In today’s lumber industry, there’s a trend toward buying extremely wide, long boards — even when they’re unnecessary. We get it: sometimes they really are. But there are other times when a super-sized board is completely unnecessary, and those highly-sought-after boards will just be chopped up anyway — or, worse, ripped apart, only to be glued back together. (Yes, unfortunately, that is a thing.) But, as un-American as it may seem, bigger is not always better. In fact, if you’re looking for higher quality lumber without busting your budget, buying narrower or shorter boards (see Part 1) is a great way to achieve that goal.
Lumber Grading and Size
If you know the basics of lumber grading, you realize that it’s largely a percentage game. While this might be a slight oversimplification, grade is basically tied to the percentage of a board that’s free from defects along with the minimum cutting size of that board. As a result, boards that are narrower or shorter than a given grade allows will fall into a lower grading category, even if the board is completely clear. That scenario makes it possible to have an absolutely perfect, short board that does not rate as FAS or FEQ grade material, making it completely reasonable to find completely defect-free boards that actually fall into the “Common” grading category. Sometimes a board may have a tiny pin knot on one end, making it something like 95% clear.
Changes in the Lumber Industry
While the perception that “lumber isn’t what it used to be” may be a common one — and one that does have some validity, for sure — sometimes the issue is how expectations and preferences have changed. The inflated sizes we now see as being typical have no power to change the average size of a tree. While some species, such as Walnut, have actually suffered a reduction in size and availability over the years, most species have remained constant. The more oversized lumber that’s purchased, though, the more waste there is of the smaller (but actually standard and perfectly usable) boards.
Considerations for Lumber Orders
If you truly need extra-wide or extra-long boards, by all means order them. However, if you’re just ordering extreme sizes out of habit, think twice before doing so. If you’re just going to cut the board up anyway, why not purchase smaller boards initially. Not only will you leave the super-sized ones for projects that actually require them, but you’ll stand to save money and may secure higher-quality material.
When you combine the North American penchant for extra-wide and extra-long boards with the dearth of understanding about how lumber grading works, you end up with plenty of “short” and narrow boards that are essentially the byproduct of lumber orders for larger boards. That’s good news for cost-savvy customers like you, though. And you’ll be doing the environment a favor by not wasting perfectly good lumber, too. Buying smaller boards whenever you can is smart on so many levels.