Thinking Outside the Box About Lumber Sizes, Part 3

fresh cut wood boards pileWe’ve already looked at two ways you can save money, help eliminate waste, and enjoy higher quality lumber: Purchase narrow or shorter boards.  In both cases, you’re purchasing smaller boards for a lower price-per-board-foot. (There’s more to pricing than size, but that’s besides the point.) Depending on your job, the smaller size may not be a problem — but it probably won’t be a huge benefit, either. This third issue regarding lumber size is different: You can actually get longer boards for less money than shorter boards. Yes, for real.

And we’re not talking about reclaimed lumber or plantation species or anything of the sort. The same exact board, a foot longer, can actually cost less money.

Just like the nomenclature of “short” boards is unique to the U.S. lumber market, even-length boards are pretty much an American thing. Especially when it comes to Ipe and other species of exotic hardwood decking. While most U.S. importers of Ipe purchase only even-length boards, J. Gibson McIlvain has moved in a different direction, for the benefit of their customers.

kiln for drying lumber

Lumber in kiln to dry

Because the global lumber market does value odd-length Cumaru and Ipe, when U.S. importers refuse odd lengths, they greatly limit their buying power. Many mills actually refuse to do business with buyers who will purchase only even lengths. If a mill does allow a buyer to purchase only even lengths, the volume will be limited, causing the supplier — and, by extension, their customers — to miss out on the benefits of buying in bulk.

The trees will yield various lengths of decking, and the mills will produce a variety of lengths. If a mill allows for our peevishness about even lengths, do you know what they’re going to do? They’ll take the 11-foot boards and cut a foot off them to make them 10-foot boards. And they’ll charge us for the extra labor — as they should.

boards on shelvesSo you, the customer, end up spending more money for a 10-foot board than you would have paid for the same piece of wood as an 11-foot board. What’s more, you’ve wasted a foot of premium exotic decking. We really don’t want that to happen. We don’t think it makes sense for us or our customers, and we really don’t want to be part of perpetuating unnecessary waste.

Wouldn’t you rather have a 17-foot deck that costs you less than a 16-foot one would? That’s what we thought, because we feel the same way. No one is going to walk up to your finished deck with a tape measure — and even if they did, who cares? If we’re the only lumber importer whose customers have longer (if odd-length) decks that they paid less for, then so be it. Everyone else can call us “odd,” if they want to: We all know who’s smarter.

Grading dried lumber at J Gibson McIlvain

Grading dried lumber 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 ( 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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