If you’ve been watching the lumber market over the past decade or so, you’ve probably noticed that even though the prices of solid hardwood and softwood lumber continue to climb, those of manufactured lumber products such as plywood and engineered lumber products such as moulding have remained fairly static. How does that make sense? Administrative and operational elements must be manipulated in order to offset the rising cost of raw materials and reduce the manufacturing costs. While you might appreciate the benefit to your bottom line, the end result of such manipulation will end up hurting the end use customer.
Complex Grading Systems
While grading systems for solid lumber are certainly limited, grading systems for lumber products such as plywood and moulding are also quite complex — and they are often re-evaluated based on requests from manufacturers of those products. Some changes to the grading systems make sense when old growth forests no longer yield the number of wide and clear logs they once did. Since straight, clear wood grain for plywood face veneer and extra-long boards for moulding runs are decreasingly available, it certainly makes sense to lower the bar a bit to allow a reasonable amount to fit into the top grading category; at the same time, though, the continual alterations to each category will end up making any grading system absolutely pointless.
As each grading category becomes wider, the result is a greater potential spread between panels that fit within a particular grading category. Perhaps even more concerning, some manufacturers may even intentionally design plywood that barely fits within a certain grading category, lowering their cost while being able to rightly charge what’s appropriate for a given grade.
Beneficiaries of Changing Grades
When the bar is lowered and lower quality lumber is allowed to be used in the finished product, more of each log can be used. Since lumber prices continue to rise, though, even the adjustments to the grading scales fail to allow plywood and moulding prices to remain the same. The only way companies can keep prices static is by decreasing their bottom lines: often this is done through manufacturing higher quantities of their products. As is typically the case when greater quantities are produced, quality control often drops off. The result of all this is that the market is flooded with lower quality material — made from lower-grade lumber and lower-quality processes. When high-quality material is no longer an option, pricing becomes the only factor customers consider, and those making cheap products benefit.
Some manufacturers aren’t slacking off, though; they may use the same grading categories, but they don’t aim for the lowest level; instead, they produce the best possible millwork and plywood possible. When customers no longer think quality products are even available and look for low prices instead, these reputable companies cannot compete.
J. Gibson McIlvain caters to those lumber customers that haven’t given up on quality. We don’t promise you that the products we carry will be “bargain prices,” but they won’t be the kinds of low-quality products you can get for lower prices, either.