Did you know that shorter boards can actually mean better quality? It’s true. You can actually get better quality lumber for less money per board foot by shopping for shorter boards. It might seem counter-intuitive, but once you understand how grading works and why most people buy longer boards than they need, we think you’ll understand.
How Grading Works
The reason? Grading systems are a percentage game tied to defect-free material and minimum cutting size. In translation, that means that a perfectly good small piece can actually be graded lower than a far-less-perfect larger board. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the idea in a nutshell.
Boards that are shorter and narrower than the grading standards allow will be considered a lesser grade. Lesser grade means lower prices. Typically, even common-grade lumber in the inventory at J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber is completely free from defects — or at least 95% clear. They’re just shorter than the grading system allows, so they get downgraded.
How Trends Work
While lumber might not be as high quality as it was “back in the day,” we need to remember that North American preferences have changed, especially when it comes to size. Sometimes, long boards are necessary; we get that. But the fact is that long, wide boards have become so standard, that people are requesting them even when they’re going to cut them down, anyway!
If you’re going to rip or crosscut most boards for your project, you’re far better off buying shorter boards and paying less per board foot! But that takes thinking outside the trends, outside the norm. We try to ask our customers what they plan to make before we give them a price, and we’re constantly amazed at how often they request long, wide boards unnecessarily.
Why the Industry Benefits
Not only are we looking out for our customers’ best interests, but we’re also looking out for the industry at large and forestry in general. Part of the reason we sometimes have difficulty sourcing high-quality, long, wide boards is that many of these types of boards have been used unnecessarily, leaving fewer than should be available.
There is plenty of short, narrow lumber floating around that makes much more sense to use whenever possible instead of cutting down larger boards. It’s just plain wasteful, and it’s one of the many reasons we don’t have the kind of lumber we once did.
By all means, when you need long boards for millwork or some other application, order long boards. But when you’re going to chop it up anyway, request shorter boards. Whether or not you believe in Karma, the truth is, you and the rest of the industry will benefit if everyone starts thinking this way a little more often.
If you’ve been paying attention, you now know why when it comes to lumber, when you shop small, you’ll win big!
Read the Series
• Lumber Math: Fractions You Need To Know
• Lumber Math: Understanding the Board Thickness Dilemma
• Lumber Math: Possible Solutions for Board Thickness Dilemma
• Lumber Math: Plywood Ply Number Isn’t Always Important
• Lumber Math: Shorter Boards Can Be Better & Save You Money
• Lumber Math: Sometimes Less Is Really More