The lumber ordering process needs to be approached as a conversation, rather than a simple transaction. Only then can a lumber supplier like J. Gibson McIlvain ensure that you’ll receive all the lumber you need and no more, making sure to meet your customer’s needs and expectations without any unnecessary expenses.
In the previous post on this topic we considered a few questions that need to be answered as part of any lumber-ordering conversation, ending with the all-important question about your interpretation of “A grade.” Now let’s look at a few more relevant factors in regards to grade.
Specifics Beyond Grade and Species
If you’re not precise about the caliber of lumber your job requires, you could easily end up with a portion of material that’s unusable. If your order is for a premium-priced species like Teak or Genuine Mahogany, the price per board foot simply doesn’t allow for large amounts of waste. Besides that, every species has its own characteristics, and any standard grading system will fail to account for all species-specific issues.
Many lumber suppliers and builders have their own ways of clarifying the kind of lumber they need. One such specification is based on cut, whether “quartersawn” or “rift sawn.” Other times, terms like “vertical grain,” “pattern,” or “center-matched” will be used to designate how a board is cut in relationship to the rest of the tree. An additional characteristic such as “all heart” or “90% heartwood” can be used to indicate how much heartwood is present in each board. There can be plenty of FAS (top grade) lumber that doesn’t specify the level of detail that’s denoted by those terms.
In addition to the cut or grade of an individual board, many builders wish to specify how each individual board relates to the others used in the job. Color matching is probably the most common one, especially for high-end jobs. Of course, if color-matching is an issue for your customer, but you don’t specify it when you order, large amounts of waste can easily result. Keep in mind that many species can dramatically change color from the time they’re freshly milled, making color matching virtually impossible without allowing enough time for oxidation. What’s actually needed isn’t color matching, per se, as much as lead time in order for the color of the boards to become less distinct.
Instead of simply relying on grading distinctions such as FEQ or FAS — or even terms such as “top grade” or “above grade” — we all need to be willing to dialogue about our precise applications and expectations during the ordering process. The more specific you make your request, the more picking we’ll have to do to fill it; while that extra work will cost you more, in the end you’ll have the right lumber you need for the job and — most importantly — a happy customer that has exactly what they want.