We hear it all the time: customers decrying the way lumber prices continue to rise. While we can talk all we want about how lumber pricing is a complicated issue and how higher pricing can actually be good news, we get it: as a customer, you’re concerned about your bottom line. We all wish we could pay bargain-basement prices for top-shelf material, but typically, high quality lumber comes with a price tag to match. If you want to pinch pennies without sacrificing quality, though, there are a few corners that you can legitimately cut. And we mean that quite literally, because most of them have to do with buying different lumber cuts.
Evaluating North American Norms for Lumber Sizes
You may not realize it, but the North American market has plenty of idiosyncrasies when it comes to lumber sizes. This is true of lumber thicknesses as well as lengths. While many within the industry have come to think of these “normal” sizes as necessary, there is no structural reason that they need to limit themselves to those sizes. Since lumber comes from natural sources that obviously cannot be formed into pre-determined sizes, limiting the sizes we accept creates a problem for mills. Add into the equation that the international lumber market more readily accepts a variety of sizes, and you begin to understand why we often end up paying more per board foot for our lumber here in the U.S. than do our neighbors across the pond. If you’re willing to think outside the box of North American norms, you can save money on top-quality lumber.
Understanding Thickness Preferences and African Hardwoods
If you’re ever going to be able to work up some empathy for lumber, African hardwoods might get you to shed a tear. These trees go through a lot before they get to our shores, so it shouldn’t surprise us that we end up paying a premium for them. However, that’s not the whole story. Most lumber customers in North America want boards in thicknesses of 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4. (If you’re curious about why we designate thicknesses in fractional figures, check out this post.)
The problem with sourcing such boards isn’t at all that they’re not possible to come by; African species are typically quite large as well as prolific. The issue is that African mills can’t justify cutting them. Why not? Because everyone else in the world prefers buying thicker boards. While 4/4 lumber is the most commonly requested thickness here in the U.S., it’s not a globally popular size at all. For whatever reason, Europeans and Asians tend to prefer boards that are 8/4 and thicker.
We’ll continue to explore the issue of thicknesses for African hardwoods in Part 2 of this series.
Read the Series
• Rethinking Standard Sizes for Lumber, Part 1
• Rethinking Standard Sizes for Lumber, Part 2
• Rethinking Standard Sizes for Lumber, Part 3
• Rethinking Standard Sizes for Lumber, Part 4
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 sales representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling toll free (800) 638-9100.
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