those boards are much larger than the parts into which they will be made.

logs stacked in forestExamine the Reasoning

The basic thinking goes something like this: The more board available from which to work allows for better color matching. In reality, though, color matching lumber is difficult, no matter what. And bigger — as much as we Americans like it — isn’t always better. In fact, the opposite is often true, at least when it comes to lumber: some of the most beautiful specimens are actually quite short and narrow.

How does that make sense? Lumber grading is basically a game of percentages, with grade being based on the percentage of defect-free material and minimum cutting size. Consider this: If you have a pristine board, but it’s shorter and narrower than the FAS or FEQ grade allows, it will technically be classified as being lesser grade. Translation?

Realize What’s Available

claw crane moving logsMuch of the time when a premium supplier like J. Gibson McIlvain has lumber that isn’t quite “top grade,” it’s because of size, not defects. We even have Select or Common grade lumber that’s completely free from any defects! We’re talking 95% or better, perfectly clear wood. But because of size, it’s not technically” top grade, which means you don’t have to pay top grade prices.

Consider Your Real Needs

It’s actually in your best interest to go smaller when you can: You’ll get higher quality lumber, lower prices, or maybe even both. If you’re working on mouldings or boat cover boards, you absolutely need long lumber. Other specialty applications may require exceptionally wide boards. But most of the time? You could probably downsize your order a bit.

lumber operations overseasIf you’re planning to rip and crosscut your boards, why not just buy thinner ones, instead? If you’re going to end up chopping up the board anyway, you’d be better off starting with smaller pieces. Not only will you be able to purchase higher quality boards, but you’ll also be able to save some cash.

You’re also doing others a service by leaving the long and wide boards for those whose projects truly require them — feel free to consider it your “good deed” for the week! On the flip side, of course, this whole trend toward wide and long boards has left plenty of perfectly good short, narrow lumber, allowing the principle of supply-and-demand to work even more strongly in your favor, if you purchase these by-products.

Continue with Part 2.

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Forklift loading lumber at J Gibson McIlvain

Forklift loading lumber at J Gibson McIlvain

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 ( 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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