In Part 1 we discussed the issue of North American norms when it comes to lumber thicknesses and began to explore how that ends up meaning that we pay more per linear foot than do our European and Asian counterparts. This time, we’ll continue to look at that issue and then consider some potential solutions to the dilemma.
Weighing the Cost of Producing 4/4 Boards
When you add in the fact that sawing 4/4 lumber requires more labor and produces more waste than thicker cuts of lumber, you can understand why African mills would prefer to cut thicker boards. And there’s another major issue too: 4/4 boards tend to be categorized as lower quality. When you saw close to the edge of the log, wider sapwood incursions inevitably result, and the thinner boards tend to lack stability during the drying and shipping processes. Because the North American market is generally pretty particular about accepting only clear, FAS-level boards, and no other country wants to buy 4/4 boards, there is no market for the many Common grade 4/4 boards. Understandably, African mills cannot afford to waste all that lumber and labor on boards no one wants to buy.
Responding to the Thickness Issue: Re-sawing Lumber
Because it’s illegal for us to import whole logs from Africa, we have to purchase pre-cut boards, which are typically milled to international standards. So we have to work with what we have. While you can’t put more lumber on thinly milled boards, you can cut down thicker boards to make them thinner. One solution that we’ve come up with is to utilize our on-site mill to re-cut boards to the thicknesses our customers prefer. We can easily use our Resaw Bandsaw to cut thicker boards into thinner sizes; we regularly do this with Sapele. Prized as a Mahogany alternative, its comparatively lower cost is one of the many characteristics that make it attractive.
However, the added labor needed to re-saw thicker boards to meet customer specifications translates into added cost that can eliminate or even eclipse any savings they would have incurred. Another factor that impacts the price of Sapele is that with each shipment of Sapele, we’re forced to purchase a variety of grades; the boards we can sell end up costing more in order to account for the wasted boards we had to buy as a by-product.
Conducting a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Thinner Lumber
Because of the added cost involved in re-sawing thicker lumber to North American specifications, the 5/4 or 10/4 lumber we sell is actually priced higher than identical lumber in 6/4 or 12/4 thicknesses. Perhaps you have your own capabilities of re-sawing the lumber or can use the Common grade boards. In essence, you’ll be absorbing the cost yourself. Either way, the added cost has to be absorbed somewhere along the supply chain.
Does it make sense to you to spend more money or more time and labor to get thinner lumber? If not, maybe you’re ready to be a pioneer, using thicker lumber than North American norms dictate.
Continue with Part 3.
Read the Series
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.