Chances are if you go to your local lumber dealer in search of a certain species of wood, one of the first questions the dealer will ask you is what grade of lumber you’re planning to purchase. If you’re not sure what grade of lumber to choose, they’ll most likely ask you what type of project you have in mind for the lumber you’re seeking to buy.
Based on your answer, a reputable lumber dealer should be able to give you an idea of what grade of lumber will be acceptable for that particular application. After making that determination, you’ll be able to check into pricing and figure out if your original species preference is going to fall within your budget. If not, the dealer may be able to offer you a workable alternative.
All of this exchange of helpful information is possible because of the standards set in place many years ago by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Without their standardized grading system, purchasing lumber would be a far more complex and uncertain process.
Why did the National Hardwood Lumber Association Begin?
Over a century ago, there was no set standard for the quality of lumber. Suppliers varied widely in their definitions of top quality lumber, leading to confusion and frustration on the part of dealers and consumers alike. Both lumber traders and their customers began to realize that something needed to be done. In order to help both buyers and suppliers recognize uniform standards of quality when it came to lumber, the National Hardwood Lumber Association came into existence. Its founders recognized back in 1898 that everyone would be better served with a centralized grading system.
Today, lumber dealers and their customers probably don’t often stop to appreciate the wisdom of those early NHLA organizers. Without their willingness to come up with a standardization plan, we wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of the kind of predictable selling and purchasing experiences that today seem second nature. This system is still the uniform standard for North American Hardwoods. However, exotic hardwoods like Cumaru, Teak, Mahogany, or Ipe aren’t bound by the NHLA grading system and are classified uniquely according to their respective species’ standards.
What are the Different NHLA Lumber Grades Available on the Market?
There are a number of different lumber grades according to the NHLA standards. The top five grades in order are First and Seconds (FAS), FAS One Face, Select, #1 Common, #2 Common. Most domestic purchasers aren’t interested in buying anything below the #2 Common grade for their lumber applications.
What was the Main Consideration Back When NHLA Lumber Grades Originated?
When the NHLA first set out to standardize the lumber grades, the main market for domestic hardwood lumber was furniture making. That’s why so many of the grading specifications seem to cater to a furniture maker’s requirements. For example, whether you’re dealing with First and Seconds or any of the Common grades of lumber, each one spells out a specific clarity amount for each board face. That amount must be present as a bare minimum percentage standard for each board that will be classified as meeting that particular NHLA grade.
In the next article in our series, we’ll take a look at NHLA standard guidelines for the main NHLA lumber grades.