Thickness isn’t the only size issue about which the U.S. lumber industry is a little different than the rest of the world. While we tend to prefer thinner thicknesses, we also prefer longer, wider boards. Americans typically prefer boards that are in the 10-12 foot range and refer to boards shorter than 8 feet as “short.” Most of these so-called short boards are over 7 feet in length. These cast-off boards are perfectly acceptable in Europe. Why should this matter to you? If you understand what is and isn’t wrong with short boards, you can leverage that knowledge to save you and your customers money — or afford better quality boards than usual without spending any extra.
Understanding Board Length
Remember, wood is a natural product; just as trees grow to a variety of heights, boards are milled to a variety of lengths. While the U.S. market demand dictates that domestic species are sliced into boards that are a minimum of 8 feet long, when we receive imported lumber, each shipment contains a mixture of sizes. While the percentage of shorts included in a shipment is dependent on the species, one fact remains constant: we receive some short boards whenever we purchase longer boards. Some popular exotic hardwoods species come with a higher percentage of shorts than others.
For instance, Genuine Mahogany comes from Central or South America. Compared to Mahogany in the 1700s, today’s Mahogany trees are fairly small, leading to an average of 20% shorts per shipment. On the other end of the spectrum, African species such as Sapele and Utile tend to grow to be quite hearty and large, making long, thick boards in wide widths easy to come by. We typically get only about 5% of shorts in each shipment.
Buying Short Boards
Whether the short boards are in plentiful supply or not, the fact is that they’re often considered a by-product of purchasing longer boards, and you can get them at a savings of up to 30% off the typical price per board foot. Of course, sometimes your application absolutely requires longer boards. But all-too-often, customers request longer boards or fail to consider buying shorts, when they’re only going to chop up the boards they do buy.
In addition to considering the specifications of any existing project and buying short boards whenever possible, you can use this knowledge to value engineer future projects. You might be surprised what a little creativity here can do and how much money you can save. You customers will certainly appreciate the extra effort, and so will the forests whose products you’re helping not to waste.
Not only does the U.S. market have a penchant for preferring thinner, longer boards than the rest of the world; we also prefer those in even-numbered lengths. If you’re willing to think outside that box, too, you can save even more.
Continue with Part 4.
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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