Not everyone realizes that the U.S. lumber industry is quite different than the global market as a whole. One area in which the U.S. market is unique is its size preferences. Only in the U.S. are boards classified as “short” when they’re mere inches from being 8 feet long. In fact, most so-called short boards are actually over 7 feet long! Due to this distinction, many Americans think of 8 feet as the smallest board length possible but typically opt for boards between 10 and 12 feet long. By contrast, across the pond, Europeans are using boards shorter than 8 feet long on a regular basis without thinking twice about it.
Where Short Boards Come From
Because of this unusual disparity in size requirements within the U.S. market, domestic sawmills exclusively cut boards 8 feet long and longer. Exotic species, however, are sawed for a global market with less particular requirements, though; as a result, every shipment of imported lumber comes to us with a certain percentage of “short” boards.
While the percentage of short boards in a given shipment will vary, it will typically relate somewhat to the species; after all, some trees are naturally larger and taller than others. (While that was a pretty no-brainer statement, the fact is that in our particular length preferences, sometimes it seems we actually forget that lumber is not exactly made to order; it really does grow on trees!)
Short Boards According to Species
Genuine Mahogany grows across South and Central America. Although this species still grows across a wide growth range, the trees themselves do not grow to be as large as they once did. Because of the smaller size of Mahogany trees, the percentage of short boards in any given shipment will be higher than it is for most species. At J. Gibson McIlvain, our Mahogany shipments usually include about 20% shorts.
African species such as Sapele and Utile grow to be quite hearty as well as large. That scenario makes securing extra-wide, extra-long, and extra-thick boards easy; as a result, shipments of these species come with only about 5% shorts. Other exotic species fall somewhere between 5 and 20%, when it comes to the percentage of the shipment comprised of short boards.
Saving with Short Boards
The short boards that come as by-products of sought-after longer boards typically sell for between 10 and 30% less (per board foot) than the longer boards, creating an opportunity for those who can use shorter boards. While sometimes it’s just not possible to use boards shorter than 8 feet, sometimes it is. If you’re just buying long boards out of habit, and you plan to cut them up anyway, you could really benefit by considering short boards.
Continue reading with Part 2.